When we Grieve a Pet

Are you a pet lover? If you’ve ever considered a horse, guinea pig, dog, cat or any animal your friend or even family then you well understand the special bond and steadfast love that exists between you and this amazing being.

So why is it that so many are surprised at the grief that sets in when we have to say good-bye?

I hear those who are grieving say things like ‘I understand she was just a dog.’ and it’s often followed with tearful, loving honesty ‘She knew me, she was my best friend.’ And there it is, that loving bond that can be so hard to explain if you are not someone who has ever been close to a beloved pet.

It’s alright if you don’t understand that bond, that absolute unconditional love that people talk about when they go on and on about these companions that are so much more than pets. Maybe you’re not an animal person, that’s alright.

What I ask, is that we remember love comes in all sorts of shapes and forms. It may not be something that we understand or it might be completely clear to us. Grief is the result of someone or something that is cherished ending. Perhaps that companion had to be re-homed, or it may be that they died. Regardless, there has been a parting and it just plain hurts.

Recently, I’ve known a few people who had to say good-bye to their four-legged family members. I will tell you without a doubt, that there was heartbreak in their voices and love in their eyes as they talked about how they will miss their friends.

If you are grieving a pet, please know that your heart deserves the same support and kindness that should accompany any loss. If you care about someone who has had to say good-bye to one of these special relationships, please be gentle and patient. Let the person you care about talk about their pet, show you pictures, and yes, let them cry. Be there for them because it matters.

Namaste,
Sandy

Q&A What about guilt and blame?

It doesn’t matter how the news comes or exactly how a loved one died, questions surrounding guilt and blame can creep into a survivor’s mind, sometimes returning again and again.

Did I cause this to happen? Could I have prevented it? What would have made a difference?

It is human nature to look for reasons, cause and effect, and others to blame. Even when we know why (automobile accident, cancer, heart disease), our thoughts can tumble toward guilt or blame aimed directly at ourselves or others … and away from the harsh reality of the loss itself.

When the “why” question is not as clear, as in traumatic loss to suicide, these feelings can be magnified, yet there are things we can do to understand why we feel this way and how we can calm these thoughts.

Find support. Get professional help. Remember that you did not have complete control.

We are only human. Trying to help a loved one through extreme challenges is not something love alone can manage. Even mental health experts are blindsided at times and cannot predict suicide with reliability.

Perhaps you had no idea that your loved one was struggling. Connect with others who share similar experiences. People who are further along on this journey will have valuable insights to share. They will listen without tiring.

Every day, millions of people remember precious loved ones they have lost this way. Don’t let the undeserved stigma that sometimes surrounds suicide keep you in isolation.

You are not alone.

Jan’s “Battling Guilt and Regret fact sheet” includes definitions, resources, actionable steps and journal prompts to help you deal with these issues. For even more resources, visit Way For Hope – Resources

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.

Reiki and Healing Grief

I’m grateful to say Reiki has been a part of my life for a very long time.

I’ve called upon Reiki for day to day stress relief, for myself and others. Reiki has been there when my dog began having strokes as a young boxer of only 4 years old. I felt the energy radiate and I was able to watch him come back in a way that still leaves me amazed. And of course, I’ve been privileged to work with clients to release and heal.

This healing energy is often considered an alternative modality. But I will tell you quite frankly, for me, I call on Reiki first. Because it can never harm, I trust Reiki to support me through headaches, worries or injuries. And that’s just what it does.

If you are unfamiliar with Reiki, let me tell you a bit about what a session will be like when we work together. If you are receiving the session in person, you will likely lie down on a massage table. Wear comfortable clothing because you are fully clothed at all times.  There will be relaxing music playing, at the level you prefer. Your job is to simply close your eyes and relax. While you are laying on the table, I will spend the next 60 minutes moving around you. If I have your permission to touch you, I will gently lay my hands on you. If you prefer not to be touched, be assured the energy flows just as well. In that case, I would simply hold my hands above your body. We generally touch because humans crave the touch of other humans, but this is very individual. At the end of the hour, I will gently call you back to full wakefulness. You can share your thoughts and feelings if you like, but it is not necessary. This is entirely up to you.

Reiki has also been something that has played a strong role in healing grief for me and others. I will always be grateful to the Reiki practitioner who worked with me when my son died and also so grateful that I could send this energy myself. This gentle energy has helped to release pent up stress, worry, emotions that seemed blocked. After a Reiki session, it just seems that everything flows more easily.

It’s important to remember, that Reiki supports us to release what no longer serves us and to heal in whatever way we are ready for in that moment. There have been times when someone has got up from my Reiki table and poured out their heart, often surprising themselves. Be assured, anything shared is completely confidential. This is cleansing, healing and completely natural.

Other times, they might feel a deepening calm or peace. Really, it’s about what is right for the person receiving the energy. Reiki. I encourage you to consider adding this gentle treatment to your self-care regimen.

Namaste,
Sandy

Q&A: How do I honor my loved one?

At some point along the journey through grief, survivors often begin to find ways to honor the lives of the ones they lost. This is one of the ways to form a new connection with them, to share the love that was known and that still continues. This is also one of the ways to reconnect with life.

Honoring or memorializing what someone meant to you can be as simple as lighting a candle during a time of remembrance, perhaps with family and friends, perhaps alone. Taking time like this is a beautiful way to remember the good times. And it can be done anytime.

You may choose a more formal or permanent memorial. A beautiful stone marker for a grave site, a scholarship in a loved one’s name, or a foundation that carries forward work that was important to the lost one. There are many options and, if you think about these things, there is one that is just right for you.

All of these ideas and more are appropriate and can bring healing into the lives of those left behind. But there is one thing that everyone can do. Finding a way to live your best life possible reflects the impact your loved one’s life (and death) had on you. Helping others in some way or taking care of yourself and your family, getting up each day and sharing hope are things that would make your loved one proud.

Whatever you decide, there will be a time when choosing a life of meaning and purpose has healing benefits. Do not be discouraged if you have not experienced this feeling or these benefits yet. This journey is long, and sometimes healing seems impossible. That just means you are not yet where you are going to go. You have not yet processed the tragedy that came into your life. Keep going.

As I have heard survivors say, “The future is unwritten.”

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.

When Seasons Change…

Guest blog and photo contributed by Ari.

Picture

In my beginning I hated when summer started. Seeing all the teens out and about, enjoying life, happy families at the park, nature’s beauty in full bloom. Hated it all! When the warmth of summer gave way to the cool days and evenings of autumn I was finally able to breathe easier. I could stay in my cocoon and wrap my grief around me to keep me warm for the winter. Then it would start all over again the next year.But as time goes by, and the years flow into each other, these feelings have become softer, easier on my heart. Never to leave all together but definitely better. Time does heal. The seasons don’t hurt so much anymore. It has been over 5 years without my son, my beloved, my heart.

Summer came and went this year, and I noticed it mostly by the swimming pool opening, and then closing at the end of the season. Softball games in the evening at the park nearby still gave me a pang, hearing the raucous laughter of those young kids. But it was alright, it also made me smile many times too.

This autumn the changing leaves on the trees with their fiery reds, bright oranges, and golden yellows have given me moments of intense beauty – and gratitude that I can enjoy that beauty. I couldn’t for a long time.

This year autumn feels good. I will look forward to the white beauty of snow soon, cold evenings snuggled at home, warmth and quiet, peaceful and simple goodness. Then another spring and so on and so on.

Hold on, when seasons change please know that you will change too. Time helps.

About Ari – I am a mom and a grandma, finding my way through life without part of my heart. Writing helps me, and I hope it helps others. 

You CAN Learn Resilience

Resilience. A noun which means to recover from change, adversity or challenge. Buoyancy.

When we are grieving, it can sometimes feel as though there is no way forward. That this new reality has taken all of the air right out of us and left us flattened. That’s entirely fair, I get it.

Some are hardwired to go through the toughest times with what seems an innate ability to see a broader picture, to know that while they are broken, they will rise again. For others, that wiring seems quite different and the picture that they see is bleak and gray. This doesn’t mean that the pain or grief is any less for one group than the other, simply that they grieve and heal in their own way. One is more naturally resilient and the other will be well served by learning resilience.

Yes, resilience can be learned, it can be built within you. Just like most things on this journey through grief, into healing, it is one step at a time. None of the things below happen all at once, but knowing that you are taking steps toward healing is helpful. It matters.

– Surround yourself with a circle of support. Deliberately notice those who are able to support you with love and kindness. Become aware of those who leave you feeling better and those who leave you feeling worse when they leave. Choose to spend time with those who are there when you need them and leave you feeling better when you part. This is a very important step in self care.

– Make the daily, deliberate choice that you will rebuild your life. Yes, you are indeed forever changed. Accept that fact. (I know it’s not easy) Accept also, that change can be growth. The new you can and will be a person of increased compassion and kindness if you choose.

– Notice your thoughts and your words. Please don’t be judgmental of yourself, simply be aware. So often one who is grieving will tell themselves ‘I will never get over this.’ ‘My life is over now.’  or other statements of the like. When you hear yourself saying something along these lines, simply notice. And consider shifting the language or at least considering the possibility that those lines may be untrue. For instance, ‘I will never get over this.’ may be shifted to ‘I’m healing a bit at a time. I got through this morning’. Give yourself credit for doing a good job, it will help you to see that you are doing this, you are taking the steps toward healing.

– Find a purpose for your life. This may mean stepping further into something that has always been important to you or it may mean spending some time listening to your heart and discerning what is most meaningful to you now. Often, someone who has lost someone to a specific disease will spend time and energy supporting research efforts to eradicate the disease. Or someone who suffered severe financial reversals or even homelessness takes the time and energy to reach out to others who are going through a similar experience.

There are many other suggestions and I will certainly be writing more about this in the future.

The point is this, when we change our thoughts, our words and our actions, even the smallest bit, we change the way our life unfolds. We begin to build strength and resilience. We may not bounce back, but we will find our way back to life in a new way. One step at a time.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

Question and Answer series: What do I say?

Way for Hope is beginning a question and answer series of blog posts tackling some of the most immediate issues people face in the early days after suicide or other traumatic loss. Each person’s experience may be different. Even within a family, grief could affect members in unique ways. But most find comfort in knowing others have faced similar emotions and practical problems. You are not alone.

​First Question: What do I say?

When families and friends must be contacted, you might wonder what to say. In some places, suicide has a lingering stigma attached that is undeserved. Historically, some people have feared mental illness or unusual behavior. Today, we know that the human brain is like other organs of the body, susceptible to disease, imbalance, and the effects of stress, medications, alcohol and other drugs. The paths that lead a person to suicide are complex and not completely understood even by professionals.

Maybe you have never known someone who ended his own life. Maybe others will not understand. Try to focus on your own self-care during this time and, if you have children, on theirs. Depending on the children’s ages, give only what information you think they can understand, but answer as honestly as you can. Let teachers know what your child is going through when they return to school. Here is a page from the Alliance of Hope for suicide loss survivors that provides other suggestions.

It is likely you will be in shock yourself, whether you knew your loved one was struggling or not, so you may not feel like going into detail. You have a right to privacy and to do what you need to when you need to do it. A simple “I don’t feel like talking about this right now” should stop questions and speculation. On the other hand, if people want to help with errands, calls, or chores, let them.

One of the best suggestions I received was to prepare a sentence or two about the situation that can be used any time. I said something like “My husband fought valiantly against depression for a number of years until he was unable to do so anymore and ended his life.” No matter what your situation, you can speak of the love you have for the one you lost, how special he or she was, and how much this loss hurts.

 

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.

Decide to Heal, Again and Again and Again

When one is grieving it sometimes feels as though there are no options. Certainly much of the language that comes to mind and that we hear reinforces the belief that we are doomed to feel this pain forever.

What if that’s not true?

Let’s break it down a bit. The past is over and done, there is no doubt about that fact. While we cannot use a time-machine to go back and change an event, we can use change our feelings about the past by making deliberate choices. That is empowering.

Something I hear quite often is ‘I’ll never get over this pain, I’ll hurt like this for the rest of my life.’

However, we do have choice about our future. Understanding that we have choice about how we move forward is also incredibly empowering. But here’s the thing, we have to make that choice. Deliberately.

That’s right, making the choice to feel better is where healing begins. A powerful reason this matters is that each thought we think, each word we speak reinforces truth within our subconscious. We are literally programming ourselves to suffer or to heal, which do you prefer?

You’ve likely heard that what we focus on expands? Think about a common experience most of us relate to. Perhaps you’ve bought a blue Volkswagen Beetle. The car is new to you and you’re quite excited. Suddenly, it seems that just about anywhere you drive; you see similar cars, though you really didn’t notice them before. The only thing that’s changed is your focus.

In a similar way, when we are convinced that we must suffer deeply for an endless amount of time, we seem to be bombarded with messages that reinforce that belief.

On the other hand, if we decide today that we are open to healing, we are quite likely to notice moments that we feel better. The decision to be open to healing, to notice and appreciate progress reinforces our progress. This is power in action.

Does making this decision mean that the pain of grief will pass in that moment? Nope, it doesn’t work like that. However, making the decision to be aware that we have choice reminds us that we have some control. As we make the choice again and again and again to be aware of moments that feel better, we will notice more and more often that we are feeling better.

I encourage you to consistently apply this choice to your present moment. Remind yourself that your future is looking better and better.

Now, let’s circle back to the event which brought you this grief to begin with. Whether you are grieving a death, an ended relationship, financial loss, etc. I would encourage you to consider re-framing the event in your thoughts and language.

Decide, very deliberately decide how you prefer to think about this event, what story you are telling yourself and others. It matters.

This is not about lying, not at all; it is about shifting our focus. For instance, if I were to tell you about my son Mike, you can be assured that it’s not going to be all about his suicide death at 23 years old. Rather, you’ll hear how he made a bizarre quacking sound when he coughed for years; you’ll know that he loved knock-knock jokes and brewing his own beer and wine.

Now all of these things are part of the same story. I’m not about to deny my son’s death or the heartbreak that brought on. However, that is not where I focus; it’s not what I think about the most. My focus, my attention was then, is now and always will be on the extraordinary human that was in my life for 23 years. I decided on December 18, 2010 to make the choice to tell the story of Mike in the way that most accurately reflects my heart and his life. And the choice has been empowering.

Today, I encourage you to decide, to make the choice to heal. Remind yourself when you open your eyes, that you are making this powerful choice. Remind yourself when you shed tears that they are healing tears. Remind yourself all day long, that the hard work of grieving is bringing you healing with each and every breath. Decide to heal.

Namaste,
Sandy