No matter how many therapists or grief specialists provide lists of steps that we should/will follow when dealing with loss, I have found, in the past few weeks, that you really cannot put expectations on your own grieving process. Having said that, mine has gone a little like this:
Day One and Two: Cry non-stop. Even when tears aren’t flowing, I’m crying. Burning eyelids, puffy face, total voice loss. So much crying, in fact, I developed a sty that burned for the rest of the week. Fred, my infamously unaffectionate yorkie curls up with me constantly- our bond is an odd one, but there is love and he reminds me of this.
Day Three: Back to work. I cry when telling my classes about Jessie, some of them cry with me, and I’m extremely exhausted. I leave at noon to go home, cry a little more, but mostly sleep. I visit the Humane Society to set up Jessie’s donation fund. While I’m there, I hug some sweet dogs who teach me that our heart’s are infinitely open to love, even when they’re broken.
Day Five: I am still living in a state of exhaustion. The tears are less frequent, but the weight of loss is still very much upon me. At least I have begun to compartmentalize “talking about losing Jessie” versus “feeling about losing Jessie”; I am able to speak about her and what happened without crying. This makes me feel as though I am seen as insensitive because I am not constantly weeping when replying that “Yes, Jessie died,” and “By eating a bag of dark chocolate” and “She was almost three years old” but, for me, it is necessary in order to get back some normalcy in the day to day routine. I can cry in the car, in bed, in the shower- but no more at work. This is the day that I get my Jessie tattoo… it is perfect, and finally the loss begins to feel real. That night, I get a call from a student informing me that her brother has brought home a puppy from a friend’s house and their mother will not let it spend even one night in their house. After failing to find any option that doesn’t bring a needy, worm-filled (I find this out later), flea ridden, 6 week old puppy into my state of “barely keeping it together,” I tell my student that I will keep the puppy over night and take it to the shelter the next day.
Day 6: I am even more exhausted now, due to waking up every two hours all night to take the puppy out. But, somehow the warm little body in my armpit makes me smile as I wake, before crying, as always, when I remember that Jessie’s big head will not be nudging me into full consciousness this morning. I take the puppy to school since she cannot stay home alone yet and everyone loves her (because duh, she’s a tiny puppy). I announce that I am not keeping her, and they say “Jessie sent her to you, she’s your angel puppy!” I can’t help but like the idea of Jessie looking out for me, but I still know that I am not a puppy person. I am a DOG person- and I have no intention of keeping this mini-sized mess. Nevertheless, I decide to call the puppy Edie after my favorite blonde bombshell; Edie Sedgwick.
Day 7: Edie goes to the vet. She has worms, needs shots, is just about 2 pounds, and most likely has chihuahua somewhere in her mix- these are all cons on the list, with the pros being: cute, warm, soft, and potentially “sent to me by the angel of my beloved deceased dog.” Still, the shelter has had a parvo outbreak, and she’s too young to make it there, so I keep her for the weekend. Oh, and did I mention that I picked up another foster dog named Wilco the Truffle Pig? So now my house is full, my heart is still empty, but my days are busy and distraction is helpful.
Days 8-14: This week is when it really hits home that Jessie is gone forever. It’s so interesting to me that my brain could not fully process her death as permanent until after some time passed. Now I realize that we will never go for another bike ride. Every time I get in my car I remember her face smiling between the front seats and I cry. Edie lets me cry into her fur; the very act of holding a living, breathing being in your arms is comforting. Memories flood my mind this week; Jessie and I meeting at Petsmart, the way she climbed into my lap in the car as we drove home to start our journey together. I remember crying in frustration at how destructive she was at first; Jessie taught me better than anyone how to be patient and forgiving (although I hate to admit that the patience only came once the anger had proven unproductive). My stress-induced asthma has caused heaviness in my lungs ever since the day I found her in the yard… so my breathing hurts this week. Still, I have a job to do- I am feeding and de-worming this puppy, house-breaking her, socializing her. I have Wilco, who needs to be baited by an entire trail of hot dogs just to get him out of the house- he needs to learn how to walk on a leash. These tasks help me focus on something besides the undeniable absence.
Days 15-21: This week has been about acceptance. Each day doesn’t hit me like a ton of bricks with the morning light of realization and memory. Instead, Wilco and Edie sleep on either side of me in bed- one in fitful puppy dreams, the other in the deep, snoring sleep of an old man (though he’s barely 1 year old!), Fred stuffed between two pillows praying that they leave him alone. I notice the small victories- Wilco made it all the way to the street with just one hot dog! Edie stayed in the crate for 4 whole hours without peeing! Fred didn’t snap at Edie when she climbed on him as he slept! Even Harriet seems to be spending more time socializing with the family lately, instead of in isolation in her bed. I know that these dogs are an integral part of my recovery from my loss. Still, I fear judgement for allowing them into my life so quickly, but know that Jessie would have loved every moment of having them in her home. The word “replacement” is irrelevant when faced with unique relationships. How can you replace what cannot possibly be replicated? I will never again be 23 years old, living in a new town, renting a 500sqft apartment, and learning how to apply for my first credit card. Barely able to take care of myself, but somehow figuring out how to take care of this beautiful, elegant, psychotic mass of energy who destroyed as powerfully as she loved. We grew up together, and you can’t replace that. I will never “move on” from losing my girl- those words imply that I will leave her behind and forge a new path without her. Instead, I am choosing to move forward, and bring her with me in the love I share with everyone around me. In every dog that sleeps in my bed, curls up on my sofa, rides in my back seat, or walks by my side, I will see her smiling face and wagging tail looking back at me.
So, for me, moving forward looks something like this: