Why a pet’s death hits so hard

— New book explores dealing with the loss of a beloved companion

By

E.B. Bartels has cared for many pets in her life: Fish, dogs, birds and a tortoise. And she watched many of them die.

In her new book, “Good Grief: On Loving Pets Here and Hereafter” she explores how people mourn and grieve their animals. With her own losses, Bartels says she often diminishes her feelings by telling herself it was a only dog or a bird that died, not a human being.

“The truth is, we can have really deep, special, important relationships with animals that sometimes are even more profound than our relationships with other people,” Bartels says. “I interviewed so many people for my book who said, ‘It hit me way harder when my cat of 20 years died than when my dad who I was sort of estranged from passed away.’”

Animals love their owners unconditionally — and the loss of that acceptance can devastate people, Bartels says. And losing the physical affection from cuddling or sleeping beside a pet is a big loss when the animal is no longer around.

Even with all her research, Bartels questions why people continue adopting pets knowing this difficult goodbye is inevitable.

“Are we just masochists? Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?” she says. “There’s really something worth it. I just always think about the complete, unconditional love that our animals give us.”

For example, her beloved dog Seymour endured a tough heartworm treatment last spring that involved shots and drugs — but he never resented or witheld snuggles from Bartels and her husband.

Bartels thinks about Seymour’s eventual death on a daily basis. Prey-driven Seymour loves to chase small animals like squirrels and lunge after trucks, so on every walk, Bartels thinks he’s going to get away from her and run into the street.

“I think in some ways pets bring us so much joy because they force us to remember how short life is and how fleeting our time is together,” she says. “Even if Seymour gets hit by a car tomorrow while I’m walking him, at least we’ve had a few really special years together. And I’m really grateful for that time.”

Interview Highlights

On how to know when it’s time to say goodbye

“That is a really hard question and I wish I had a better answer. I asked every single vet I interviewed for this book that question. One of the best pieces of advice I heard was sort of the three things rule.

“A vet in Western Mass. said to think of three things that your pet loves to do. Maybe it’s swim in the lake and chase a tennis ball and loves to eat carrots. And on any given day, if your pet can still do all three or two of those three things, then your pet’s probably in pretty good shape. But if you start to notice that even the things that they absolutely love to do more than anything in the world are becoming challenging or they’re not interested in doing them anymore, then that’s when you really need to start to think about, am I holding on because I’m having trouble letting go and what’s best for my pet here? Are they in pain or are they suffering? It’s hard, though, because every animal is so different.”

On how the death of pets weighs on veterinarians

“It’s really hard for vets. I spoke to probably like 25 or 30 different [vets] for this book, and all of them brought up the really high suicide rate actually among veterinarians. All of them have lost colleagues to suicide.

“I think that’s part of why I wanted to write so much about the vet perspective in my book, to really remind people who are grieving that it’s really easy when you’re grieving and angry and upset to lash out and blame the vet, ‘Oh, you said this surgery would fix their cancer and it didn’t work and they died anyway.’ Vets are people and they’re just trying the best they can and they want what’s best for your pet, too.

“I had a lot of people tell me they got really angry at their vet when the vet suggested maybe it was time to consider euthanasia, but they admitted later that they just didn’t want to hear that because they were sad and upset and the vet really was doing what was best for the animal or thinking about what was best for the animal.”

On her visits to pet cemeteries and how famous racehorses like Secretariat are memorized

“We can really be profoundly impacted by animals who aren’t our own pets, who are famous, and lots of people know and love them. Secretariat in particular came on the scene when people were going through a hard time in the United States. There was war and seeing such a joyful, successful racehorse really brought a lot of people’s spirits up. So in Lexington, [Kentucky], it was really amazing to see these whole horse cemeteries and monuments to these amazing race horses.

“One of my favorite facts is when Man of War, who is another legendary racehorse, passed away, the whole city of Lexington shut down for the day. So everyone, like kids, didn’t have to go to school so everyone could come and pay their respects to Man of War who lay in state, sort of like a U.S. president.”

On the history of humans grieving the loss of pets

“People have loved animals for millennia. My first chapter of my book is all about how in ancient Egypt, people would mummify their pets, they would bury [their pets] with them and hope to be reunited in the afterlife. There are animal mummies in Peru. There are ancient dog cemeteries in Siberia and Israel. People have loved animals for as long as they have welcomed animals into their homes and lives. And to me, if you’ve loved an animal, you also then grieve an animal. So it’s nothing new.”

“To me, the way that people mourn their pets and have these big mausoleums and statues and plots and pet cemeteries and portraits painted, it just shows to me the depth of their love and the joy that pets bring them.”

Complete Article HERE!

How to Cope With Anticipatory Grief

Knowing that a loss is coming doesn’t make grief any easier to handle.

By Rachel Fairbank

Grieving is hard and complicated after a loss, but some people may find themselves dealing with anticipatory grief, which is grief that comes before a loss. Anticipatory grief can happen in situations such as when a friend or family member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness—when a loss is known to be coming, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Why anticipatory grief can be so complicated

Although anticipatory grief happens in situations where the impending loss is known and expected, it still prompts a complicated grieving process—one that can be every bit as hard as the actual loss itself. It’s the uncertainty of being in this in-between state, where there’s still hope that the loss might not happen or optimism about finding closure in a relationship that makes anticipatory grief so complicated.

“Even though you might expect it, it still feels unexpected, no matter how much we feel like we’ve had time to prepare for it,” said Alexandra Cromer, a licensed professional counselor with Thriveworks. “It’s almost like there are multiple deaths or multiple grieving periods.”

For example, if a person is caring for a parent with dementia, there’s the grieving period associated with the loss of their mental capabilities, which is then followed by the grieving period associated with the loss of their physical presence. “There is never uncomplicated grief,” Cromer said.

There are many emotions associated with anticipatory grief

“In some instances, anticipatory grief can serve a function of helping you feel prepared,” Cromer said. In the example of a parent who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, this may be a time for talking with them about their will and their end-of-life preferences. But it still comes with an enormously complicated set of emotions, many of which can be confusing and painful. “It’s sadness, but it’s also anxiety, frustration, denial, blame. This is something that can wreak a lot of havoc,” Cromer said.

It can be especially hard to acknowledge those emotions when the loss hasn’t happened yet. “A lot of people, when they’re experiencing anticipatory grief, they don’t give themselves permission to feel all of these emotions,” Cromer said. “They’ll say, well, my mom’s not dead yet, why am I upset? Or, okay, she has two years to live, why am I anxious all the time and can’t enjoy the time I spend with her?”

What to do about anticipatory grief

If you are experiencing anticipatory grief, which is making it hard to function in your daily life, then it’s important to seek professional help, preferably from someone who has experience with different types of grief. “If it feels like you are wearing ankle weights, that life just got extra hard, and is requiring so much more energy, that’s when it might be a good time to seek help,” Cromer said.

However, as Cromer notes, even if your grief isn’t impacting your daily functioning it can still be helpful to seek out help, as that can help it from getting worse. “Early intervention can help,” Cromer said. “The sooner we get ahead of something, the sooner we have that trusted professional, typically, the better the outcomes are.”

Complete Article HERE!

Grief vs. Depression

— Which Is It?

It’s important to sort out the differences

By Nancy Schimelpfening, MS

Grief and depression share similar symptoms, but each is a distinct experience. Making the distinction between the two is important for knowing how to treat and cope with your symptoms.

This article discusses the difference between grief and depression, focusing specifically on which symptoms overlap and which symptoms are different. It also presents the various treatment options that are commonly used to treat symptoms of depression and, in some cases, to treat the symptoms of grief.

Clinical Perspectives of Grief and Depression

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) removed a “bereavement exclusion” from the diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD).1 In the DSM-IV, the bereavement exclusion stated that someone who was in the first couple of months after the death of a loved one generally should not be diagnosed with MDD.

However, the DSM-5 recognizes that while grief and MDD are distinct, they can also coexist. What’s more, grief can sometimes trigger a major depressive episode, just as with other stressful experiences.2

Studies have shown that the extreme stress associated with grief can also trigger medical illnesses—such as heart disease, cancer, and the common cold—as well as psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.

In addition, the DSM-5 text revision (DSM-5-TR) added a new diagnosis for people experiencing extreme grief after one year of the death of a loved one. This condition is called prolonged grief disorder (PGD). It is considered a trauma– and stressor-related disorder.

PGD is marked by intense and distressing emotional pain and yearning for the lost loved one, thoughts that are preoccupied with the loss, disruption in one’s sense of identity, emotional numbness, and avoidance of reminders of the loss. PGD symptoms are disruptive to a person’s everyday functioning and ability to reintegrate into life.3

Given the similarities between grief and depression symptoms, there are times when it may be tricky to distinguish between the two. A better understanding of their similarities and differences can help.

Similarities

Grief may have several symptoms in common with the symptoms of major depressive disorder, including:

  • Intense sadness
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss

Differences

Grief tends to decrease over time and occurs in waves that are triggered by thoughts or reminders of its cause. This is how it differs from depression, which is more pervasive and persistent throughout all situations.

In other words, a grieving person may feel relatively better in certain situations, such as when friends and family are around to support them. But triggers like the birthday of a deceased loved one or going to a wedding after having finalized a divorce could cause the feelings to resurface more strongly.

Depression, on the other hand, tends to be present no matter what the circumstances are. (An exception to this would be atypical depression, in which positive events can bring about an improvement in mood.4 A person with atypical depression, however, tends to exhibit symptoms that are the opposite of those commonly experienced with grief, such as sleeping excessively, eating more, and gaining weight.)

Additionally, grief usually causes a person to feel a longing for or an urge to see their lost loved one again; depression tends to result in the opposite. Someone with depression doesn’t necessarily feel the urge to do anything or see anyone.5

Grief

  • Intense sadness
  • Difficulty accepting that whatever caused the grief occurred
  • Excessive focus on the episode of grief or avoidance of it altogether
  •  Thoughts of “joining” the deceased
  • Sensation of hearing or seeing things related to the loss

MDD

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt not related to grief
  • Morbid preoccupation with worthlessness
  • Sluggishness or hesitant and confused speech
  • Prolonged and marked difficulty in carrying out day-to-day activities
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Hallucinations and delusions

Anger and irritability can be potential signs of both grief and depression as well.

Treatment for Grief and Depression

There are treatment options for the symptoms of depression and grief. Of course, treatment varies based on a person’s unique circumstances. Be sure to consult with a doctor or mental health professional to discuss what options are best for you.

Therapy

Psychotherapy is a treatment option for both grief and depression. It can be greatly beneficial in helping you process what you are feeling and teach you strategies that can help you cope.6

Grief-specific cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful for some people with prolonged grief disorder. This therapy method uses similar techniques as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), like reframing negative thoughts and learning healthy coping mechanisms. In addition, this type of therapy can help you learn how to maintain a healthy attachment to your lost loved one.7

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a treatment method often used for depression but has the potential for treating complicated grief as well. IPT focuses on resolving symptoms, building up relationships, and getting involved in mood-boosting activities.8grief counseling made up of components of both CBT and IPT. In CGT sessions, you may repeat the story of how you lost your loved one as well as set personal goals for yourself and your relationships.9

Medication

Antidepressants are the most common class of medication prescribed to treat depression. Examples include:10

For someone experiencing extreme and disruptive symptoms of grief, a doctor might prescribe an antidepressant as well.

It’s most often recommended that for major depressive disorder, you complete a course of medication along with attending therapy sessions at the same time.

Support Groups

Social support can be a powerful tool when you are coping with symptoms of depression or symptoms of grief. Many mental health professionals recommend attending a support group of people who are experiencing similar challenges as you.11

Whether you find a support group for depression or a support group for grief, you may benefit from sharing your experiences with others, receiving their encouragement, and listening to others’ stories.

A Word From Verywell

>While the symptoms of grief and depression are similar, it’s important to talk to a doctor and/or mental health professional who can reach a diagnosis and help you pursue treatment options to cope with your symptoms. Remember, there is relief and there are resources that can help you heal.

Every person grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Talk openly with a therapist or someone you trust, and remember that grief is not a sign of weakness.

Likewise, depression is an illness like any other. Reaching out for help when you experience depression symptoms is a sign of strength and can help get you on the road to effective treatment.

Complete Article HERE!

The logistics of death can be overwhelming.

— New apps can offer help.

Highland Cemetery in Pawnee, Okla., at dusk.

Creators of the services say their goal of providing easily accessible and organized help for people in distress has never been more necessary

By Sophia Laurenzi

What do you do after someone dies? Most people expect to deal with intense grief, but they might not realize how many logistical details arise after a death. Those tasks can feel overwhelming: deciding who to call, learning where to get death certificates, planning memorials and navigating finances.

“It’s so daunting … to figure out where to even start,” grief therapist and author Claire Bidwell Smith says. Bidwell Smith’s mother died when she was 18, and her father when she was 25.

Shortly before his death, he helped her make a checklist of all the things she would have to do: call the mortuary, Social Security and the bank; order this many death certificates; plan for what to do with his things. “I sat there with tears dripping down, being like, I don’t want to do this,” Bidwell Smith says. “But the minute he died, I was so grateful to have that list.”< Now, new apps and websites with names such as Cake, Lantern and Empathy exist to help people navigate the tumult and confusion after a loss, offering tools that range from organized checklists for the early days of funeral planning to resources for later concerns such as closing a deceased person’s credit card account or finding a home for the deceased person’s pet.

The creators of these apps and websites say their goal of providing easily accessible and organized help for people in distress has never been more necessary. “The pandemic has increased people’s understanding of why this is important, as well as the actual need” for services, says Suelin Chen, who co-founded Cake in 2017.

Cake, which says 40 million people a year visit its website, provides a list of what tasks people need help with and then creates a checklist, along with offering guides to tasks like making an online memorial page for a loved one. The website hosts a library of thousands of articles related to death, including how to express condolences to a friend and how to plan an eco-friendly burial service. Cake, which is free to users, also provides help with other end-of-life needs, such as advice for talking to elderly parents or how to create a will.

The website Lantern, founded in 2018, and Empathy, founded in 2021, likewise provide guides on what tasks must be tackled after a death, with information about options at each step and timing.

Lantern, whose co-founder Liz Eddy was inspired to create the website after her grandmother died and ended up Googling what to do next, aims to be a one-stop resources for mourners. Among other things, it provides information about how to write a eulogy and “do an ash scattering ceremony,” and offers a list of “best funeral songs,” with traditional/religious, somber and joyful possibilities. Empathy’s “Obituary Writer” function, meanwhile, promises it “can craft a publication-ready tribute based on your answers to a few questions.” For a fee, it also offers one-on-one support from a professional after-loss consultant who essentially acts as a concierge for after-loss tasks.

“We connect people with services and give them tools, but a lot of it is really an education platform,” Eddy says.

Other companies are working to move beyond just providing information to creating tools that will handle some of the post-death logistical burden.

Kat Reed founded EstateGrid after she published a workbook called “Begin Here: Helping Survivors Manage to help her father manage the death of her mother.

EstateGrid is working on building a service that will automate much of the bureaucratic aftermath of death. It starts with automated discovery of assets, liabilities and accounts, using the deceased person’s identity and death certificate to generate a list of what needs to be done. The platform will offer tiered levels of services, such as free tools and paid options, for the automation processes.

“Every life leaves a mess,” the website says, which also offers help in selling a house, finding investment accounts, appraising valuables and finding a new home for a pet.

The mobile app Empathy, which also features an easy-to-navigate checklist, offers premium services such as an obituary writer that promises to create a polished obituary based on the mourner answering a few questions. The paid option, which costs $8.99 for one month or $64.99 for a year, also includes tools that automate closing the deceased person’s accounts, memberships and subscriptions. The app uses software to pre-fill forms and streamline processes that usually take dozens of separate phone calls.

The companies are not just about logistics, however. They also include grief resources as part of their tools.

Experts say that makes sense. It’s hard to separate out logistics following a death and the grief people must deal with. The logistics “can be so overwhelming and terrifying, and actually sometimes get in the way of the grieving process,” psychologist Jordana Jacobs says. When the tasks that follow a death take up so much time and energy, it can shift focus away from grief, at least temporarily. As psychotherapist Megan Devine says, “Logistical support doesn’t change grief, but it reduces suffering.”

>Empathy provides grief meditations, journaling and chat support (which is another premium feature). Empathy co-founder Ron Gura says his company has focused on helping people dealing with both issues. “We don’t think you can decouple them,” he says.

The text-based company Grief Coach focuses on the emotions that follow a death, using advice from grief experts to send personalized texts to your phone. These messages — which range from describing breathing techniques to use when feeling overwhelmed to reminders that grief is not a linear process — are designed to provide extra help that family and friends often want to but don’t know how to give.

Founder Emma Payne created Grief Coach after her husband died by suicide and she stopped hearing from many friends and families. Ten years later, she went to a friend’s funeral and learned how devastated many of her people were to have lost touch: They just didn’t know what to say. Grief Coach costs $99 a year, which includes adding up to four friends and family members who also receive texts with suggestions on how they can support the grieving person, such as reminders of the deceased’s birthday.

Grief Coach does not replace human support; instead, it teaches grievers how to find and ask for support and helps their loved ones show up in meaningful ways. Experts say that logistical support from technology can be helpful as a stand-alone, but that digital grief support is best used as a supplement to personal support or therapy that is often needed to process and move forward from profound loss.

“My hesitation around technology is that we just have to make sure we don’t lose the intimacy inherent in what is healing about connection through grief,” Jacobs says. “We have to make sure we still make these technological products very human, because it is through that humanity … that we actually heal the most from loss.

Bidwell Smith, whose father made her that critical checklist, says she believes that even though technology cannot replace those healing connections, it can enable people to connect with each other.

“Grief is so lonely, and it can be very isolating,” she says, but she is encouraged to see people with similar experiences find each other in online communities like social media and new after-loss websites and apps. “I think anything where someone can feel more connected and less alone in what they’re going through is a good thing.”

There is no easy way to deal with what happens when a loved one dies. But by helping demystify essential tasks and offering resources for both logistics and grief, these digital services leaders say they hope they can help lift some of the burden off mourners, giving them a little more space to heal and connect with the support they need.

Complete Article HERE!

It’s not easy to tell kids about death.

But the stories we spin can help light the dark

Alice Matthews helps palliative patients write their life story, sometimes with a “children’s book” version for their kids.

By Justine Toh

When we think of how we’ll be remembered after death,  it may seem that simple words and basic descriptions don’t do us justice.

But for parents with a terminal illness and those on their deathbed, plain language is sometimes best.

“Dad was an artist. He painted the world that he saw. People loved his drawings.”

How else do you tell your life story — or explain death — to a young child?

Alice Matthews knows something of the challenge of putting a life into a story.

Since 2017, the SBS and ABC journalist has volunteered as a biographer with the Sacred Heart Community Palliative Care Biography Service based at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

The work involved sitting by the bedsides of the dying and, over a series of sessions, recording their stories.

For Alice, bearing witness to people’s lives, crying along with them, helping them grieve, reflect, and consider their legacy was an enormous privilege.

“We talk a lot in the service about holding space for someone,” she told RN’s Soul Search.

“There is an incredible spirituality in doing that, sitting with somebody, being with them and not really having to say or do anything except that.”

Death: the storybook version

Alice mostly saw elderly clients, part of a group often “shunted and pushed aside” by the wider world.

“What better way to return value to them than to sit and talk about their life and the value of their life which hadn’t disappeared,” she said.

Such clients often met their deaths with acceptance or comfort in their various religious and spiritual beliefs.

Others died “before their time”, as we would say.

If they had young children, Alice would put together a “storybook” version of their dying parent’s longer biography.

Girl reading a book, with LOVE written on her long-sleeved t-shirt
Some of the best-loved children’s books feature themes of loss and death.

For one client, a dad with a young daughter, Alice worked with the family to come up with a child-friendly “circle of life” explanation of death.

“I remember sitting in the room with them as the wife read it to her husband. That was one of the moments where we all sat there in tears,” Alice said.

“I didn’t know how he would react. He wasn’t verbal at that point.

“We waited a moment and then saw that he’d typed: ‘That was beautiful.’

“That was one of those moments where you feel the entire weight of the heartbreak — but also the relief.”

Once upon a time

Another writer who understands this struggle to give language to death is author Chloe Hooper.

Chloe’s partner Don Watson, the historian, author, and speechwriter, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia in 2018. Things looked grim.

Then there was the uncertainty: how to explain his possible demise to their young sons — Tobias, then six, and Gabriel, three at the time.

Author Chloe Hooper wearing blue turtleneck, and light-pink shirt.
Writing offered some comfort in the face of grief for author Chloe Hooper.

Few age-appropriate titles on the shelf seemed right. So, Chloe embarked on a quest to find the perfect book.

“The right story can help us find a path through the forest. It can help us take our straw and weave it into gold,” she said.

“Quite quickly, I realised that storytelling and perhaps re-storying this situation would be a way to help us through.

“The electricity and potential of ‘Once upon a time’ might be a way for us to light the dark.”

Chloe’s search for the best words to explain death — recounted in her book Bedtime Story — turned up the innumerable ways in which adults have explained death to children.

Grief and enchantment

Along the way, she made a surprising discovery: beloved children’s authors had suffered significant bereavement in their lives.

Roald Dahl, for one, described himself as “limp with despair” as he began writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after losing his seven-year-old daughter.

Dahl wasn’t alone. The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, J R R Tolkien, Frances Hodgson Burnett, C S Lewis, J K Rowling — death had touched them all.

Black and white photo of writer Roald Dahl holding onto his cane, standing in front of shed.
Writer Roald Dahl was familiar with death, both in his personal life and in his children’s books.

Writing couldn’t overcome death, but it seemed a comfort in the face of it.

“It made me realise that an ingredient of enchantment is grief,” Chloe told me, referring to the often magical settings of the stories penned by those writers.

What she was looking for — the perfect story to tell her children about death — “was embedded in all of the stories that surround us.”

Mythic narratives similarly stalked the border between life and death, Chloe noticed.

Descent and return narratives saw characters like the Greek hero Odysseus — and even religious figures like Jesus Christ — descend to the dead before returning to the land of the living.

These stories, and their authors, couldn’t help but stray into spiritual territory.

For Tolkien, fairy tales were ultimately about escaping death. C S Lewis, author of the Narnia series, found himself a Christian after becoming convinced that the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection was what Tolkien called a “true myth”: the fairy tale that came true.

‘Everything will be alright’

Plenty of people — including Chloe Hooper — are agnostic about that.

But every parent knows it’s their job to protect their kids. According to the late sociologist and theologian Peter Berger, “to become a parent is to take on the role of world-builder and world-protector”.

For Berger, this makes parents practically godlike.

Parents represent “the underlying order of the universe that it makes sense to trust,” he writes in A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural.

Take the most basic parenting move: hushing a crying child in the dead of night. For Berger, when a mother rocks her bub, murmuring “Everything will be alright,” she relates to her child the way we imagine a god should relate to their creation.

Even the most ardent skeptic gets that a god’s job is to guarantee order and safety and beat back the encroaching darkness.

This casts new light on the stories we spin about death: from fairy tales to storybook versions of the “circle of life”.

What are these if not our attempts to love those we must eventually leave? Our efforts to weave out of the world’s sadness a life-giving spell?

Perhaps we’d rather not read the stories of our lives that get written on our deathbeds.

But even if such stories are prompted by the most decisive of endings, they pulse with love and concern for the living left behind.

Death doesn’t exactly get the last word because these stories are, in the end, about life.

Complete Article HERE!

When a Relationship is Complicated, So Is the Grief Process

Being honest and facing mixed emotions about a loved one’s death can help with healing

“All people are fallible humans, in life and in death, too. We disagree with one another and we don’t always get along. But there is always a possibility to get it right when both people are alive. We lose that opportunity when someone dies. We lose the chance for closure.”

by Randi Mazzella

Jacalyn Wetzel, a writer and therapist from Mississippi, recently lost her father. Wetzel describes her relationship with her father as complicated, so it is not surprising that her emotions surrounding his passing are complicated, too.

Wetzel explains, “Growing up, I had a lot of resentment towards him. My dad made many missteps in his own life and his choices hurt me. When I was an adult, things started to turn around, especially in the last two years. He showed more often than not that he was trying to fill the cracks he had left from years before.”

“Grief is even more complicated when everything between you wasn’t rainbows and sunshine.”

Losing a loved one is always hard. It doesn’t matter if the relationship was good, difficult or a combination. Rebecca Soffer, who runs the website Modern Loss (and wrote a book of the same name), explains, “All people are fallible humans, in life and in death, too. We disagree with one another, we argue, and we don’t always get along. But there is always a possibility to get it right when both people are alive. We lose that opportunity when someone dies. We lose the chance for closure.”

Adds Wetzel, “Grief is even more complicated when everything between you wasn’t rainbows and sunshine. It’s still grief, just the same.”

As a point of clarification, the term “complicated grief” is used to describe a disorder where a person experiences long-standing grief where feelings of grief do not dissipate over time and are debilitating. This article focuses on grief when the relationship itself is complicated.

Fear of Honest Reflection

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast, explains, “Funerals are for paying respect to someone. These rituals are about giving comfort and support to the mourners.”

People rarely delve into the complexities of a relationship, especially when speaking publicly about a deceased loved one. We have been taught not to speak ill of the dead, so in general, eulogies are focused on discussing the deceased’s best qualities and sharing stories that put them in a good light.

Saltz says, “What is said at a memorial is not going to give a clear picture of the total person.”

But most relationships are not all good but rather multi-dimensional, especially between family members. Some relationships are fraught or even toxic. Because of the differences in situations, so, too, may be a person’s reaction to the loss.

No Rules for Grief

“Different circumstances can lead to different emotions surrounding death,” explains Saltz. “Many people think grief is just about being sad. But you can also feel a range of other emotions including guilty, perturbed, lonely or ambivalent.”

“The idea that there are five stages of grief that happen consecutively and for a specific amount of time is misguided,” says Soffer. “Grief isn’t organized; it’s a mess and a natural human experience. There is no ‘normal’ way to grieve.”

The idea that there is a correct way to grieve can impede the healing process. Well-meaning friends and family can make people feel judged about how they are grieving or comment on how a person “should” feel rather than listening to the person’s feelings.

“Many people have a picture in their mind of what a mother/daughter or sister relationship should look like,” explains Saltz. “But all relationships are individual. If a person had conflicted feelings about a person when they were alive, they will probably continue to have mixed feelings when they are gone.”

“Whether tears fall or not, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t love there. Love is just as complicated as grief and people aren’t perfect.”

Wetzel recalls that when her stepfather passed away several years ago, some people commented, “Well, he is only your stepfather” or “You are lucky you still have your real father.” The comments stung.

Wetzel says, “My stepfather raised me from the time I was a little kid. In many ways he was more of a father to me than my biological father had been. Although people didn’t mean it, these types of comments upset me.”

Conversely, Wetzel has been made to feel she isn’t grieving enough for her biological dad, especially by his extended family. She herself says she has been waiting for the “dam to break” and is starting to wonder if it ever will.

“I try not to judge myself, “says Wetzel. “Whether tears fall or not, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t love there. Love is just as complicated as grief and people aren’t perfect.”

Safe Space to Grieve

Soffer believes people do themselves a disservice when they don’t allow themselves to fully face all of their mixed emotions about the person and what has been lost.

“It can be lonely when you hide your true feelings or are afraid to speak openly for fear of being judged. Honest reflection can help us learn, build and move forward healthily,” she says.

Well-meaning family and friends can be helpful, but they may also be biased. “People who know you or knew the deceased may have pre-existing beliefs about the relationship or the person,” says Soffer. “If they aren’t able to offer you space where you can speak honestly without judgment, it may be better to seek grief support elsewhere.”

Finding a safe space to share your feelings is key to healing. Peer-to-peer grief support groups (in-person and online) and professional grief counselors are great options. “With a grief counselor, the grief discussed is ‘yours only,’ and you don’t have to worry about another person’s feelings,” explains Soffer. “It may take a few tries to find the right grief counselor, a person you are comfortable talking to about the tough stuff.”

For Wetzel, telling her story on social media proved cathartic.  “I have always tried to be real and honest with my followers,” she says. “I needed to explain my absence, so I shared that my father had passed. But then I was getting a lot of condolences which made me feel the need to be transparent about our relationship and my conflicted feelings of grief.” 

Wetzel found most people appreciated her candor and many expressed having been in similar situations. “At the time, I was feeling guilty and alone. It was helpful to know others had gone through the same type of experience,” she says.

Complete Article HERE!

Life and death lessons from my very best friend

Luis Carrasco and his dog, Penelope, at the top of Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona, on Oct. 11, 2014.

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I have always been afraid of death. Not of dying, but of the pain of losing those I love.

I was so preoccupied with it as a child, that ever since I can remember, I said I wanted to be a doctor. This delighted my mom and dad to no end, especially when I said the reason was that I wanted to help people. The truth was I wanted to keep them from dying.

For 45 years, through emotional detachment and good fortune, I had mostly avoided that pain I so dreaded. Until a week ago, when my luck ran out and my wife and I said goodbye to our dog, Penelope. She was almost 15.

It’s fitting that having learned so much from her in life, that she had one last thing to teach me.

But before I talk about the end, let me tell you about the beginning. My wife and I had been living together for less than six months, having recently moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, when she insisted that we get a dog.

Although I had a couple of pets growing up, they lived outside, and I felt little connection to them. In Mexico, having an indoor dog was unthinkable, it just wasn’t part of the culture. Penelope, as suits a proper Southern lady, would be raised differently.

Born Jan. 1, 2008, of a coonhound mother and a chocolate Lab father, she had a dozen siblings. About half of them were all white, the other all black. Six weeks after they were born, they barked and bounded in the back of a truck — a monochrome flurry of puppy energy — where Penelope and her brother’s mixed coats stood out.

My wife pointed at the pair, and I grabbed the male dog. She said she meant the female but that, “it was OK if we took that one.” As she always tells the story, with a tone that invokes the hand of providence, I apparently said, “No, no, let’s take the one you wanted.”

Thus, Penelope came into our lives, and, verily, I wanted to drown her in the bathtub.

We lived in a condo that shared walls with three other units and as she cried at night, what mattered to me most was that we were inconveniencing the neighbors. She peed inside the house, chewed anything she could get her paws on and demanded constant attention … for about a week.

Then, it felt longer, and now it feels shorter, but regardless, she very quickly settled into who she would be for the rest of her life: a sweet, relaxed dog who asked for very little and gave so much in return.

As I think about who I was then, and what I thought was important, I have a hard time understanding. I’m embarrassed at how sheltered I was and how even though I was 30 and married, I had so much growing up to do.

In those early days, Penelope’s biggest sin was forcing me out of my routine, out of my solipsistic comfort zone of not having to do anything for anyone else. Slowly, she not only made me a better person, but she opened my world in new ways.

Taking her for walks and going on hikes, her love for being out in nature was infectious. She took me from someone who thought twice about sitting on the grass for fear of an ant or two, to pushing through tick-infested bushes on the hunt for an elusive swimming hole. She really loved the water.

Being with her allowed me to get out of my head and enjoy myself. When I think of happiness, one of the images that always comes up is chasing Penelope, not a care in the world, as she ran around the hills of the Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia. There are pictures, and they are silly.

Penelope sits by a lake inside Yellowstone National Park on June 1, 2021. (Luis Carrasco)
Penelope sits by a lake inside Yellowstone National Park on June 1, 2021.

She also helped me work on managing frustration, from her days when she was a rebellious puppy to her final months, when we dealt with the indignities that come with illness and old age. She could no longer walk by herself or properly control her bodily functions.

Penelope died on Aug. 20, and the pain of losing her has been at times overwhelming — emotionally and physically draining. There is a certain unreality to my days. Life had Penelope in it, so what is this now? My wife calls the whole thing surreal.

Yet, this is one more case of Penelope pushing me to grow up, to understand that death comes with pain, but it also comes with happiness. Even as tears still flow every time I think of her, afterward I am left feeling joy; blessed to have known her and for the time we shared.

I know someday the tears will stop, and the joy will remain.

Complete Article HERE!