Grief is sneaky - and smart.
Having a “good day” soon after a personal loss can lead one to believe that the healing trend is “looking up.”
It very well may be. But, before we lull ourselves into thinking that we’ve “gotten over it,” it is helpful to remember that sadness comes in waves. One minute we’re nestled in that functional trough, the next we’re swooped up into a swelling crest. And it can be hard to know exactly what sights, smells, sounds and events can trigger the grief tide to suddenly rise.
Things were going “fine” for me at work on Friday, a mere four days after my dad’s funeral. Therapy sessions with my patients were productive. I was setting up to do a swallow study when I turned abruptly and smacked my right temple hard against a piece of x-ray equipment suspended from the ceiling.
My vision greyed-out for a few seconds, but I maintained consciousness. Stunned, I held my head with one hand and braced myself against the wall with the other.
“You okay?” a concerned radiology technician asked.
“I think so,” was my delayed response. But not so much. Several minutes later, my right temple pulsed wildly and I could feel a tingly numbness spread over the right side of my face. I walked to my supervisor’s office and told her what happened. She kindly escorted me up to triage, checked me in and sat with me for nearly a half hour in the over-crowded waiting room.
I leaned forward in my chair and buried my head in my hands. Face shielded from the people around me, I could feel a volcano of rage burbling to the surface. Beneath that was a crater of sorrow I’ve still not been able to tap. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I pinched the bridge of my nose to hold back the tide.
I would have been better off releasing it.
Over the past month, my family and I had been so “on” in taking care of dad, that there was scarcely time to indulge emotion. Now that dad is gone and eulogized, there was nothing separating me from my feelings - except me.
That whack upon the head was my wake-up call telling me that floods are not to be fought, but welcomed. Tears are the solvent in which grief is honored and sorrow is dissolved. Moreover, loss cannot be compartmentalized. The rising tide floats all boats; to some degree, one loss exhumes all the others.
My “boats” soon to float are comprised not only of people lost, but pets as well. Though I know his horse ranch is a much better environment than we could ever provide for him, I still pine for my wife’s and my first dog, Louie, the Boston-Boxer mix. To this day, it breaks my heart that none of our behavioral interventions could cure him of his fear-biting and that I could not afford a house with a yard free of the blind corners around which unwelcome surprises always lurked. I cry for the toy poodle, Paco, the family dog and my constant companion during high school back in Chicago. How could my 18-year-old self have been so easily lured away from her by my native town? Then there was “VA,” our beta fish who loved to blow bubble nests and leap out of his bowl when my wife and I came home. He taught me that love defies weights and measures.
My head CT was normal. But I could now see that every loving being who touched me left a mark, more than a watermark or two sliding down my cheek.
As loving people and pet parents, we find that our dearly departed companions have opened up the door for us to become more of who we are. Our tears are a thank you. They are the evidence of our love. They may also belie our secret fear that the best parts of us coaxed forth by our departed loved ones have vanished with them. But this is not the case. Having risen to a new level of caring and awareness, our true selves can never recede into ignorance. Thank God.
“Cherish your grief,” my therapist once told me.
And so I will, by grieving to love another day.