One step, & then another.
"Dogs enter our lives and imprint themselves in ways that people, and our complex relationships with them, cannot". Going Home, by Jon Katz.
Most of you know I recently had to make a tough (understatement) decision: euthanizing my 14 year old Australian Shepherd. You know, the white faced puff with tons of attitude? If attitude alone could have kept her alive, she would have lived forever, I'm sure of it.
Deciding to euthanize an animal is difficult (understatement). Not only do you have the overwhelming grief related to the decision you've just made, the weight of the responsibility of said decision, the subsequent loss, followed by the reconfiguration of daily life without your trusty life-sidekick... you have to figure out how to "be" around people. Non-animal people. Animal people. Bosses, co-workers, family members. The lady at the counter who smiles and asks, "How are you today?" when you're paying for your gas and you're thinking "I'm dead inside", but really you smile back and nod, noncommittal, and instead ask her how she's doing (& really, who knows what's going on in her life, and here she is powering through, so you feel an imagined connection with her even though perhaps her life is just fine at the moment.)
Your heart is empty, your soul missing a vital part of what made it whole. Your thoughts are clouded with grief and heartache. Your mind is being retrained, reconstructed, as you continuously forget that your fur-partner is gone. You are now on the other side of the one thing we all dread when letting an animal into our heart: their death.
And then, it's time to put on your nurse-face (or your teacher-face, office-face, customer-service face...) & go to work. While you worry about whether or not you'll be able to get through the day without ugly-crying or otherwise losing your shit, you wonder... do I have the right to feel this way over a dog? What about people who lose a parent? Or a sibling? Spouse? Child?
Am I being totally ridiculous, here? WHAT MUST PEOPLE THINK!?
You end up feeling bad that you feel bad. Which strikes me as a little crazy. & that's entirely too much crazy when you're already feeling crazy sad & crazy heartsick.
How could I not mourn her loss? How could I not miss the one presence that was always there, the one with whom I spent the majority of my time? Who had been since I was 14 years old and thus been my partner through all the milestones hit between the ages of 14 and 29? Whose company I preferred over anyone else's? Who adventured with me, humoured me, kept me company on my saddest days?
Wouldn't that be the crazy part, to not be affected?
Phew. So many feelings.
A loss is a loss. It doesn't matter what, or who. How long you were a part of eachother's lives, what kind of relationship you had. Everyone is entitled to feel it, and feel it deeply. On some level, I already knew this, working in healthcare. But it's easy to question your feelings. What's an appropriate amount of grief for the loss of your fur covered soulmate? How long should I grieve? Am I insulting someone who has suffered a bigger loss? What's a "bigger loss"? Will I make people uncomfortable while I'm feeling all these feelings? Why do I care so much about other people and their feelings toward my feelings?
The thing about feelings following a loss is that they give no fucks. Feelings are all about doing their own thing. They answer to no one. No amount of deep breathing or visualization or positive thinking can control those bastards. They are rebellious little assholes that gleefully pelt you with reminders of loss, guilt, heartbreak, frustration, emptiness and despair.
While I worked out (& continue to work out) all these damn feelings in my already overactive mind, I thought to myself: "I bet I'm not the only one who is thinking this way". Questioning feelings, the amount & depth of grief, if it's appropriate or weird or otherwise "not okay". Today's society banks on everyone being fine. It's fine. I'm fine. We're all fine.
Well, I think it's okay to not be fine. Whether you're the type who's created a stamp for your feelings for easy advertisement or the type who likes to deal with those fierce little bastards alone (like me), you just need to deal. Allow the feelings to wreak their havoc, & even if you need to lose yourself in them for a little while, do it.
Some days I'm fine. Most days, I'm not. I'm okay with that. To hell with everyone else.
(I would really like to thank Danique for recommending the book Going Home by Jon Katz and highly recommend it to anyone going through the loss of their pet, or making those preparations. I would also like to sincerely thank Journey's amazing Doctor, Dr Ashton of Elmsdale Animal Hospital for her incredibly compassionate and open-minded care of both Journey & I, right up until her final moments).