About three years ago, I sat at the piano and started to play a melody I’d been hearing in my head. The only lyric that came to mind as I was playing it was “fulfilled.” I remember sitting there thinking about my father-in-law who had […]
The LIV ON project was conceived out of the desire to transform my grief into healing. My sister, Rona had just died of glioblastoma and I was suffering greatly from her sudden death. I’ve always turned to music to process my emotions and help heal […]
Recently, a dear team member was preparing for the death of a beloved pet and the sorrow in his words was palpable. Though I was honored he reached out, I felt inept at helping him as he waited for his pup’s kind veterinarian to come to the house for one last visit. I wanted to do the right thing….say the right thing!
As the texts between us flew back and forth, I got to thinking, “Oh my gosh! This is his “child.” This sweet little 13-year-old pup is his family! Of course, he feels he’s about to lose it.” Instantly, I was transported back to a time when I had to help my own four-legged family member die and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, I became momentarily unhinged after her death.
That’s right. When my golden retriever, Jenny died, I had a full-on grief attack while standing outside a Boston conference hotel and my then-boyfriend looked at me like I was losing my mind. I couldn’t disagree with him either — as the grief felt similar to what I felt when my child had died years earlier. I remember standing on the sidewalk feeling nauseous, breathless and broken-hearted. Yet, though the grief felt familiar, I felt different and I couldn’t figure out why.
Then it hit me: The loss of my child had been validated. I had received hugs, prayers and stacks upon stacks of condolence cards when my son died. I had given myself permission to grieve and yet when the protector of my home, my best-buddy-through-life, the one who bore witness to my journey, died suddenly, I was expected to simply get back to work the next day as though my grief did not exist. Even I felt at odds with myself about deeply grieving the loss of my pet. Why WAS that?
Because overall, we as human beings do not acknowledge that the body, whether it has four legs or two, is simply the covering for the soul… that Love Is Love.
So how to help someone who has lost a pet? How about we look to the starting line of Love: that it’s mysterious. Who knows how souls connect? We just know they do and that losing a physical connection with someone or some “being” can often tremendous emotional pain. In short, we grieve because we love (regardless of form).
Here’s what else you can do to help a grieving pet owner:
- Recognize that he or she may feel they have lost a family member and above all else, that grief needs to be validated…often and aloud. Say the pet’s name and ask about him or her in conversation.
- Ask your friend to share a funny or memorable story about the pet.
- Care for your grieving pet-owner friend or family member the way you would care for someone who had lost a beloved human. Send a card, cook a meal, take a walk together, just listen. They all help.
- Recognize that grieving well takes time. The length of time a person grieves is not dependent upon the species or form of love. So text, email, whatever it takes for a few weeks or months. Just don’t forget to stay in touch! Your grieving friend will let you know when they’re doing well again.
- Most of all, help your pet owner friend shed the self-imposed shame caused by grieving their beloved “prince or princess of the castle.” Why is this most important?
Because the only way to heal grief is by going through it, not around it.
Your grieving friend (and his or her pet from beyond) will thank you…
For more on pet loss? Read on: http://grishastewart.com/pet-loss-grief/
To kick off our 40th Anniversary Celebration, on May 1, Capital Caring is excited to bring Grammy Award-winner Olivia Newton-John, Grammy nominee Beth Nielsen Chapman, and SOCAN Award-winner Amy Sky to our nation’s capital for a special benefit concert that will feature an evening of […]
What I Learned about Love from Patients and Their Families by Patti Maloney, George Mark Children’s House
I witness love every day in my job as a social worker at George Mark Children’s House. George Mark is a place of support and caring for children who have life-limiting illnesses and their families. A large part of what makes George Mark special is […]
The thought of describing one’s journey of grief as “grace” seems unsettling, if not impossible. Grace, after all, is typically defined as elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action – or in many religious traditions as mercy, clemency or pardon. How in the world can either of these definitions apply when we feel as though we are in a deep, dark hole whether our grief is new or we’re experiencing a “grief burst” at a later place in our journey? And if our grief was caused by another person, are we really expected to offer them mercy or forgiveness?
There are those who would say yes to those traditional definitions of grace, but in my experience they are typically persons who have not faced grief that tears their world apart. Most importantly, they haven’t lived through your grief. Everyone’s experience of grief is individual, unique, and deserves to be honored and respected.
Grief asks so much of us; it changes our world from the way we once knew it, and it changes us from the person we were “before.” We have to learn a new way of living in the world, choosing how we are going to take those first and then continuing steps that will last for the rest of our lives.
We also need to reimagine our relationship with the person we loved who has died. The relationship doesn’t end; it changes. We no longer see and hold that person in our lives, but we always hold him or her in our hearts, our memories, and our spirits.
I can say this from experience, as our beautiful daughter was killed by an adult speeding red light runner in December 2003 during her senior year in high school. Our lives were shattered, and our beliefs about the world and the Divine were tested beyond words.
But whether we are religious, spiritual, have existential beliefs, or no formal belief system at all, the challenges are the same because we are all connected wherever and however we search to find meaning. How do we make sense of our grief? How do we move through it? Will we ever find happiness, purpose and joy again? Can we regain our balance?
As we know, grief is not a quick process: it can be one step forward and then a slide, not just a couple of steps, backwards. We can find joy in a moment, and in the next feel the overwhelming sadness knowing that we can’t share that joy with the person who we long to have beside us.
Yet one thing I have learned in the years since our daughter’s death is that the journey does become softer.
The painful moments – the grief bursts – still come, but they are clothed in loving remembrance and, yes, even grace.
You see, there is another meaning for grace – one that can become not just a lifeline for us when we are grieving but a tool for hope and healing in our journey. Grace also means to favor or to honor. What better thing for us to do than to carve out space in our grief to honor the person we loved?
I long for our daughter every day. I wonder what she would be like; she was planning to be a teacher of developmentally delayed preschoolers and looked forward to being a mother someday. She loved life and was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known in how she cared for the people, animals and world around her.
I’ve chosen to include grace in my grief journey, which admittedly wasn’t easy at first.
I honor the lessons my daughter taught me from the time she was born (yes, even during those difficult adolescent years). Memories and shared experiences come back to me, and there is laughter amidst the tears.
Random acts of kindness I do for others in her honor bring moments of joy. I am grateful that I was her mother; that she was, continues as, and will always be a part of our family. Most of all, I am grateful for her love and the grace she has encouraged me to embrace.
In your grief, as you redefine yourself and your world, invite your sadness to lead you forward one moment, one minute, one step at a time. And along the way, invite and practice grace as a way to honor and continue your relationship with the one you hold and love in your heart.
Feelings of Grief May Be Magnified During The Holidays / Jon Radulovic, National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization
The holidays are often thought of as a joyful time of the year, filled with sights and sounds of seasonal cheer. Yet for people struggling with the death of a family member or other loved one, the holidays can be a difficult time. The season […]
It is often in our darkest hour when grief has cracked us open, that we find access to the purest creative voice with us. Through the gift of art, music, and all creative expression we can begin to address the deep spiraling waves of feeling that overtake us […]
The LIV ON project was conceived out of the desire to transform my grief into healing. My sister, Rona had just died of glioblastoma and I was suffering greatly from her sudden death. I’ve always turned to music to process my emotions and help heal my heart.
So to help me write and record a special song in memory of Rona, I asked longtime friend and extremely talented singer-songwriter Amy Sky, for support. Amy had already co-written and produced my “Grace and Gratitude” album, which was a recording that marked a previous tumultuous passage in my private life.
Ironically, Amy was also coping with loss. Her father had died of Parkinson’s disease and her mother had recently passed away from cancer. She helped me finish and record Rona’s song and I sent it to my family and friends as a way of sharing my feelings about her loss. I’ve always found it easier to do this through music.
Many friends asked for more music like that, but I was still raw from the loss of my older sibling and unable tofocus on anything much. Music, poetry, drawing and painting became an outlet for my emotional roller coaster. Creativity played an important role in helping me cope with my overwhelming feelings of sadness and grief.
I remember calling Amy one day and although she lives in Canada and we see each other rarely, we easily pick up the threads of each other’s lives and weave in the missing gaps. True friendship is like that.
We were discussing making an album of music to heal grief …a follow-up to “Grace and Gratitude,” when I thought of asking Beth Nielsen Chapman to join us. Beth is a longtime friend and a truly gifted singer-songwriter from Nashville who’s recently inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Amongst her enormous contributions to music and song writing, Beth has written a stunning song called “Sand and Water” penned after the passing of her husband to cancer.
I had performed Beth’s song, as had Elton John — in fact right after September 11, when the world’s grief waspalpable. I could barely get through it.
Shortly thereafter, Amy and I discussed how wonderful it would be if we could have Beth as part our project.
Little did I know that Beth was actually already partaking in and performing at grief conferences. Amy and I felt she was the perfect person to make up this trio, so we asked Beth and she agreed!
We wrote the songs for LIV ON over three opportunities where we could get together, no small feat considering our crazy schedules. The songs flowed out of us like water, easily and freely, as we worked our way through our own stories of loss… with many tears and much laughter.
We found that any time we shared a vulnerable part of us,
we felt such an overwhelming feeling of kinship
and relief that we wer not alone with our pain.
We hope these songs that came from the depths of us, will offer a place of comfort to others.
“Live On” was perhaps the hardest song to write, as it was intended to also be a fundraising and awareness theme song for my hospital: The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness Research Centre (http://www.onjcancercentre.org) in Melbourne, Australia.
The ONJ Centre has been my dream and passion for the last ten years. To be able to create a song to encourage people to share their Liv On journey of hope, thriving and remembering for the Liv On website is a dream come true.
Having survived breast cancer in 1992 and thriving ever since, this musical journey has been an amazing gift…one that I am so grateful for.
Sometimes there are no words that can help assuage grief. “I’m sorry for your loss” falls flat when a mourning mother is standing next to her young child’s open casket, framed with flowers and cards of sympathy. You might feel inadequate, your aching heart racing […]