I’ve counseled people through grief. Acutely and in the moment when I worked in the emergency department. Then working in psychiatry I treat it sometimes years later. It is remarkable to me how many people have not properly grieved. But now that I am going through it I understand why. Grief sucks.
Acutely in some cases death is a “blessing” or a “relief”. In other cases it is a tragedy.
As I face my Nana’s death…even writing those words being tears to my eyes…I reflect on all the times in my life that I have truly grieved. They are, thankfully, few and far between. They include the deaths of my Grandpa, other Grandma, and the death of my cat. The other time I truly and deeply grieved was during my year of fertility treatments.
I’m not a crier. It takes a lot to get me to that point (at least it did before pregnancy hormones, now it only takes anything having to do with children). Previous to pregnancy though I truly and deeply cried when my Grandpa passed, when my Grandma passed, and when my cat died.
My cat adopted my family when my mom was pregnant with me. He ran inside on a rainy Halloween night. I was born the following January. Cookie was black and white and quite possibly the smartest and most loving cat to exist. We put him to sleep when I was a month shy of 18. He was three when he adopted us. I grew up with him sleeping in my bed every night. He went outdoors and would follow me to neighbor’s houses and wait for me and escort me home. He sat with me as I cried when I was bullied daily in fifth grade. Some days he was the only reason I survived. He was big, and his fur was coarse, and he had a big sturdy head that loved to be scratched.
He was my best friend.
I remember knowing something was wrong with him. My mom brought him home from the vet that December day and I knew it would be my last afternoon with him. I held him as our vet injected him and he took his final breath. We ended his suffering. He let out a final meow with his last breath, and I shook as my body was wracked with sobs. That was ten years after my Grandpa passed, and seven after my Dad’s mom.
I remember seeing a therapist in college and he asked me when I truly cried. I told him about those three deaths, and he specifically asked me to describe the death of Cookie. I did. I looked up and he had tears streaming down his face. Like my Nana said, I do things big or not at all. That was my first time in therapy and I made my therapist cry.
Grief is so hard because it is elusive. I think I am fine with something, and then I light a fire and think my Nana would have liked this and it hits me like a ton of bricks. I think I’ve laid Cookie to rest and then I look at my two current cats, Rajha and Maddy, and it tears me up to think of living without them. Rajha also is obsessed with me, and I’ve always thought she is Cookie reincarnated.
For women in my practice the most common unresolved grief I see is due to miscarriages or infertility issues. I remember receiving the phone calls from my fertility doctor’s office after our pregnancy tests and it feeling like a punch in the gut when they would tell me it was negative. Then I would just carry on with my day. No time to grieve.
Grief is realizing I will never hear my Nana’s laugh again. Grief was my deep pain in thinking I might never be a Mom. Grief was holding my best furry friend so he would enter death knowing he was loved and that I would never abandon him. I had to give him at least a fraction of the comfort he provided me over the years.
Grief at the core is a sadness and a heaviness that almost defies description. It hits me in the pit of my stomach. I’ve had to sit with clients as they process grief. It’s an ugly process to bear witness to, but it is powerful to be trusted that much by others.
The best part about grief is that it passes. If you can sit with it, tolerate it, feel it, and let it go, then it will pass. But it sure does fucking hurt.
Death always puts life into sharp perspective. It serves as a reminder that our existence is fleeting. That we too will leave our loved ones one day and they will grieve us.
Grief reminds us to enjoy our lives and to love to live.