It’s been one year, three months, and nineteen days since my partner of thirteen years passed away. There has been enough time that has gone by to see the loving people who provided much needed comfort in the first few days, weeks, and months, rightfully, go back to their own lives and carry on with their paths. There are also, those in the fray, who stood steadily by, and stepped into my life when these others left. These are the ones who were and have been scarred in similar ways with grief and loss of their husbands or wives or happened to know my partner extremely well. It’s a thick skin that gets made when one goes through this particular type of loss – the loss of a spouse or partner. These are the moments, the right now, of vast loneliness, not quite in tears everyday or even in months, but as life continues to show up, the loss reminds itself to you and one is left feeling overwhelmed, empty, and sad when you go through simple tasks like having to get through all of your “to do list”, which is now much longer and takes more time to do, walking the dogs by yourself, or going to dinner with friends who are a part of a couple and you are sitting there with them, now alone. And, then there are the more difficult tasks, like getting your taxes done, finishing your partners final tax returns, and dealing with clearing your closets of their clothes and shoes for the first time.
Most recently, our beloved dog, Prince, got extremely ill, and over seven veterinarians, including 3 internal medicine specialists, couldn’t figure out what was going on with him. He wasn’t eating; he was spiking fevers, losing weight, and became practically lame. He couldn’t get up, let alone walk, and all of these symptoms persisted for over a month. Needing to take him, rush him at times, to the vet, emergency rooms, hospitals, with my other dog in tow, was so stressful and overwhelming, but it had to be done. And, the similarities of the utter powerlessness I felt with my animal reminded me of my late partner, in her last two weeks of her life in the hospital, where she battled (bravely) for her life, and those similarities were, at times, too much to bear. It triggered so many feelings of fear, panic, and anxiety as I needed to make critical decisions by myself in highly stressful moments. I missed my partner being there with me, helping me through this, giving me her opinion, or just telling me it would all be okay. There was no immediate comfort…anywhere. It wasn’t there at three a.m. when I woke up to find Prince hiding under a chair, with a fever of 104.1 F, surely getting ready to die. And, I know it wasn’t there as I got dressed, put my dog in the car, and raced to emergency with him.
When you are dealing with grief, life, at times, can feel like that – a constant three a.m. urgent awaking, no one around, quiet, still, hurried, panicked, and alone. I learned a lot by the end of this month ordeal with Prince. We found out that he had a type of autoimmune disease called Immune Mediated Poly-Arthritis, that affected his whole body, and ravaged it with infection and lameness. A steroid, in the end, saved his life. Watching my boy go through this, a day at a time, a moment at a time, in sheer acceptance, gave me great pause. He may not have liked what was happening in the moment but it was going to be what it was, and there was nothing he could do about it. Many times he would just look me in the eye, pure love pouring out, and I could tell that even in that moment, there was a joy he had being with me – a joy in the gaps between the doctor coming into a cold, sterile, room, and the vagueness of his illness. He didn’t know, I didn’t know, but it was all-okay in that moment.
Prince has taught me a lot during his eleven years with me. I’ve watched him tilt his muzzle up in the air and appreciate the breeze as it swirled around him, while he lay on the grass. I’ve witnessed him smell the air as a storm was coming in and simply enjoy it – He has taught me all about being in the moment, mindfulness, and gratitude. I’ve also witnessed both him and my other dog, Myles, go through their own grief at the loss of their mommy. No one is left unscathed.
Everyone experiences grief differently. And, it’s true what they say, “grief is not linear”. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, and it can make you feel that you are lost in this labyrinth of despair and numbness. It can knock you down for the count even when, let’s say, you think enough time has gone by that surely you’ve graduated to some next level in your “grief-ness”. No, it’s not that simple, unfortunately, and grief reveals itself in a new way to you, as you grow with it, and walk through it. It is truly humbling – just when I think I have found a way out of this maze or there seems to be a clearing, I hit a wall, apparently going ninety miles an hour, and am knocked down, yet again. So, the only logical thing left for me to do is to just be still in my grief, know that it is there, and realize that, “Yes – I have been affected in a major way and that my life, as I knew it, will never be the same”. I have been impatient in this uncomfortability that grief brings. And, if I am to stay here until it is over or subsides or changes, I have a choice. I can be miserable or I can be in acceptance of the grief and loss, and choose a different way anyway – even if the different way means doing nothing and being gentle with myself during this process. And, what has been happening as I have been applying this new realization has been amazing.
What I am learning is that staying present, in the moment, and being grateful for what I have and feel, right here right now, even if it’s just acceptance of my utter powerlessness of this grief, is what is bringing me joy. I have tried this exercise through tears and turned it around for me almost immediately. Look around you. Right now. And, answer the following question: Is there ONE thing you can be grateful for? Cancel everything after the “but” because I know you probably said it. Now, let’s try again: Is there ONE thing you can be grateful for? One thing? Okay – that one thing probably conjures up a story for you, mostly a good time, a lovely memory, a time shared with someone or something that brought you great joy in that moment. Didn’t it lift you? Even if for just that second, were you not brought to a different place other than the sadness, other than the heaviness, other than the grief? You were just transformed in that moment – to a higher energy, a levity, a respite, if you will – A Joy. It’s okay to have it. I know none of this will bring back my partner but I also know that I am entitled to happiness and she would want me to be happy. So, I am choosing to do things differently. I am choosing JOY.
I know it seems strange sometimes that you could make room for such a thing after loss. And, even that can bring on sadness and, sometimes, even guilt. However, these are the moments that, if I can just put them together often enough, can bring a new sense of ease to my soul, a joy, as I work my way through this labyrinth of grief.