Today’s Daily Prompt: Describe the last time you were surprised by the intensity of a feeling you had about something, or were surprised at how strongly you reacted to something you thought wouldn’t be a big deal.
I lost my almost 20-year-old cat 2 months ago. He developed an aggressive oral bone tumor. Having to euthanize him was one of the most painful and difficult things I’ve ever had to do. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried to prepare myself. After all, he was almost 20 and had lived well past his life span. He had been losing weight for a while and was looking quite frail. I knew it was coming and I tried to prepare. Oh how I tried.
I knew I would grieve. I knew I would miss him. Terribly. I just didn’t know how hard I would take his loss. I didn’t know how the intensity of the emptiness would hit me. It blindsided me. It sounds crazy, but it really does feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest… like it really is breaking. I’ve never had physical pain while grieving before. It hurts. Literally. I wonder if people really do die of grief? I’m convinced after this, that they do.
When I graduated from veterinary school, I realized something pretty quickly when I got out into the real world of practicing. I realized they had taught us how to euthanize pets, but they had done very little to prepare us to deal with owner grief. As I recall, the extent of our lectures on grief was learning about the five stages of grief:
That was about it. So I always felt pretty uncomfortable and awkward and very ill-prepared when it came time to euthanasia, and counseling, and trying to deal with a grieving pet owner. Don’t get me wrong, I VERY MUCH wanted to help these owners and be there for them. I just felt at a loss as to how to actually do it. But I tried. I offered them my support and comfort as best as I knew how. I became very interested in pet loss grief right from the beginning of my veterinary career. I started reading everything I could find on the subject. I read every pet loss grief book I could get my hands on. I read grief books dealing with human loss. I even thought for a while that I would go back to school and become a pet loss grief counselor. I did go back to school and took a few psychology and sociology courses, but that dream sorta fizzled out when the dean of the School of Social work I was wanting to get into told me there was no place for pet loss grief in social work? She didn’t understand. She didn’t get it. She obviously was no pet lover.
So I guess I thought, of all people, I should be able to accept and “deal” with my grief a little better than I have done. It was just a little ironic. I think the fact that I lost a good friend I had known since my childhood in a tragic accident less than two months before I lost my cat, didn’t help matters much. That was a devastating loss I wasn’t prepared for. I can’t think of many nights where I haven’t crawled in bed and
cried sobbed in the past two months. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m weeping for my friend, or my cat, or both. Probably both. In the end, it really doesn’t matter anyway.
Sometimes I feel like people are thinking I need to “just get over it” because Bigfoot was a cat and he was almost 20 years old. Did I think he was going to live forever? Then I came to the conclusion that I don’t care what other people think. It’s my grief and everyone’s different. Everyone grieves differently.
I’ve talked to my doctor some recently. Despite trying to hold back the tears, I’ve wept in his office. I’ve told him I’m not sleeping. Last week, he gave me the name of a counselor to see. Though I’m not against therapy (in fact I’m a firm believer in it– been there done that with the loss of both my parents), I go back and forth between wanting to pick up the phone and dial the counselor’s number, to saying to myself that I just need to give it more time. These things take time. I know that.
I guess I learned something about myself from all of this. I’ve lost pets before. I’ve lost both my parents. I’ve lost friends. All were difficult. It’s not that I didn’t think losing my cat, who I loved dearly, wouldn’t be a big deal. I knew I would miss him terribly and I knew I would grieve. Hard. But this has been different from all the others. The intensity of the grief has been so…. well, shocking and unexpected. Scary. Frighteningly intense.