May 1, 2009, Vol. 7 Issue 6
When I read the article, “Big Grief and Little Grief” in Juliet Funt’s monthly e-news, I immediately thought that I would ask her if I could reprint it in this e-news. I thought it was really beautiful and meaningful. I had no idea, that by Friday, I would be in Big Grief over the loss of my beloved, almost 18 year-old dog, P.C. (stands for Prince Charming).
Early last Friday morning (4/24), P.C. was having mild, but repetitive seizures. We took him right to the Vet at 7 a.m. when they opened. They stabilized him and we stayed there until his vet came in. Dr. Z. was wonderful. She’s always called P.C. a rock star because he’s been so healthy and has come through his health issues in these past few years like a champ. Before we left, I went into the back and talked to him. He tried to get up and couldn’t; that was difficult but there was nothing we could do but let him sleep so we went home to wait for the test results. The call came about 3 in the afternoon. I had fully expected we’d be bringing him home.
He had not responded to the drug therapy which meant it was not epilepsy, but most likely a brain tumor. At his age, almost 18, we had to come to grips that this was his time to go – our time to let go. There had been many signs and I’ve been grieving the impending loss for months. A walk with him lately was pretty much an amble, with the main purpose of stopping to sniff everything sniffable. He could also be perky, welcome me with his “Arf!” wag his tail, and wiggle his whole body, especially if I was putting on my walking shoes and getting out the leash. Just the other day, I thought, gee, maybe he’ll make it to 20.
P.C. was a great hiker. On trails, other hikers often stopped and asked what kind of dog he was – he was so cute, they often thought he was a puppy. I said he was a Humane Society Special. One time, my husband, Jim, spontaneously came up with Tyrolean Tugger – a new breed, indeed, of princely lineage. Sometimes people on the trail took him seriously as he would launched into his tale about how Tyrolean Tuggers were bred in the Alps to pull old people up the mountain. The curious looked at this handsome 25-pound dog, thinking, “Really?” And Jim would continue his tale to the end and then ask for contributions to the fund for retired TTs. I would be cracking up in the background. The truth is, in the mountains, he did pull us up the trail and down (and down was worse than up!). He was a strong and stubborn little guy.
Off leash was not an option as this beagle mix would have been off following his nose into the woods. The beach, however, was another story. There, I would let him off leash and he would run full throttle as if there were no tomorrow. Full joy on his face, as I watched his red bandanna almost disappear in the distance. Only a piece of driftwood to sniff, or another dog to run with, would stop him. Eventually, he’d turn around and run back to me full throttle, and then run in circles, kicking up a sand trail. I often wondered if he’d been trained in the circus sometime in the seven months of his life before I adopted him because he had this circle and flip thing that he did when he was really happy and free.
We had to make the decision that afternoon to let him go. We held him in our arms and he went peacefully. Meantime, I’ve made a lot of Tear Soup this week. I’m grateful to publish this wonderful piece by our speaker, Juliet Funt, while I’m loving and missing P.C.
Big Grief and Little Grief
by Juliet Funt
When you hear the word, grief, you will undoubtedly think of the aftereffects of someone dying. But, actually, there are dozens of experiences that qualify as grieving. In The Grief Recovery Handbook, grief is defined as a “change or loss in any familiar pattern of behavior.” Let’s look at some patterns of behavior. Your neighbors move, or you move; the kids go away to school, or the kids come home from school and move back in with you. You get divorced, or you get married. You used to have Snickers bars in the vending machine at work; now there are only Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, and you don’t like them. Snickers at 3:00 was your special thing, but now they’re gone. That’s also a grieving experience.
I remember right after my father passed away that the director of a choir in which I sang asked me what it felt like. I said that it felt like someone was removing the foundation of my house while I was sitting in the living room. The impact was massive, and I was very, very sad as expected. But there were a whole bunch of other symptoms that I didn’t realize were connected. I, who pride myself on being a rather warm and gracious lady, had these frequent, strange moments of hostile grumpiness. The guy at the seven-eleven was counting my change too slowly, and I wanted to rip his head off! I lost my keys and credit cards and purse. I was anxious and unable to concentrate. This was actually incredibly normal. Grievers of any level or variety can have thin, thin skin. They may lose focus, they may lose things. They are sometimes very hard-pressed to find it in their ability to really pay attention when you’re talking to them. If you’re experiencing a lot of grief, change or loss, and you’re also experiencing those personality traits, you’re perfectly normal. You’re perfectly normal. Did I mention that you are perfectly normal?
The change guru John Kotter talked and wrote often about something he called assimilation points. He said that we have a certain number of these points in our body and heart and, as various changes in our life pile up, we deplete them. An easier way to think about it may be to say that we have change coupons. These are little coupons of strength that let us deal with change or loss in our environment, and we only have a certain amount of them. So, if we happen to be transitioning at work and getting a divorce at the same time, or we’re refinancing our house at the same time that our cat passes away, then we’re very low on coupons.
During those times of a lot of change, it is extra important, triple important, to be gentle with yourself. Be easy about judging yourself for perfection, for neatness at home, for your perfect diet, for anything else that you push yourself on, because your system is low on coupons. And similarly, if you’re a parent, or you’re in management, and you’re looking at the people around you, you are obliged to ask yourself how many coupons do they have today? Have they gone through so much loss and change that I just can’t expect from them the same things that I would expect if their reserves were up to stock? It helps to work on tolerating ambiguity. It is not a happy thing for most human beings to have ambiguity in their lives. We like hand-holds; we like black and white; we like “marry me” or “divorce me.” We like to KNOW, and then we can relax.
For everyone I know and meet these days, change and ambiguity are at record levels. People are grieving jobs, homes and lifestyle comforts with which they have had to part. Ambiguity of the future is weighty and exhausting every time we turn on the news or pick up a paper. Sometimes just using the word “ambiguity” in your mind and giving yourself a label for that slippery experience can begin to help you feel better and have more mastery over it. Once we label an emotion, we separate ourselves from it and become more powerful. Next time you feel off, ask yourself, “In what areas is there ambiguity in my life over which I have no control?” “ How can I stop trying to control the uncontrollable?” This will free up a huge amount of energy.
As a humorist and a bringer of lightness in my work, I hesitated a bit before sending out a newsletter with an article on grief. But several years ago I went through a certification in a process based on the wonderful book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, I mentioned earlier. In my opinion, it is the ultimate source on this topic for every variety from the death of a pet to the loss of a relationship. During the certification process, I learned – and take a moment to remind you now – that until we pause, breathe and shake hands with what are often mislabeled as the darker emotions, we cannot be free. We cannot be truly joyous. Any laughter we enjoy will be shallow. So as much as you can tolerate, sit in the middle of all of the change and ambiguity around you and take little breaths. Do what feels productive and loving to yourself and others one minute at a time and see if slowly you can learn to inhale all the way and know that you will still be OK.
Juliet Funt is the owner of Talking on Purpose, Inc. Her comedic presentations on the problem of “Too much to do and Too little Time”, may just be the most fun thing about your next meeting or in-office training day. Check out Juliet Funt on the Speak Well Being website.
10th Annual National Women’s Health Week
The 10th annual National Women’s Health Week will kick off on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2009 and will be celebrated until May 16, 2009. National Women’s Checkup Day will be Monday, May 11, 2009. The eight-week Woman Challenge, an online physical activity program, starts May 10, 2009.
National Women’s Health Week is a week long health observance coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH). National Women’s Health Week empowers women to make their health a top priority. With the theme “It’s Your Time,” the nationwide initiative encourages women to take simple steps for longer, healthier, and happier lives. During National Women’s Health Week, communities, businesses, government, health organizations, and other groups work together to educate women about steps they can take to improve their physical and mental health and lower their risks of certain diseases.
Cooking My Way Through Grief
Saturday I went on a cooking binge to keep myself busy and preoccupied, while letting the memories come and go. I made Grandma’s Overnight Buns – a recipe you punch down during the day, form the buns to rise overnight and bake the next morning. Next was homemade Gram’s Spaghetti Sauce from my old college rooomate. We used to throw parties around this recipe. While I was out getting those supplies, I passed the fruit stand and they had fresh rhubarb. Bingo! I always like to make one rhubarb pie with the lattice top every spring. Then I engage in the Cheryl Tiegs diet. If you’re going to have pie, have it for breakfast!
This weekend I’ll plant flowers, acknowledging that my feelings are perfectly normal, and remembering that little dog with love and appreciation. And maybe I’ll bake another rhubarb pie.
Until next time, take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.
PLEASE NOTE: The information shared in this e-news is designed to help you make informed decisions about speakers and the programs they offer. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment prescribed by a doctor. If you suspect you have a medical problem, seek competent medical help.
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