This is an excerpt of the only book I’ve ever written. I wrote it after my first dog died, the love of my life and the being I considered to be my child. While this stemmed from that loss, I’ve been using the same ideas to help me through the pain of my most recent heartbreak. I truly think there are some great nuggets in here.
****And by the way, if you or someone you know is looking to publish or represent a new writer who wrote a raw, honestly heartbreaking, and sometimes hilarious book about grief, please reach out to me. XX, Me.
It’s Not Just a F*cking Dog, Copyright 2019.
Something else I experienced terribly with this loss is this acknowledgment that grief doesn’t just take away from our lives but it leaves a film on the surface of us too. Grieving happens before the moment, at the moment, just after the moment, and in the time to come in ways never imagined. And it doesn’t make any sense at all the way it progresses or how it hits or the things it does to us…what it leaves behind.
I started to notice all of the things grief left behind when I finally had enough energy to pick my head up. There were an extra five pounds of weight that accompanied a loss of appetite, baffling to me as I saw those extra pounds cling to the places where muscle once was. I felt constantly starved but never hungry. I had thinning skin, wrinkles between my eyes and in shelves on my forehead. I had blue and yellow bags pillowing my eye sockets. My face skin was dry and irritated, my hair a color of “I’ve given up’ brown; I hated it so much I started wearing baseball hats. I had a constant heightened sense of sadness that exploded from a level one to a level one thousand as if by hair-trigger. I also had a constant sense of not wanting the things in my life, of not caring whether any of the above changed. I no longer liked to eat the things I used to eat (and I LOVE to eat). I always felt sick to my stomach. I felt light-headed most of the time.
I also started to care less at work and wanted to run away from everything. That was something big the grief left behind, a piss-it-all emotion I think was probably the culmination of all of the shitty things I didn’t have to feel over the years; when he was alive I had my dog to distract me from overwhelming suffocation of my own disappointments. But now I felt short-tempered. I felt all of the work I had put into my career was pointless because what did I have to show for it? And with whom did I have to share it?
Part of the residue of grief is that it makes you look at yourself in the mirror and truly face who you are. What matters anymore, what doesn’t? Are you moved by your job? Do you actually like spending time with the people you make an effort to talk to? Who do you care about? Who don’t you care about? Who cares about you? Who do you really love? What do you really want to do with your life? Should you leave the state, the country, the world? What is it that even makes you happy? Were you ever happy? What would make you happy?
Some people are blessed in their ability to talk about loss openly but most of us instead become shutters closed on broken windows, revealing nothing of the shattered glass inside. We talk shallowly about the pain. We talk generally about the sleepless nights. We talk about the hole left behind. But we don’t detail it. We don’t explain how the pain is searing at moments, that it manifests itself in stomachaches and hair loss and manic-inducing insomnia. We fail to be vulnerable enough to allow the pain to pour out of us as if we don’t feel how it drowns us from the inside. We make sure grief stays an inside job.
There is also something true as the loss, as fervent as the pain; I found in my loss I experienced a hopeless purgatory of unending mental and physical misery. I found myself sink to the bottom and then when I got there I suffered through the purgatory over and over again without knowing whether or not I’d one day be able to allow myself to feel a glimmer of hope, whether I’d truly ever be able to feel anything at all again. I find people talk about the pain once they’ve felt rock bottom and have decided to move forward, where the gain happens, but no one really wants to expose the place in between, the purgatory that crushes us with its unforgiving force. And that time can choke the desire to live right out of us, leaving behind a shell of a human, ripe with nothingness. It’s honestly terrifying, to almost feel so much in one moment, and absolutely f*cking nothing the next. Manic swings.
As humans, our feelings are complicated. Grief is so complicated. It has in-roads and out-roads and just when you think you have it figured out and you’re on the straight and narrow you get bottlenecked and go the wrong way down a one-way street, and that one-way street ends in a cul-de-sac. It’s a mess. That becomes the most frustrating part; there are so many times you see a glimmer of hope and then the reality of the loss slams you backwards. It becomes this knot we imagine we can get through because we see it get smaller and smaller. But then we finally unravel a straight piece of yarn from the knotted-up ball of chaos inside of us, only to find out there are knots in the yarn itself. It takes so much more time than you ever imagine it would. And then it takes more time. And the only way out is through. And it hurts. Badly.
The bewildering thing about loss and grief is that it is both merciless and enveloping. You can’t escape it for a second because even when you aren’t crying you are thinking about the fact that you aren’t crying. When you aren’t sad you’re consciously realizing you aren’t sad. And then you are sad because you aren’t sure whether or not you should be feeling anything other than sadness. Is it too soon to feel happy? Is it too soon to feel hopeful? Is it too soon to feel? Will I ever feel happy again for extended periods of time? Will I ever find something or someone in my life that will make me feel again? Will I ever not feel sad or be able to ever truly love again? Does being happy again one day make this loss less important? This sheet of confusion wraps itself around everything you do, pulling out of you doubt upon doubt. That residue of doubt settles on your life and it suffocates everything like ashes on the surface of water.
I reached this point in my grief one day and now, looking back, I see what was most helpful for me was to be brutally honest with myself and the people I loved about my unraveling. When I couldn’t talk to someone, I started to write down my emotions; I made a point to stop and note things when I finally found the words to express my pain. I went to a therapist who helped me organize my thoughts by asking simple questions, never preaching, about my pain and how it was hitting me, what I was overwhelmed by.
Before I started talking, and every time I sat to write, I wasn’t even close to aware of just how much extra residuary grief I had let settle into my being, unnoticed and unchecked. I guess all of this is to say I came to a point where I realized even with all of the crying and anger and the confusion and grieving there was still some tucked away in the shadows, saved for an unsuspecting moment. That residual grief was toxic and crushing; it appeared in broken blood vessels on my skin and in cramps all over my body. And I think starting to acknowledge those hidden places by doing the work to expose them finally helped me gain momentum.
Putting my pain and sadness into words to other people and
on the page was so unbelievably necessary for the beginning of my healing, and
I had no idea at the time how integral and true that would end up being. I truly believe we have to be honest with
ourselves and with the people who support us.
And if there isn’t someone supporting you that you trust you can
literally go and hire someone who will.
There is help all around us, but we have to start the process if we want
to heal, we have to be brave enough to face it.
This is arguably one of the hardest things we need to do in our most
vulnerable and painful grieving but we have to.
Otherwise the residue of loss can and will swallow us whole.