Trigger warning: If grief feelings are too raw for you to read this right now, please put this aside until you’re ready. Take care of yourself and please don’t read on if you’re not ready for it, ok? This will still be here when the pain is less intense, so don’t push yourself.
Today I want to talk about something we often don’t want to talk about but it’s important and I know it is pertinent for quite a few of you right now, so I wanted to write with the intent to encourage you.
I’m going to talk about when life is hard, and specifically when it relates to grief and loss, including impending loss.
Pain is testimony
We don’t grieve for what we didn’t love, so the depth of our grief is testament to how much we loved. It is a legacy, a reminder of how much the one we now miss has impacted and irrevocably changed our life. They will never leave us because they have been part of moulding us into who we are and who we are becoming.
When I talk about this in terms of our dog team-mates, each team we create in future stands on the shoulders of those that have gone before- all the things they have taught us, all the memories we have made with them, they all change us and develop us and our future dogs are beneficiaries.
I often work with people who begin working on their mental game because they see the negative effects their unhelpful nerves are having on their dog- and their life changes in ways far beyond competing. That dog is a conduit to great personal growth that will stay with their human, even after they’ve gone.
In fact, my own beloved Ferdy is the very reason I do what I do. That wee dog stretched me, grew me and opened my eyes in so many ways, and Mind to Win is the product of the impact of that wee stinker on my life.
How can we respond to Pain as Testimony?
When we grieve, we can grieve with gratitude for everything that we had. For love which many will never know in their lives, for memories that we were blessed to get to make, for how our relationship with them changed us and made us better, perhaps got us through tough times in our lives (I know Ferdy did that for me, but that’s a story for another day!)
Our pain is real and it HURTS. But it only exists because we had something we cherished. Your feelings are valid and as such, acknowledge them and, where you can:
- Be gentle with yourself. You’re hurting- go easy on yourself.
- Honour your pain as testifying to how deeply you loved and the depth of relationship you will miss.
- Look for ways to be grateful for what you had, even while holding it in tension with the feelings of loss. Gratitude doesn’t mean you downplay or deny your loss, it just refuses to lose the history of amazing memories in the midst of the present pain.
- Look for the legacies. This is a way to see how your beloved one goes forward with you in spirit as it were: how did they change you? What did they teach you or show you that you had to learn? What new opportunities, activities or people did they bring into your life? How is your life richer for having been touched by them?
There is no time limit on grief
Here’s a big one. Grief comes not in a straight line graph, but in waves. I know we probably all know this, but it’s good to be reminded, because sometimes our gremlins want to shame us when it’s been more than a week/month/year and we’re still having moments of grief.
I’m NOT suggesting you wallow in grief and lose yourself there, absolutely not. You still have life and purpose and as you can work your way forward and honour that, absolutely do.
What I AM saying is that sometimes grief comes back around and surprises us and occasionally we feel like we ‘shouldn’t’ still be grieving, or someone will suggest that we shouldn’t. But if you know that you’re doing your best and those out-of-the-blue moments still occasionally catch you out, don’t beat yourself up.
And if you ARE stuck and can’t see a way out of grief, PLEASE get help. Please. There are many many exceptional therapists out there who can walk you through your grief and won’t think you’re stupid or should be over it by now. Just like you’d get specialist help if a broken limb wasn’t healing well, your mind and heart are no different. We ALL have times when a little tweaking is necessary for us to function at our best.
What about if you’re not facing grief just now but want to avoid even a little of the pain in future?
You can close off your heart and not let anyone or anything in and live and isolated cold existence, but without risking the lows, we also deprive ourselves of the highs that make life wonderful at its finest. Rather than shut ourselves off, here are a couple of alternatives. I don’t know that they ease grief so much as refuse to let it have the last word.
- Cherish everyday moments. Life can be busy, but taking a moment in the midst of the mundanity of it to capture a ‘mental snapshot’ for future reference can be powerful.
- Be grateful for every single day. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, and frankly, we’re ahead of millions on the planet in that we have a better than even chance of making it through today in one piece, so be grateful for that. Just like cherishing the everyday moments, this practice helps us be present in the moment, and shrinks fear because gratitude overwhelms fear. It cannot scream so loud when we are thankful in the present.
- Create memories- and take photos, videos, journal about them… write down about their quirks, be curious about their preferences. I’m sure you already do this to some degree, so perhaps this is more of a statement of solidarity that savouring the mundane and making memories of the rest is a beneficial act.
I’m sure you have your own ways to make the most of life with your dear ones, so please share your own strategies below. I will read them all and will answer as many as I can.
Wherever you are and whatever you’re going through today, please know that you matter, and that no matter where you’re at, your story is continuing and can be glorious. Pain can take its dang time to ease and we are changed in light of it, but please please keep going.
Please let me know your strategies and comments below, I know you likely have far more ideas than these initial ideas here.