It's been a tough summer of departure, loss, and many many tears. Cindy has dealt with the loss of two long-time canine friends and some of the rescue's sanctuary residents. In the last two weeks of August, I lost two furkids within 11 days of each other. For both Cindy and I, the losses were unexpected and stunningly -- frighteningly -- quick.
In our personal lives and the rescue, Cindy and I have dealt with many losses over the years and it never gets any easier. Our coping skills might improve with the years, but we feel our grief fully with every death. And it never gets easier to find something comforting to say to each other. Everything sounds hollow, superficial, inadequate, and cliche in the face of profuse tears and deep grief. If we're face to face when we share our news, a hug with no words seems to say everything perfectly. On the phone and in email, words alone aren't up to the task.
Things like "He lived a good long life" or "She found a second chance with you that she wouldn't have found elsewhere" are little consolation. "There's a reason for everything" is also among the 10 worst things you can say to someone who is grieving.
When someone is grieving, our job as friend or family member is not to rationalize death, comment on how someone navigates through the stages of grief, or put our emotional discomfort on display. Our job is to comfort and support, with a hug, with an "I'm so sorry," with an "I'm just a phone call away," or any of the other best things you can say to someone who is grieving. You have to provide the space for your loved one to feel what they need to feel for as long as they need to feel it, even if they grieve differently than you. What is "healthy" or "normal" grieving is for mental health practitioners to assess, not the rest of us.
"Grief is an important healing mechanism, a way the psyche makes the transition from one situation to another," writes Marianne Williamson. "...it is dangerous to shut out or suppress our pain because events we don't process we are doomed to...act out in dysfunctional ways. The time to cry is when we need to cry. Only then will we ultimately not need to cry anymore."
Not cry anymore...but live with a hole in your heart that you feel daily and a hole in your living space that you see constantly. You know full well how blessed you were to have these furry friends in your life, and you agonize over whether you gave them as good as they gave you. Grieving is a bitch...and the doubt, the second-guessing, the would-haves, the could-haves, the should-haves, and the ought-to-haves don't make it any easier and invariably make it even worse (if that's possible). But you have to feel it all, however you need to feel it.
In the midst of my own grief, I happened to hear Jewel sing a previously unrecorded song of hers for the "In Memoriam" segment of the 2010 Emmys and found comfort in the lyrics she'd written for a friend who died from cancer. You can see that performance of "Shape of You" on YouTube, and read the lyrics on Metrolyrics. If you're grieving, give it a listen. If someone you know is, pass along the links. It might help others cope with their own loss.