I attended Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's growth and transition workshops twice. My first one is the most memorable, because the concepts were new to me. I was still in my twenties and hadn’t had a ton of loss in my life. I had lost some childhood pets, and of course a few boyfriends left but didn’t die, even though at times I pretended they had died so I could move forward with my life.
One of the participants of Elizabeth’s workshop made a gigantic impact on me. His name was Steve, and he told the story of his father having a heart attack. The man was running his own car dealership in California, and his father was back in the Midwest. He was sure that his father wasn’t really sick, and he was having a car sale that weekend. He didn’t rush to his father’s bedside. Unfortunately, his father’s medical condition took a turn for the worse, and he ended up dying. The man was so embarrassed that he didn’t attend the funeral. He stayed out on the west coast.
Fast forward ten years to the workshop. Steve had lost everything, his car dealership, his home, and his wife. He blamed it all on not grieving the loss of his father. He said he had completely shut down. I was amazed by this and made note of it. As someone who kept her head down and worked, I could see me making a similar mistake. Years later, when my own father had a heart attack, I was on the first plane out I could find.
I learned two lessons from Steve’s story. One is that you never can totally know what will happen, so if someone is important to you, you need to be there. (This alone shows how much I had changed. A few years before when I was in pharmaceutical training, a fellow trainee had her dog at home die. She flew home immediately, leaving the job. I wouldn’t have done that then; I had been taught that no matter what, work went on. I had also been taught that pets came and went, they weren’t as important as people. Now I believe pets are as important, if not more important than people. We are all souls after all, and they share our lives more than anyone else.).
The second thing I learned is that grief is not something that can be put off. If you swallow it, like we are sometimes tempted to do with our feelings, it becomes a hard stone in our heart that keeps us from being alive, from being present in the current moment. It is still tempting to do this, because sometimes grief feels like you are jumping into a dark well of pain, not sure that there is a bottom to it. I promise there is a bottom. You can also take breaks from processing your grief, like you would from cleaning the house or doing your taxes. The important thing is that you finally get through it.
"Grief will happen either as an open healing wound or a closed festering wound, either honestly or dishonestly, either appropriately or inappropriately. But emotions will be expressed."
You can’t always control what happens in your life. Losses happen when you least expect it, but a loss that is a long time coming is difficult also. The best advice I have is do not compound your grief with guilt over the actions you take at the end of someone’s life. It is the guilt that keeps you awake at night, wondering if things could have been different. Guilt wastes energy that could be used for something positive in your life. Guilt is a useless emotion that keeps you tied to the past, unable to move forward in love. Trust me, when beings come through from the other side, it is all about the love, and no one has ever told the person I am reading for that their guilt was justified.
As a human medium, when people on the other side come through to talk to loved ones, they don’t say what job they had or what they did for a living. They mention those great stories of the love that was shared, the laughter that happened, the odd habits that were theirs alone. The fact that they love you, or even more common, that they were proud of you. That is what they remember and how they want to be remembered.
When pets come through from the other side, it is usually with pure love. They also say the crazy things they loved to do. That they are healthy and out of pain. That you shouldn’t feel guilty for the choices you made about their health care. After all, they are in heaven, sheer bliss, so what is there that you are feeling guilty about?
Pet loss is difficult. Remember to reach out to someone in need. Show them you understand their pet was their family and their loss is real. One small gesture may make a world of difference.