I couldn’t believe he had done it again. I was so angry that I didn’t even take the time to ask myself what could be wrong with him. Instead, I marched right over where he was, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and threw him unmercifully on the cold concrete of the back patio. This was the nth time that day that the kids’ puppy, Snowy, had pooped in the living room. I had enough!
I watched him as he pawed the glass door, crying to be let back in. I yelled at him to go pee and poop as if a four month old puppy could have complete control over its bodily functions. He looked at me with pleading eyes. I pretended not to care and told him in a stern voice to go do his business or stay outside, his choice.
Snowy was a purebred Havanese Poodle. My three kids had named him Snowy because he was as white and fluffy and soft as snow.
Letting the dog back inside, I blamed myself for the nth time for having brought him home. What was I thinking? I was already taking care of three young children and I felt physically and emotionally exhausted most of the time.
One day I noticed Snowy held himself up by leaning against a wall. I dismissed his behaviour as him being lazy. Then I started noticing he was shaking physically more and more and I secretly thought he was just afraid of me. Who could blame him? I was quite hardcore in those days. Snowy’s health situation got progressively worse.
As time went by, Snowy peed and pooped more and more frequently in the living room. To his credit, he aimed for the only spot where there were tiles instead of a carpet: the front of the fireplace.
No matter what was going on with him, he loved the kids dearly. When he heard them back coming home from school, he would take a few steps towards them, but almost immediately would stop himself, lean against a wall, then cover the rest of the way to go greet them, wagging his tail happily at their sight.
Maybe something finally started melting inside of me because I decided to take him to the vet. Unable to figure out what was wrong with him, the vet sent him to a specialist whose verdict came hard and fast. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for what I heard.
I was told Snowy had a congenital heart defect The specialist said that his vein going from his heart to his lungs was too small. Because Snowy was a puppy, his heart could still pump enough blood into his lungs for them to grow. But as he would become an adult, he would need more air, which meant bigger lungs. Since the artery was too small, then his heart would continue enlarging, thinking that was the way to provide what his lungs needed.
Though I heard the specialist’s words, I refused to accept them. I asked if there was anything they could do. I said I would pay whatever it cost. The specialist said they couldn’t; Snowy’s condition was inoperable.
I calmed down enough to ask them how long Snowy had left. He was eight months old at the time. The specialist couldn’t predict, but they suspected Snowy would never see his first birthday. They said I had a choice, to enjoy my time left with him until his heart exploded in his chest (a most painful death) or to make preparations to have him euthanized as soon as possible.
I went back home in a daze. How does a parent tell their young children that their mother had decided to put their family dog down in one week’s time? In my mind, there was zero point prolonging everyone’s agony in watching the dog slowly die in front of our eyes while always being afraid he was in terrifying pain.
When I delivered the news to the kids, they all burst into tears, saying Snowy dying was unfair. My son Alex (he was the one closest to the dog) ran into his room and hid his face in his pillow, sobbing. I sat on his bed and touched his shoulder gently. He turned around and asked me how I could let this happen to his dog. I had no clever answer for him. I did not know how to explain to a nine year old that sometimes the hardest thing to do is the rightful thing to do. Even as hardcore as I was, I knew this intuitively.
Snowy was euthanized a week later. I had his paw print imprinted in clay and I gave each kid an imprint of Snowy’s paws along with a picture of him. I bought a special box and in it I placed Snowy’s ashes, his collar, his favourite toys and blanket, pictures of him, and a pamphlet the vet had given me to help with our grief.
Like everything else I didn’t want to deal with emotionally in my life, I took Snowy’s box and hid it at the bottom of my bedroom closet. Since I still kept seeing it, I moved the box to the garage where I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore (or so I thought). That was how I dealt with grief back then: I hid it, I avoided it.
Ten years went by and I barely spoke about Snowy to anyone. I didn’t want to, it was too painful for me. I kept remembering that episode where I had thrown him outside in the cold because he had pooped in the living room again. I felt ashamed of myself. I felt like I was a heartless bitch who had abandoned her kids and their dog the same way she had abandoned herself: by avoiding all my feelings and emotions, including grief.
Thankfully, something clicked in me and I sought a mentor who helped me open my heart. I started feeling again all my feelings and emotions. I was so happy! Empathy and compassion started flowing through me.
I walked into the garage and retrieved Snowy’s box with the intent to face my grief. I opened the box and picked up each object in it, remembering how Snowy came to be with us. Tears rolling down my face, I allowed myself to grieve openly, to feel the sadness that I had denied for so long.
I asked Snowy for forgiveness. I told him I did not know what I did not know. Though I knew I love him, I did not know how to be truly loving towards him or anyone else back then, including myself.
I drove to the beach with Snowy’s ashes in the passenger seat. Taking my shoes off, I walked barefoot in the sand and entered the water. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and a warming sun. Holding his ashes in my arms, I begged myself for my own forgiveness. As I released him, I said out loud the many things I had loved about him, like the way he licked my son’s face or snuggled gently against my neck while sitting on the couch. I thanked him for gracing my life with his own. I felt Snowy here with me.
A sense of deep peace filled my heart. In that moment, I understood that grief is a part of us and it is okay to grief, letting go.
What is grief?
I believe the answer is, grief is feeling the loss of someone or something openly (or not).
What are the layers in grief?
Personally, I went into:
Denial (Snowy was not sick, he was lazy.)
Anger (How could Snowy do this to me?)
Bargaining (I asked the vet to do anything to save him.)
Depression (I avoided feeling my grief; I hid Snowy’s ashes in the closet, then the garage.)
Acceptance (I embraced grief. I forgave myself and released him as I moved into gratefulness.)
How can we feel our way through grief?
Here are FIVE rock solid tips to allow yourself to feel your way through grief:
Acknowledge all feelings and emotions without rejection. Grieving is feeling a loss. When we hide or avoid our grief – when we refuse to feel all our feelings and emotions associated with our loss – we create a greater sense of loss, we build grief upon grief. Most people (like me in the past) have the misconception that grief will go away if we hide it or avoid it. But that’s NOT true! Hiding or avoiding our feeling and emotions creates more grief. Feel what you need to feel without making yourself or anyone else wrong.
Openly feel your loss. It is okay to recognize what you are saying goodbye to. In my case, I said goodbye to the stuff that made me sad with Snowy. I also said goodbye to the stuff that made me happy with Snowy. It is okay to say goodbye to what you will NOT miss and what you will miss about a person, animal, place, situation, or thing.
Give yourself space to grief. One popular misconception about grief is that many people think we grieve ‘best’ alone. In times of grief, many of us retreat within themselves (we emotionally withdraw). Withdrawal is NOT grieving; it is form of hiding and avoidance. To grief properly, we need to remain emotionally open to receive all our feelings and emotions, and these include empathy and compassion as well. Giving yourself space to grief is another way of saying, have compassion for yourself.
Get professional help. If you feel like you are shutting down emotionally in times of grief, immediately seek the assistance of a mentor, counsellor, therapist, or E.I. Coach. Though friends and peers mean well, they might not necessarily know how to handle grief, especially if they have a hard time feeling (any) loss in their life. Professionals know how to effectively feel their way through their own grief so they can guide others as well.
Find things to be thankful for. Though gratefulness does NOT make grief go away, it tips the emotional balance back to centre. What this means is, as we compassionately hold our grief in our heart, we also make room within ourselves to feel joy.
Before I learned how to face grief, I hid from it, I avoided it. I prevented myself from feeling all my feelings and emotions. What I have discovered in openly feeling my grief is that feeling is living. When we are not allowing ourselves to feel all our feelings and emotions, we are not fully living. To live a full life, we need to compassionately acknowledge everything we are feeling inside, from grief to joy.
In light of this…
What role are you now willing to give grief in your life?
Are you going to let grief be a skeleton in your closet OR
Are you going to feel all you need to feel to let go?
Your Emotional Intelligence Coach,