Last week something out of the blue happened in our family..

Tashi, our beautiful 10 year old black Labradoodle suddenly got sick.

He became listless and sad. We took him to the vet and the initial diagnosis was that he had eaten something that disagreed with his cast iron guts! Tashi is a stealthy food stealer and not fussy about his cuisine. He loves chocolate cake and doesn’t believe that chocolate is supposed to be bad for dogs……..So this idea that his stomach was rebelling was a very plausible explanation for him pushing the limit.  We were reassured.

Over the weekend he went downhill. Those soft brown eyes stared vulnerably up at me and seemed to be pleading for me to do something.At the fourth visit to the vet, they did an ultrasound and discovered he had an aggressive form of cancer.

We were completely taken aback; a week ago he had been stealing a tub of butter off the kitchen bench.Not expecting this diagnosis, we were then told, that the most humane action was to put him down immediately. Emotions were pinging off the walls in our house. We were confused, disbelieving and sad ~ all at once.

It was a horrible moment for our family.

I’ve had to deal with some significant losses in my life and being a psychotherapist I’ve become familiar with grief and loss…But I knew this loss would be the first my teenage daughters had really had to face and I wondered as a parent how to help them through it…?It made me think carefully about how to react… aware they may watch and learn from my responses to adversity.

Let’s be honest, so all good intentions aside, nothing hurts so much as a loss, it’s a roller coaster ride of:

  1. anger
  2. confusion
  3. a pit in your stomach ~ a dull ache that seems to linger
  4. loneliness
  5. and sadness.

My experience tells me it’s pretty skilful to navigate these waves of emotion that wash over you, with any sense of dignity and composure.

What helped us navigate our loss?

1. We all gathered at home, digested the news and waited until everyone felt “ready” to face going to the vets’ for the last time.
2. We took our time saying goodbye to Tashi ~ we openly let ourselves cry, we talked to him and told him how much he meant to us, we snuggled and showered him with pats and love.
3. We bought him home afterwards wrapped up in a blanket and some of us looked at him after he had died. For me it made it concrete rather than hard to believe.  It helped to give ourselves this time to really “see”  that Tashi was no longer in his body. Some people find it very difficult to view a body but if you can it does defiantly help you get used to the idea.
4. We made an effort to talk about the unspeakable ~ what to do with “his body” rather than leave him at the vets and not deal with him ourselves.
5. We then buried him under a beautiful tree at our block in the country. We all went together and did this. Being with each other helped. We cried, told stories and felt close because together we were all sharing an important event,  the loss of our much loved pet and we all felt that loss keenly.

Five things to help you “steer into the skid” of a significant loss.

So if  YOU  have lost a job, a relationship, a pet or had a bad health diagnosis, or if your life is just difficult at present, consider the following suggestions to help you manage your self with kindness:

  • BE UNDERSTANDING  and gentle with yourself and give yourself time to register what is going on
  • ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL  the shock, disbelief and then whatever other emotions come because of the changed circumstance.
  • SLOW THINGS DOWN – take notice of your feelings, your thoughts and sensations in your body
  • TAKE ACTIONS that feel right for you – some people don’t take their pet home but for us it felt right.
  • Give yourself YOUR OWN TIME to recover but turn to others for comfort when you can.

 American author and Budhist monk Jack Kornfield says “Bow to your pain and give it a wink”.

  • Let it be there and accept it
  • Try not to avoid or ignore it
  • Attend to it and this will help you heal it

My youngest daughter went on to do a SAC (a test) for her VCE the next day.  With all the messy upset of the previous day she felt under prepared, but still managed to actually get an A!  I like to think her resilience and her ability to ride the waves of grief was shining through.