Where it all (didn’t actually) begin
I’m sat in the beer garden where the appearance of things going wrong began.
That’s so different from where they actually began to go wrong, because that source is something I’ll never know (and what makes the process of grief so difficult).
My phone had officially died on me the night before, and today I bought a laptop (to replace the one that died around a year ago), because I had a replacement phone already ordered and on its way.
At the table, my love whimpers.
I think I’ve just done something stupid like not extinguishing a cigarette butt, and she’s stepped on it.
I check her over.
No sign of anything.
She’s licking her paw but soon stops.
We leave the pub garden and she’s not even limping.
But from this day on, she will begin to lick and bite at her paw sporadically and appear to be distressed.
I literally just stubbed my cigarette out whilst typing this and checked she wasn’t under the table at the time, despite her being dead for over a week.
But back to that day….
We go back home and nothing seems wrong beyond her licking her paw occasionally, which I put down to her have an injury that has happened today.
The kicker is, that probably was what happened, or it probably wasn’t and it was a symptom of an underlying issue that needed to be addressed. But I’ll go on to find out that neither truth, nor my response to it, could have saved the one I love.
I’ll then spend every day after she died trying to understand that fact.
Nothing at that point looked life threatening for her.
What killed her may not have even had anything to do with that.
But I love her and at that point she was uncomfortable and I wanted to help her, and the past two months began at that moment.
And also, for any “wannabe vets” reading this: I’ve gone through it all.
I’ve looked at all of her symptoms, and everything I *could* have done to save the one I love, and there’s nothing.
I’ll talk more about this and what it means for the process of grief another day, but suffice to say I’ve killed myself over and again concerning how I could have saved her – and especially concerning identifying what killed her. I’ve even gone through the thought processes of how I might have killed her – and I’ll get to that emotional black hole another day.
Here’s what I’ve found out:
Whatever took her was something that even trained vets wouldn’t have spotted, and even if they had her survival rate would have been 1% or less. In fact, it’s something they DIDN’T spot. If they didn’t, how could I?
I’m not saying any of this to find absolution.
It’s actually comforting to know you could have done something, because you can learn how to save someone next time and you can tell yourself that the fate of the person you love was always in your hands.
That’s what we always want to believe. It just isn’t true, and dealing with that fact is so difficult that I’m still comparing her symptoms online to see if I can understand why she’s gone.
Breaking news: that will never happen.
I still do it, because it is actually a healthy part of the grieving process, as long as it doesn’t become an obsession – and everyone will do it even when we know there is no answer we can find – because that’s exactly what you do when someone you love dies suddenly and unexpectedly (especially in your arms).
You want to know why, because you love them.
And this is one of the hardest parts of grief: you will explore every avenue EVEN IF YOU KNOW YOU WON’T FIND AN ANSWER AND EVEN IF YOU KNOW YOU KNOW THAT.
Being forearmed about this part of grief can’t prevent you going through it. You will put yourself through it, and no amount of people telling you it’s natural and how you don’t need to will stop you from doing it (and don’t listen to people saying you don’t need to, because as well meaning as they’re being, it just makes you feel worse).
It’s not a bug of the grieving process. It’s a feature.
It’s a testament to how much you loved that person and how much losing them affects you.
Remember: you’re grieving for a reason (for the best reason ever, because it is a process all about love – and never forget the fact that grief only exists because of the love you have and have experienced), and that process will and must happen whether you understand the process or not.
And these are the important lessons to learn about grief:
1) Understanding the process doesn’t ever make it easier or faster to go through;
2) This process is about love, and because of that you should always remember that what you’re going through is a healthy process. You may need support to prevent that process becoming unhealthy, and if you do you should feel ok about jumping into that support. But the fact that you are going through this process is a healthy thing.
In fact, what you’re going through is a healing process. And just as not all physical wounds can heal in a healthy manner and may need professional attention, not all emotional wounds can heal in a healthy manner and may need professional attention.
If you cut your hand, it’s natural for it to hurt and for your body to try to heal that wound. But sometimes your body can’t do it correctly, for a variety of reasons way beyond your control.
Likewise, when you lose somebody you love, it’s natural for it to hurt and for your body to try to heal that wound. But sometimes your body can’t do it correctly, for a variety of reasons beyond your control.
It’s not the pain and the process that’s a problem. It’s actually the only path to healing. It’s where that process malfunctions and ends up doing more damage that’s the problem.
But even with that, always feel able to seek help.
After all, who would suffer having an arm cut off without asking someone to stop the bleeding and clean the wound, even when they know their red blood cells are already trying to clot and stop them bleeding out?
A grim picture, but don’t ever think that grief can’t become as grim and fatal as physical pain.
People die from grief.
It’s necessary for you to understand what you’re going through and why, and why it’s always correct and necessary to seek and get help through it.
You’re going through this process because you lost someone you love. Not because you should also be lost to those who love – and will ever in the future get to love – you.
I’ll talk more later on about how guilt is a part of bargaining in grief, and about how grief is a process that we have evolved in order to retain love for those we lost without feeling we’re betraying them when we finally accept they’re gone – a process we’ve developed in order to deal with losing a loved one whilst keeping them with us always, as we always wanted to, and becoming able to continue living in a world that no longer involves their physical involvement in our lives.
Suffice to say, you can never – even with all the knowledge of the grieving process available to you – not go through it when you lose your love.
It will happen. And for those of you who understand the process, that’s especially difficult to deal with. But knowing psychology doesn’t inoculate you from its affects, just as knowing how pathogens work doesn’t inoculate you from the flu.
It will happen.
You’ll feel shit.
You’ll feel as bad as those without a scientific understanding of what’s going on.
You’ll probably feel worse because that scientific understanding doesn’t make it better.
There isn’t a one glove fits all to any wound, especially grief. Because grief is a very specific process that you have to endure, and is inherently painful to endure no matter how much you understand it, because losing people you love hurts and is meant to hurt. It wouldn’t hurt if you didn’t love them.
Cut my hand and put iodine on it to clean it, and I know what’s happened and how much it will hurt SCIENTIFICALLY. But I’ll still run around and scream and cry no matter how much I understand what’s happening.
Grief is a healing process. Don’t shy from it. Don’t feel bad for going through it. Don’t ever feel that you shouldn’t request help to get through it.