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I'm Finally Learning How to Grieve

Ding, ding, ding… my extremely annoying and recognizable alarm begins at 6:30 a.m. like any other Monday morning. I spend some time waking myself up and am about to get out of bed when I hear my phone start to ring. “Hm, that’s weird, it’s pretty early for someone to call me other than my dad,” I think to myself. (My dad will call me many mornings on his way to work to catch up.)

I look down at my phone and it’s a group call with my whole family. My stomach sinks, and I know something must be wrong immediately. The uncertainty of not knowing what the bad news might be is killing me. When I pick up, my dad is choking up and says, “I don’t know how to tell you all this, but Piper is really sick and might not make it.” Piper was my family’s 7-year-old second Brittany Spaniel.

I am completely silent during our 15-minute phone call while I listen to the crying and disbelief exhibited by my whole family. For any of you who know me, for me to be silent during any 15-minute period is very abnormal. The second we hung up the phone, I immediately began crying and shaking uncontrollably. Amid my crying, I asked myself, “Why are you sad?” “Why are you crying so much?” and, “You shouldn’t be this sad about losing a dog.”

Asking myself these questions was such a blatant indicator of my inability to allow myself to grieve.

I decided to write this piece because I have learned firsthand that it is not only OK to grieve — but how important grieving is while dealing with any type of loss. In all honesty, over the last two years, my life has thrown me numerous curve balls and challenges. I am now sitting here with a list of six major losses in my life (with only two of them being deaths) in a short amount of time. Naturally, I want to be successful despite my challenges, but to think that it is possible to continue through challenges while acting like nothing is wrong is dangerous. I am working on allowing myself to grieve as I face difficult losses now and as I face them in the future.

It is very easy to feel like a victim when you lose your job due to COVID-19 and lose your best friend to suicide within the span of a few weeks. “Why is this happening to me?” “I have the worst luck,” and, “This isn’t fair,” were common thoughts I had in July 2020 as I experienced two challenging moments in my life. I immediately went into the offensive “do-ing” mode to deal with both of my losses by trying to be there for all my friends and trying to find a new and better job. No matter how much I was there for other individuals as they dealt with the loss of Trevor, I still wasn’t letting myself grieve. In fact, I was avoiding the grieving process.

It took me a year to truly understand that I hadn’t let myself feel the loss of Trevor and feel the pain of knowing he would no longer be in my life. I wasn’t allowing myself to feel the pain associated with knowing that I could never pick up the phone to call him again, or that we wouldn’t be at each other’s weddings. It took me six major losses within a two-year time frame to understand how to grieve. Up until I quit drinking, I didn’t know it was OK for me to show and talk about my emotions, so it’s no wonder I didn’t understand how to grieve and was instead well-versed in actively avoiding grieving and feeling painful emotions.

Although losing Piper is incredibly challenging and terrible, it was the loss of this sweet dog that finally allowed me to grieve all my losses I experienced during the pandemic. I started to lean into the pain and every time I thought about one of the losses, and I let myself fully feel and process my emotions instead of trying to do something about the pain. Although feeling this pain hurt me emotionally, it allowed me to not avoid feeling uncomfortable and get more used to feeling sad and upset about what happened. Taking these measures has helped me to truly heal. I still think about each of these losses almost every day and will for a long time, but I will no longer run or hide from these uncomfortable feelings. Instead, I’m letting myself process and heal, something I am so happy I have finally learned.

Getty image by Lisitsa