(We are thrilled to have our friend, mentor, and fellow Grief Recovery Specialist Cari Dawson doing a guest blog for us today.)
First Love, First Loss: Grieving Our Pets
Sunday night, winter in the Ohio Valley, light snow falling and I’m sitting on my bed half listening to comedy programs on the radio, half doing my homework. It’s the 1950’s. My two younger sisters had gone to the neighborhood store for some milk. My year-old puppy, Toni, followed them, but didn’t see the car coming after my sisters crossed the street. Toni was hit and died immediately. Of course, I didn’t know this until my sisters came running back to the house, hysterically summoning me.
I grabbed my coat in a daze, as I had been sitting in my underwear, and ran shoeless down the snowy hill. There was my beloved puppy lying in the street. I gathered her up and took her home, placed her on the kitchen floor and held her and wept uncontrollably. Toni was my first significant loss, much more traumatic than the death of my great-grandfather with whom I grew up, who died about a year before. At that time, I recall my mother quietly shedding a few tears at his funeral, quickly gaining her composure, but that was the only display of grief I saw from her or any other relatives. She had modeled for me how to grieve. You just shed a few tears and then stuff it. Move on. Something I was having difficulty doing.
It is not surprising in retrospect that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me when I found myself becoming more and more depressed and, embarrassingly, on the verge of tears for many months after Toni’s death. Embarrassed that I couldn’t control my feelings that wanted to bubble out just as they did when I held Toni on the kitchen floor of my childhood home. I was just entering puberty, trying to blend in with my contemporaries, trying to lead a normal life. And, no one seemed to notice how profoundly this loss had impacted me. No one asked about my feelings. Alone and isolated, I worked hard to stuff this loss deep within my psyche where it lay accumulating and gathering other losses and unresolved grief like a huge snowball over the ensuing 40 years. In 1995, the Grief Recovery Method helped me delve into those painful old losses, including the loss of Toni, when another major loss—my granddaughter—led me to grief work.
My first significant loss and my adolescence seem quite remote now. In my seventies, I had the audacity to welcome a new furry companion into my life, Pace`. She reminds me daily of what I know deep in my soul: Life and Love will always include joy and sorrow. We can hold the tension of both. It is worth it!
Cari D. Dawson, MTS, MA, JD, has been a Grief Recovery Specialist for over twenty years. She helps grievers in the Portland, Oregon area. Visit her website is www.transitionscelebrant.com for more information and a link to her blog.