Finding the courage to authentically deal with your grief in the face of a world that dismisses your loss, seems impossible. Friends disappear. Many are insensitive, judgmental and hurtful. Your pain is so deep you can’t imagine your grief as a transformative opportunity, like the blogs suggest. You find yourself alone and lost in the dark valley of grief. It’s probably the most difficult thing you’ll deal with in life. It was for me.
After confronting a parade of losses and repeatedly having to do the hard work of dealing with my grief, I wrote this guide to help others find their way to living with their loss in peace and show how to deal with the unpredicatable emotion.
From Honest Grief
Fellow traveller, let me share my story of massing losses. I won’t go into great detail, but just enough that you can understand where this guide comes from.
Loss one: my job. It started with being packaged out of a job. I worked for an oil and gas service company in an oil and gas town. When the price of oil plummeted, anyone whose job depended on capital spending was packaged out.
Loss two: one dog. Three days later I had to put down one of my beloved dogs due to cancer.
The area I lived in was economically depressed because of the oil prices and work would be hard to find in my area of expertise. In rising up from these first two losses, I made a decision to change the direction of my career. It would take quite a bit of time for my idea to take off, but everything else in my life was good. I had a very peaceful home and an extremely happy life with my chosen life companion (my mom) and our two dogs. And together we were financially okay. I had hope and resiliency back then.
Loss three: my mom’s health. A year later, we got the news that mom had terminal cancer. I rose up again from the loss of Mom’s health and, while it was difficult and very draining to watch life ebb out of her every day for a year, I was grateful to be home to care for her and would not do anything differently.
Loss four: another dog. Three months into that last year with my mom, I had to put down my second dog down, this time with cancer in her head cutting off her breathing. Knocked down again with another loss. Standing up again and carrying on is a bit slower and harder. I begin again at the start of the grief road.
Loss five: Mom died. Mom was failing and mid-December we agreed she would go into hospice. On Christmas Eve, late in the evening and alone, she died. Although I knew this was inevitable, it was devastating. My heart ripped to shreds. So much that was good in my life disappeared with her death. Afterward, I felt I sat at death’s portal for a long time wishing I could find a way through that door to the other side and Mom and I would be together again. It took a lot of courage to stand up and walk on. I was drained from the year of letting go of Mom yet, I began again at the start of grief, this time with massive storms of anguish and sorrow.
Loss six: my home. There were no jobs and I couldn’t afford to keep my home. I had to sell much of what I owned to move back east to where there was work. There was no choice. While reeling from my mom’s death, I didn’t have time to grieve. I got busy and cleaned out her belongings and sold our home. I walked away from the place we shared for over a decade – that place of peace and joy was gone from my life, that place where she sang, “I love you a bushel and a peck,” to me from the top of the staircase. I did what had to be done. No time for grieving.
Loss seven and eight: a job and health. During my last couple of weeks in our home, I managed to line up a job and once back east I was going to meet the executives for a final decision. I found out later, I was their only candidate. What I didn’t realize is that during this time I had a spontaneous subdural hematoma (for no reason, blood vessels began to bleed in my head and blood pooled against my brain causing massive headaches which I thought was just due to tension). When I arrived to where I was temporarily staying I finally went to a doctor and discovered how serious these headaches were. Since they were talking surgery, and my head was a total fog, I had to inform the company that I couldn’t take the job.
Three months later and the blood still had not dissolved. It continued to hurt with any kind of pressure and my thinking remained foggy. I was unable to deal with writing and words. I don’t remember much of these days. Dealing with my grief was impossible.
Six months later it was slowly healing so the doctor decided against surgery, but recovery was very slow as I could expect it to take up to a year to get my brain function back again once all the blood finally dissolved. This meant I was unable to get a job.
After losses in every area of my life, I found myself sitting on the ash heap that once was a happy life. There was no avenue out of the ash heap – no ability to work, and no white knight in shining armour was riding in to pick me out of this mess. It was day after day living in the ruins of my life. I had one thing of life left – my sweet dog Abbey.
Loss nine: Abbey. Before the end of that first year after Mom’s death, my last dog was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She was the only living being in my life. Since the move across the country, I’d lost my friends. And as with many in grief, those friends and family who you think will be your pillar seem to vanish in the presence of grief. I felt quite alone. With so much missing from my life, Abbey became the only place for all my love that swirled about and had no place to land. Facing the loss of my sweet girl, I didn’t know if I wanted to stand up again or even could. What was the point? Another loss would just come along and knock me down again. The grief stew seemed bigger than I could take on. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t that one dog’s death was huge, it was that the pile of loss had become unbearable.
And yet the sun continues to rise, and we are left with no choice but to deal with it. For me, a big source of feeling helpless and hopeless came from the continuing losses that seemed to visit regularly – just when I seemed to be getting on my feet again.
Yes, everybody experiences loss. But I started to feel like Job. I was stunned at the storm that blew into my life then stood in the midst of it for years, spinning out continued destruction. I called it the loss parade and I saw no end to its unrelenting march of devastation – just like the parade of people that came to Job to tell him of more devastation. Not everybody experiences loss upon loss upon loss, without time to recover, until it seems too much to bear.
Yes, I know about loss, and I know about how hard the grief road is, especially when you have to start over and over again with an ever-increasing pile of loss. I know what it feels like to be knocked over so many times that you just don’t want to bother getting up again. All the emotions in this guide, I’ve dealt with over and over again. I know the pain of others kicking at you when you’re down, often in the name of Christ. I know months upon months of hopelessness. I know the taste of bitterness and pessimism. I know the abysmal loneliness of this dark valley. And I know the hollow emptiness inside. I bring this guide to you from someone who knows the difficulty of finding your way to serenity after loss.
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