What I’ve Learned About Grief Through the Death of My Pet(s)

(Written May 1, 2016 – Posted February 9, 2017)

Two days ago, I made the difficult decision that it was time to say goodbye to Blueberry (AKA Budda-Bear), my pet budgie of 14 years.  He was a buddy to my other budgie, Emi, for 12 of those years and Emi’s 2nd partner.  Emi’s 14 years old now, too… 62 budgie years according to one website.  My paternal grandfather passed away the spring we brought Emi home.  My father passed away two years later.  He was also 62.

62 is very young for a man but pretty old for a little bird.  Kidney cancer took my dad.  Kidney failure took little blue.  Today is May 1; old age and complications of Parkinson’s took my paternal grandfather 14 years ago today.  I will forever remember this anniversary, not because I’m good about that, I’m actually pretty terrible about that, but one year after grandpa’s passing, my then 9 year old Dannica came to me before school that morning and asked, “Didn’t great-grandpa pass away a year ago today?”  I really wasn’t sure.  I said so and she told me that he did and that he was sitting in the chair in the corner of the living room waving at her to remind her of that…to remind me of that.

Now, May 1st 2016, I remember that incident and I think of my Dannica, with her great grandpa, perhaps both waving at me from the chair in the corner of the living room even though I’ve lost the ability to see it for myself.  I believe she saw it… I believe they’re there.

My mind is always looking for meaning in the numbers, for patterns, for messages, for answers.  I imagine if I could somehow graph all the significant numbers I notice day to day, they might look like a sacred geometrical flower of life or an infinity symbol, the repetition of birth, life, death, and over and over and over again… maybe it would look like the Golden Ratio present in all life, like the branches of a tree, or a nautilus shell… maybe my life with all its numeric mysteries looks like that too.  If it does, I’d say all is in order even as I feel chaos, and living continues to hurt more than I’d like.

The veterinarian told me Emi would grieve Bluberry’s passing.  I didn’t know what that might look like.  As I made the 30 minute drive home from her office, Budda birdie’s fluffy little body finally at peace and bundled gently in a box, I wondered how to break the news to Emi.  I dreaded hearing his calls not being answered, watching him search for his friend, seeing him sitting there all alone puffed up and sad.  Suddenly, comforting the living was more difficult than saying goodbye to the dying.

I know this feeling well as it’s been a constant companion since my Dannica passed 3-1/2 years ago.  Her brother felt and continues to feel her absence in ways I can only imagine.  I know what it feels like to have lost my daughter, my dad, my grandpa, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, clients, a true love, other pets… I don’t know what it feels like to have lost someone as close to my heart as a sister or my best friend.

Carrying the empty cage and the little box, I sat down next to Emi’s cage and I opened the door.  I gently lifted lifeless birdie so he could see.  I saw recognition in Emi’s wide, scared eyes.  He looked from Blueberry’s body to my face and back and forth and back again.  All I could do is cry and hope he understood.  I just kept saying, “I don’t know what to do,” and I didn’t.

I lit a candle and placed the little box near a photo of my daughter and asked her to take good care of him.  I know she will.  She loved animals more than anyone I’ve ever known and they loved her.  I dug a little grave under the apple tree where Dannica’s ashes are and put the little box in it, covered it over, sat there in the rain reminding myself that Budda Bear isn’t there, in that ground, any more than Dannica is there.  He’s in my heart and he’s in Emi’s.  He’s in the house, in the trees, like Dannica, he’s in the light.

When I came back in, I swept the floor near the cage.  I don’t know why I did that but I remembered doing the same thing close in time to my Daughter’s passing and other loved one’s passings; sweeping the kitchen floor, sobbing, and sweeping, folding laundry.  It’s what the body does when the heart and mind shut down.  It doesn’t know what else to do so it does what can be done mindlessly.

Chicken soup comforts so I started chopping vegetables.  I stopped and walked back to the cage to whisper to Emi, cry a little more.  He puffed up and sat on his perch and didn’t move for the longest time.  I went back to cutting vegetables and it occurred to me that Blue had been alpha bird.  Emi would need me to initiate things, like eating, that he didn’t usually do first on his own.  I grabbed a handful of chopped carrots and sat next to him eating them one at a time.  He watched intently and then jumped down and started eating.  That’s what hope looks like.

That first night, I couldn’t bear to leave him so I slept on the couch near his cage.  He was restless for a while; hopping from perch to perch, finally settling.  He cried.  Yes, parakeets cry.  Morning brought panic and I remembered my own disorientation upon waking following Dannica’s death.  Peace crumbling into reality as I fell out of bed each morning wondering why it was even necessary to do that much.  When I gently lifted the blanket from the cage, Emi was sleeked with fear, wide eyed, and looking anxiously for his friend.  I spoke to him softly but he clung to the side of the cage, little beak hooked over one of the bars, supporting his weight, just looking to where Blueberry used to be…incredulous birdy.

I decided it was a good idea to move the cage so he had a new view through the sliding glass door to the back yard.  The sunlight was lovely, dew sparkling on the leaves of the apple tree under which his buddy-bird now rested.  I sat with him, wishing I could say or do something comforting.  I said lots of things, but he only speaks budgie so I continued to sit.  I watched him watch the world outside; a world he’d never seen, one that no longer includes his blue friend.  Even if I spoke budgie, is any answer a good enough answer to “Why?”

After a time, Emi moved toward the side of the cage closest to me and started making happy budgie noises but then hooked himself, again, in the lookout position. Eventually, he returned to me on the other side of the cage and then to the perch allowing him to look out into the sunlit world again.

He sat there, looking out the window for the longest time, not preening, not sleeping, just sitting, just looking.  I remember the first days following Dannica’s passing, how I sat on the couch, looking out into that world, watching the sun rise, watching the light shift over the trees, the grass, the day go by, the sun light fade and the stars come out and I hadn’t moved.  Grief brings with it, in the beginning, the capacity to be still.  The only force acting upon me was the gravity that held me in place.  I saw the same in Emi, his little beak hooked over the bar of the cage… gravity… Mother Earth just holding him as she held me, as she holds the apple tree and the body of Little Blue Bird and the ashes of my Daughter.

Emi and I, we’ve spent time sitting, searching, watching, crying, each whispering little happy noises to each other in our own languages, becoming quiet once more.  Napping together.  Feeling sad together.  The most peaceful moments are the ones in which we simply sit together in silence and watch the world go on. Silence needn’t be awkward.  The power of simply sitting, fully present, with another being who is grieving can be profound and more healing than anything.

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Sadly, Emi developed the same painful condition Blueberry had and I let him go exactly one month after Blueberry.  He’s now also under the apple tree.  His favorite toys are hanging from the branches, little mirrors and bells.  Happy they’re together and with Dannica.  Happy they touched my life.

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Dear Me

Dear Past Me,

People don’t know you now. Don’t blame them. They’ve lost the “you” they knew and they are grieving that loss. It can be a little scary to meet new people. And, believe me, you are new.  It can be a little scary to meet new people, especially when you don’t want to; you didn’t exactly sign up for this particular opportunity. The people who seem to have turned their backs are now new to you, as well.

Many can’t cope with the depth of your pain because they haven’t felt it. If they have come close, maybe they can’t be there for you because they’re working with their own pain and wondering where everyone in their own world went.

You comfort those who don’t know what to say. That’s part of the unspoken job description of grieving. You’re letting others know that you actually are okay even when nothing feels okay. That’s okay. No one is obligated to actually be okay.

People are afraid to cry. People are afraid they’ll make you cry. If they talk to you about your loss and your grief they’ll feel it and that makes them so uncomfortable they’ll avoid it. The only way to avoid feeling anything is to avoid you. That isn’t about you. It isn’t about you at all.

Once your grief softens, once enough healing has happened that you can, once in a while, speak of your loved one without tears or, perhaps with tears of joy, with laughter, with gratitude, it’s easier for people to meet you where you are because it’s closer to where they are and where they remember you being. Your strength will build until you’re ready to meet people again, where they are.

Moving through grief and into mourning, which lasts a lifetime, is an incredibly lonely journey. You’d like to think you’ll really be there for someone else when they need you to be but the truth is, you won’t be because you are learning to live again and it’s taking all you’ve got in you. When it’s your turn to be there for someone, to comfort them, you’ll feel helpless, too. You won’t know what to say and what you do say will feel trite or heartless because you’ll think you know what they feel but you don’t. No one can know what can’t be known. Every loss, every grief, every journey on every path is unlike any other.

It’s not true that they were never friends anyway. Of course they were friends! They’re still friends in that they still care about you. People generally care about other people, don’t they? When you lost your loved one, you also lost the relationships the two of you had with others. It is loss upon loss upon loss. They were good times; there are gifts that won’t go away. Now there are spaces for new connections. The hardest work is allowing them in. The hardest work is looking outside yourself again.

You’ll think you can’t possibly feel any more alone or lonely than you do. You’ll wish that you could die. You’ll think, sometimes, it wouldn’t matter if you did. You’ll think no one would even notice and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t miss you; not this sad, angry, negative, hopeless, worthless being you think you’ve become. You’ll exist within a slow suicide. What you won’t be able to see is just how much you are loved by people you never even realized gave you a second thought; people who, despite their fear of your loss and your grief, never actually stopped thinking of you. How could you have known? You couldn’t have. That is why I’m telling you now not to give up on yourself. You can’t hear me. I know because I remember being you. But maybe somehow, because of you, I’ll be able to hear you now; and from now on.

It hasn’t felt like it to you, but you have been working so hard. You have a heart which slammed shut and erected an impenetrable wall around itself you weren’t even aware of. You still felt everything, profoundly, but you felt it alone. You could look out but no one could really see in even when you thought they could… or should, not even when you thought you were letting them in. What I want you to know is that it was important that it happened this way. It was essential that you go so far inside yourself you lost the entire world and everything in it including everything you ever thought you were or wanted to be and everything you thought was yours.

There will come a day, I promise you, though you can’t begin to imagine it, your heart will again be touchable and touched. The wall will come down. And when you step out again into the light of this reality, you will glow and your wings will be sparkling and radiant.

Remember, healing happens in the spaces of new connections.

Spaces are usually silent.

With love and compassion,
Holding you until you meet me where I am.

Future Me

A Different Sea-When the World Has Moved On – A Poem by Melissa Murphy

Grief softens

it shifts

it changes

it erupts

it cripples, it heals but is never healed.

It is a constant companion in all the shapes and forms and intensities it takes.

The loss takes everything

…all at once.

And anything you have left is taken up simply by continuing to breathe.

Continue to breathe.

A single breath followed by another single breath.

And continue from your side of this life, in the silence of your own breath, to embrace the one you love who died.

Continue to include that love in all that you do and you’ll begin to hear their whispers in the wind, you’ll feel their presence brush your cheek, they’ll paint magnificent gifts in the clouds just for you and for all the world to see.

For those who notice.

Many won’t.

Not until they do.

Not until their own hearts are ripped by loss, when the grief introduces them to gravity.

It will happen.  It does happen.  To everyone.

It’s just your turn to walk before them.

They haven’t abandoned you.  They haven’t turned their backs.  They have continued living their own lives as they did before yours crumbled around you and pulled them in for a time.

We don’t come together for life.

We come together and drift apart so there are spaces for new connection.

Healing begins to happen in those spaces.

The tide comes in and leaves some things struggling in the sand

What’s left when the tide returns is rejoined with the sea but it’s a new sea, not the sea that left you struggling in the sand.

—written by Melissa Murphy

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Birthday Buttons – The rest of the story

There is more to the story of Dannica’s Birthday Buttons.  I wanted to include everything in my previous post but I felt strongly about sharing what I could on her special day and  wanted to wait for the appropriate permissions to come before sharing the full story… the miracles involved.

Since my baby passed, miracles have become commonplace in my life.  I will never take them for granted, they will always take my breath away and bring my hands to my heart and my soul to its knees and I will forever bask in their warmth, their coolness, their peace; postcards from home while I’m here on Earth, at “Summer Camp.”

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I saw a photo, similar to the one above, on a home page; something anyone would see when logging on to Etsy Thursday morning.  Generally, I move quickly past this page because I’m there to sell, not to buy and I usually click through to my own stats’n’stuff, only taking time to browse other shops after that.

I really could not take my eyes away from that beautiful tin and those beautiful buttons and they took me back to Dannica’s childhood button adventures instantly and fondly.  I felt her with me, beside me, in my left ear, up the left side of my face and into the crown of my head… tingling sensations of her presence, and her happiness, excitement, and her love.  Priceless!

Dannica’s Birthday, June 16, the details of this transaction between myself and Chickie became beautifully and brilliantly clear.  I had been tag-teamed by Angels.  This spontaneous purchase of antique buttons was a quantum setup between myself, my Dannica and Chickie, a lovely woman who’s also passed away and who’s Dear Ones have continued to honor her life through their own Etsy shop.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/ChickieVintageLove

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This is a photo of a beautiful young Chickie ❤

I sent a note to the shop owners to thank them and to let them know what a special gift this was and how pleased I am with it.  As I continued to look at the buttons and the little card that had been included; the birthday cupcake Thank You note from heaven.  I could almost hear the two of them giggling about it.  In the conversation that followed my purchase, I learned that Chickie’s birthday was June 13, three days before Dannica’s.

Love, Love, LOVE! to the Angelic Gemini twins.  How exciting and comforting it is to know that Dannica is continuing to enjoy the things she loved on earth from the other side.  She’s making good friends.  She’s happy.

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Birthday Buttons

 

Today, our Dannica turns 21 years old.  I remember the day she was born so clearly… the sweet smell of her little head, that first fragile cry echoes in my mind so clearly.  I’m not sure why some of those first memories are more vivid than some of the last memories.

I think of Danni every day, nearly constantly, but this week I found myself wanting to take her shopping, wanting to get her a birthday surprise and make a special treat for her special day.  The energy around me has felt spontaneous for days; like Dannica.  She was so quick witted, so creative, so curious… so FUN!

She was also very tactile and as a small child had dexterous little fingers that enjoyed disassembling anything that was held together by nuts and bolts.  These things were usually left for me to find as surprises such as the handle falling off the wood rack followed by the fireplace screen separating into three separate panels followed by the handles to the fireplace tools going missing.  The most memorable to me was one of the legs to the kitchen table just falling over onto the floor leaving a three legged table balancing over her and the little pile of green nuts and bolts.  She looked so proud!

One day while I was folding laundry, I noticed her in the closet admiring the shiny buttons on the sleeve of a coat.  She traced them and slid her little fingers over the raised patterns on them.  I’m pretty sure she was trying to figure out how to unscrew them, too.  She never lost that love of shiny buttons and even as a precocious 8, 9, 10 year old still spent time in the closet lost in fascinated examination.

I have spent the past ten months or so surrounded by my new hobby of jewelry making.  Each night, I sit on the living room floor and sort through beads, twist wire, experiment, create.  It relaxes me.  It keeps my hands busy and makes couch potato television watching (or floor potato as the case may be) feel like more of a productive activity.  It’s been positively therapeutic as well as introvert appropriate.

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This path led to Etsy.  Each day, I log into my shop to see what’s new and what others are doing.  This past Thursday when I entered the site, the first thing I saw was a photo of a beautiful vintage tin full of buttons!  I couldn’t take my eyes off it and my first thought was, “Danni would *love* that!”  I nearly clicked away from it but I just couldn’t so I bought it for her.  I could just imagine the excitement in her eyes when she opened the tin and I could see her sitting on her bed laying them out, touching them, finding her favorites and putting them all back again.  They would have become her friends, the way my beads are my friends; the way these buttons are becoming my friends, too.

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I can feel her joy as I slide my fingers into the box, buttons closing in to cover them completely…maybe if I reach in far enough, I’ll feel her hand doing the same from heaven.  Again, my child’s birthday brings me a priceless gift.  It even arrived with this little card containing the image of a birthday cupcake.

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Thank *YOU* Danni Jade ❤

Acceptance

Upon rising each morning, I wander, I stop.  I sit.  I listen to the silence of the house.  I get up and I walk quietly from room to room and I look out each window.  I sit again, not moving, in the silence.  Am I hungry?  I’m not sure.  Thirsty?  Maybe.  Tired?  Usually. Tired enough to sleep? Well, I just got up.  “Just try,” I tell myself, “to sit a while longer, breathe deeply, clear your mind, listen to what your body is saying to you…you are actually okay in this moment.”

I hurt.  My body hurts; my stomach.  My heart aches.  My mind is restless.  I am sad. When I lay down at night to sleep, I hear sirens, far off in the distance.  I roll to my side and pull a pillow over my head.  I still hear them.  I travel in time and through space to that night, to that place where Dannica passed from her body.  Tears come.  I can’t breathe comfortably.  It hurts. Who met her?  Her grandmother?  My grandmother?  That was my job….to meet her from the other side when she passed from this one.  That was my job.

They wouldn’t let me near her.  I couldn’t tell her, “I’m here, baby, I’m here with you…. little mom is here, please, don’t leave me!”  Loving strangers got to do that.  Compassionate, caring strangers held her hand, let her know she wasn’t alone.  I was moments behind them…but they pulled me away.  They wouldn’t let me near.  It was my job to hold her hand when she passed…to comfort her from this world if I couldn’t be on the other side to comfort her home.  Going in the ambulance with a loved one;  apparently, it’s a figment of TV and movies.  I feel robbed.  She died with strangers.

I put the foot of the recliner up.  I turn my palms to the sky.  I breathe deeply.  I envision a brilliant crystal in my mind’s eye and I say to myself, “Clear…clear…clear…”  I remember when Dannica was upset or when she didn’t want to sleep or didn’t want me to leave her at bedtime we would agree to meet somewhere in our dreams.  Quite often this place was a big, beautiful field of purple flowers.  Lavender, or a meadow full of wild flowers that were all a deep and brilliant purple.  I told her that when she saw the field and the flowers in her dream to look for me and that I would do the same; look for her.  Then we could run and dance and play and fill each other’s hair with flowers and make crowns and necklaces, bracelets, rings, anklets and toe rings of flowers and be flower fairies.  We’d both fall asleep thinking of this beautiful place and the fun we’d have there, between the worlds.

At some point, sitting there, “clearing” and breathing, a calm comes over me.  I cannot feel my body at all unless I move it, so I don’t.  A warmth tingles through my brain and I am only aware of my mind.  In this calm and within this stillness I have come to understand what it is, this thing called acceptance.  Dannica’s death.  She will never again walk through that door.  She will never again sleep in her bed.  She will never again do her laundry.  She will never again laugh or make fun of me for being a dorky little mom.  She will never bake her famous chocolate chip cookies again or make her amazing peppermint fudge at Christmas.  She will never send me another text message full of silly emoticons or answer when I dial her number or hear the messages I leave telling her I hope she’s fine and that I love her and hope we can have a girl’s day soon.  I don’t accept any of those things.  I won’t ever accept any of those things.

Acceptance is the simple understanding that my heart will ache in a very specific way as long as it beats.  That is the only acceptance there is.  It will hurt forever.  It will.  You may be saying to yourself or wishing you could tell me right now, “It never goes away, but it does get easier.”  No.  It doesn’t.  And *that* is what I am learning to accept.

The present moment is made easier by “clearing” by breathing by working and being of service to others.  This loss, is not made easier by anything.  I accept that.  That is what I can accept.