I’ve been thinking a lot about grief while working through it myself with the loss of our beloved family dog Kahlo. Her departure leaves a gaping hole in our family. She spent the last 14 years with us, from before John and I were married, up until the completion of our family with Paige in 2019. How do you even wrap your arms around the life you’ve shared with your furry, four-legged companion?
The loss of Kahlo comes at an interesting time too when John and I are abstaining from alcohol and actively changing our relationship with alcohol. We’re just about 50 days in and one of the outcomes I’ve found peculiar and unexpected is a heightened sense of sadness, or in this case grief. How did alcohol play a role in my ability to cope with my normal, everyday emotions?
Turns out, it’s actually super normal for people to feel emotions more deeply when they abstain from alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, which in my mind seems like it would make you sadder in general, but it turns out it depresses all of your normal responses to things like emotions. It numbs you. Maybe that’s why I turned to it so quickly when it came to loss, death, and difficulty? I never connected the dots until it just wasn’t on the table anymore.
So, in trying to be the best sober student ever, I’m using my present grief to do what everyone says you should do and “sit in it.” What does it actually mean to sit in your grief, to give yourself space to grieve? That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out and since one of the ways I work through things is through writing, it felt like the right time to write a blog post.
Let’s start with what it means to NOT sit in grief since that feels easier than what it means to sit in it. Not sitting in grief feels like:
- Drowning feelings in alcohol or any other substance
- Distracting oneself in order to not feel
- Ignoring what you’re feeling
- Rushing the process of putting some arbitrary timeline on the process
- Judging your feelings and reactions
While I’m writing this post, I am quite literally sitting in my grief, in bed, with a box of tissues, laptop on lap and Oliver curled up purring beside me, thank God for Oliver right now. I will try not to think about the fact that Oliver, our cat, is like a million years old as well and we actually thought we’d lose him first…can’t think about that right now. Sitting here, I feel emotional pangs, physical discomforts, and weird, mental tugs. Let’s start with the emotional pangs – I feel this deep sense of emptiness, loneliness, something is missing. Not only do I feel it emotionally, but I can feel it physically too. My body feels that something is off, gone. The space in our bedroom where her bed occupied is not empty and spatially, feels void. Reminders of her throughout our house make this pit in my stomach feel heavy.
Since the procedure at the veterinarian’s office, I feel nauseous. I tried to eat breakfast, couldn’t. I tried to eat lunch, it felt thick in my mouth and hard to swallow. My breathing is shallow, my heart is heavy, and my stomach feels simultaneously empty and repulsed by the thought of food. My eyes burn, my lips are chapped, my temples are throbbing and the skin on my cheeks feels tight from all the tears that have run down them. Each time I find myself unable to control the sobs, I wonder if it’s the last real outburst of emotion, I can’t believe I have any tears left to cry.
I don’t want to be distracted and yet, sometimes I am, unintentionally. A text comes through, a thought crosses my mind, driving home looking out the window, and then when my brain catches up and I remember, it hits me like it’s the first time. That might be my least favorite part about grief, the constant remembering of what happened. I imagine this will go on for days, weeks, months and in different seasons – that moment your body and mind forget the loss and then catches up only to leave you reliving the same raw sensations and emotions. It’s a sick, painful cycle.
Here’s the weirdest part of grief I’m currently sitting in, however … the mental part. My mind is a jerk y’all. Here are some of my thoughts. “It’s just a pet, not a person.” “I thought you were stronger than this.” “You’re being dramatic.” “No one understands.” “It was a dog…a dog.” All of these thoughts I’d never ever say to anyone else, so it’s appalling that I’d think them to myself. I even debated writing this blog post for the fear that I was being overly dramatic. Crazy.
If you’re new to sitting in grief like I am, here are a couple of things I am doing that seem to help.
- Sharing my grief and my story with others. It’s 2020 which means in-person support is in the toilet, online support will have to suffice and I’m leaning heavily on my community. All the thoughts, prayers, messages, and encouragement I have received help tremendously.
- Both through this blog post and my social media posts, I’m letting my emotions and feelings come out rather than stay trapped within me, this always helps.
- Crying, sobbing, blowing my nose excessively. I know it seems silly but letting yourself cry, like really cry those loud heaving sobs feels like therapy.
- Hugging my family and holding on to them a bit too long. My body feels lonely, it helps to hold other bodies to feel less alone.
- More than watching tv, reading actually captures my attention and lets me escape for a little while.
- Letting myself do what feels and sounds good. Sitting in bed? You bet! Ignoring work and taking the pressure off? Certainly. Not putting pressure on myself to return texts and messages? For now, yes. Just doing what I actually want to do and trusting that my body has some idea of what it’s doing.
- One of the first things to go when we’re stressed, mad, scared, sad, etc. is breath. We start taking shallow breaths and we’ll feel all the physical symptoms from that. I’m consciously taking long, deep, therapeutic breaths.
- Praying & talking out loud. The thoughts are loud right now. I find myself just saying her name out loud without even realizing it. It feels productive to take those thoughts and words and put them into prayer or full sentences that feel like they need to come out.
So, I think this is sitting in it. I’m trying to do my best because I want to work through these emotions so that I’m not trapped in them and they’re not trapped in me. Kahlo deserves it. She deserves to be missed deeply. My heart aches when I think of her and I can’t imagine this feeling going away. If you find yourself in grief, I hope this post helps you. You’re not alone even if it feels that way right now. No one, not even your spouse or those closest to you can truly understand your grief because the process of grief is totally personal. Just trust that whatever you’re feeling is okay and natural for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help though. If it feels too heavy, trust that feeling and ask for help.
I enjoyed writing this post because it gave me something to do, somewhere to direct my thoughts and energy. The hard part starts all over again now when this has to come to an end. I vow to feel this, to sit in this, to heal, to not judge how I’m feeling, and to share with others to give and receive support. But mostly I vow to keep opening my heart up for love. It’s natural to want to close off to avoid these feelings of pain but great love comes with great pain, that’s the tradeoff. But great love is worth the pain. Forever and ever in my heart, rest in peace sweet Kahlo girl.