The night our house burned down we had nothing left but the clothes we had on when we left the house earlier that evening. That devastating and life altering event happened a long time ago. But, I admit there are times I wonder what it might be like if it happened today.
The first thing said
For weeks after it happened if I heard it once I heard it ten times plus, “thank god you didn’t have kids in there.” Without ill intent, these were the words I heard from kind neighbors and family members. It was probably the first thing that came to their mind. And maybe it’s a natural response to such a crisis. I knew what they meant. But, it left me with nothing to say. I couldn’t muster the strength to reply. Nothing, no words. I think I may have just stared blankly. I’m sure they hadn’t even given thought to our nonhuman kids that were in the house. There were a couple people that offered up a puppy or a kitten as a token. That was the closest anyone came to acknowledging those we lost.
Only six years prior
Losing our house came on the heels of another earth-shattering tragedy. Just six years before our house burned our family had another tragedy that we hadn’t healed from. On that night, too, it was a heartbreaking house fire. On that night, though, human lives were lost. It was violent and gutting and testimony to how the world can change in the blink of an eye….or the flash of a spark. The annihilating effect of that night had a ripple effect. It is points in time such as these that can cripple a whole family.
We won’t talk about it
In those days society was ill equipped to come to the aid of those in need of psychological and emotional support. It was an era of ‘We won’t talk about it’ and “Don’t bring it up; you’ll just make them sad.” The thought was, if we don’t talk about what happened then it won’t be a reminder and therefore won’t bring back painful memories. They just didn’t know. It didn’t make any difference if you brought it up or not. It was ever present.
Years later came big changes
Fast forward to now and it’s hard to even quantify the societal changes when it comes to providing emotional and psychological support and resources. We understand each other better now. We get that it is helpful to express pain. We now understand how repressing the sorrow can lead to a great deal of pitfalls.
Feelings of being dismissed
Our families experiencing pet loss can grieve hard and silent. Even in these days there are friends and family members in their lives that don’t understand their loss. Unknowingly that can take feelings away from the one grieving. Many are thought to be ‘over the top’. So, they keep their feelings to themselves.
One of the problems is that we are really good at ‘Comparative Suffering’. “Your loss is surely greater than mine.” “How can my loss be as bad as that one?” Many experts have written about this and Brené Brown’s writing on Comparative Suffering is some of the clearest. It’s so damaging. And, what follows close behind Comparative Suffering is its sidekick, Judgement.
Judgement comes and enters the space too. Some may experience the loss of their pet more intensely than losing a parent. That’s a hard row to hoe. We can find all sorts of ways to judge ourselves harshly.
A loss by what measure?
So, how do we gauge the depth of loss? And, how do you rank how much mourning you’re entitled to? What length of time is acceptable to experience your loss before someone tells you to “get over it?” And, why do some people feel at liberty to tell another to “get over it?” And when is it ever good to tell someone to just “let it go?”
Dr. Alan Wolfelt says we need to grieve well. By grieving well, we will find our way to mourning, which is the movement part of grief. We may then find ourselves to healing.
Another tag a long
Guilt often comes along for the ride and can be the great equalizer. Guilt crosses bridges between those who are suffering from a loss of any measure. Whether death has come from accident or the natural progression of time, Guilt is the familiar presence that pulls up a chair at the table. Guilt is the starter of conversations that include: I wish I would have….if only I knew sooner….why didn’t I notice…..I should have done more. It doesn’t matter what the cause, Guilt can find a comfortable spot and settle in.
Every night she made a visit to the Beach of Grief where the Sea of Regret sent huge waves of remorse with a deafening roar to help her drown the guilt of those unexpressed emotions. ~ @shivadelic
Worst thing about Guilt is that it’s loud and raucous in the beginning. But, after a while, it takes up residence and can become a nagging whisper.
A small gift we can give
A gift we can give our families experiencing pet loss is Permission – Permission to feel their loss as deeply as they need to feel for as long as they need to feel it. Permission asks no questions and makes no demands. Permission is validating. Your words are music to their ears at the time of acute death or euthanasia.
Listening to the families of my nonhuman patients getting hospice and palliative care helped me see our commonalities and they showed me how best to guide them. They shared much, I just took their lead. I would tell them to take the time needed to feel their loss for as long and as big as they needed to. I would acknowledge their struggle. I knew their struggle. We would find our words in heart coherence – one heart to another.
This has been a helluva year for an entire planet. For everyone I know and don’t know and talk to but have never met personally. I like you have had a lot of straws that broke the camels’ back. He’s a stubborn camel.
Losing your human or nonhuman loved one during the holidays has an extra bite. And this year is a year to end all years. We’re all going to need permission. I hope we can give that gift to each other.