March 25, 2024

7 Lessons Learned from Loss: Embracing the Gift of Emotions through Grief.

 

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Recently, my husband and I had to say goodbye to our amazing and loving dog Allie.

Although she has always been healthy and energetic, cancer took over her body in a short amount of time. We saw our dog go from being her normal funny self to not eating or being able to walk much in a matter of weeks. Heartbreak does not even begin to describe what we felt in those final days.

As a pet owner, you know this day will come; you just always assume you have more time than you really do. It’s a day that both of us have been dreading because we knew the loss would be insurmountable. Our entire relationship over the last six years has involved both of our dogs and us being a family of four. To lose a family member was something we didn’t even want to think about.

But as with everything else in life, the end had to come at some point. And we were faced with the reality faster than we could even process the news. That goodbye was extremely painful but also the best thing for her. We would carry on the pain of losing her while knowing she was in a better place.

This was the first and biggest loss that either of us has faced in life. Neither of us has felt grief or any emotion on that scale before. The juxtaposition of sorrow from the loss while also laughing about the happy memories we have was an experience I can’t quite put into words.

We will miss Allie dearly, but we know we are so lucky for all the years we did get with her. She was a companion like none other.

And amidst all the sadness and grief, I realized there were beautiful lessons about life from this experience. That was the most alive I have felt because the emotions were so raw. And that’s when it hit me, that being a human with emotions is a wonderful gift that should not be ignored.

Here are the seven lessons grief taught me about the gift of emotions.

1. Grief is a privilege. 

I used to be afraid of grief and the heavy emotions it would bring. I was also terrified of losing someone I loved and not being able to comprehend that loss. So when we had to say goodbye to our dog, I had to face both those fears head-on. And you know what? I am still here today writing about it. I faced the fears and came out of the other side even stronger. And I realized one big important lesson: grief is a privilege. Because having experienced grief means I experienced a great love that not everyone is fortunate to have.

2. Emotions are to be honored, not shut away.

Grief will hit you like a ton of bricks and the wave of emotions will feel unbearable at times, like you’re drowning under them. You’ll be crying one minute and then laughing the next. You’ll feel like you have a handle on everything then the next wave hits.

The best thing I could do in that time is to feel the emotions fully, not shut them away. Our bodies will never give us an emotion we can’t handle, so let’s experience it in the moment while it appears. I do not once regret showing how much I loved this dog and admitting I was heartbroken. It was the best honor I could give to her in her final days.

3. Live like a dog.

If you’re lucky to be loved by a dog, you know just how special they are. Sure, some people may not understand the relationship with a pet in this way, but those who get it, get it. Dogs are here to teach us so many important lessons even though their lives are short compared to ours. Dogs truly live in the moment and just enjoy being around their people. Dogs aren’t afraid to show when they are happy, which is usually all the time! And even if they do feel scared or sad, happiness always returns quickly. Because to a dog, life is one big happy adventure.

4. You’re not guaranteed forever.

No living being on this planet is guaranteed forever and we all know that life must come to an end. It’s the circle of life and not something to be feared. So why do humans spend so much time worrying about the future and regretting the past? I admit that I can get caught up in my head with worry if I am not careful. But this experience has taught me once again that the present moment is all we have. So let’s all get out of our devices and into our lives and see the magic that is in front of us, because things can change in an instant.

5. You’re on your journey and you don’t owe any explanations. 

As I said earlier in the article, not everyone may understand feeling so deeply for a pet, but I don’t care. Allie was a part of our family and her presence is irreplaceable. I made no apologies for taking the time to grieve and let everyone know I wasn’t doing well. I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my emotions or my reaction. I am not embarrassed to admit that I am human and I had to process the situation in any way I could at the time.

You don’t ever have to feel ashamed for having emotions and expressing yourself. Life is too short to care what other people think.

6. Relationships are the only thing that matters.

Relationships and the people in my life are the only thing that matters, period. My husband and I would not have gotten through this painful situation without each other and people who care about us. Knowing we had support from all different parts of the world helped us immensely as we had to make some extremely tough decisions.

Jobs, houses, cars, money, all these things come and go in life. But what matters is the people and love you have. Because when faced with a challenging situation, you’ll need those around you to lift you up. People want to be there for you and comfort you, don’t let them miss out on that privilege.

7. Light always comes after the dark. 

For life to exist as we know it, there must always be a balance between highs and lows, life and death. One life is entering this world at the same time that another one is ending. That’s the beauty and pain of the circle of life. The challenging seasons, the ones filled with heartbreak, are there to show us how precious life is. And the happy seasons, filled with love, are there to remind us  how amazing it is to be human.

If it feels like you’re drowning right now, it will get better. The light will return and you will feel happy once again. None of us can escape the inevitable end, but we can lean in and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

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