Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Six months ago, a good friend died of cancer. Four months ago, my beloved dog died. One month ago, another good friend died of cancer. Four weeks ago, our beloved rescued-from-a-puppy mill, 3-year-old dog died from cancer. Two weeks ago, a much-loved close relative tried to commit suicide. One week ago, I found out I’m being laid off from a job I love and have been very good at for 16 years. I’m 60 years old, and the thought of looking for another job fills me with dread.
Yesterday, we had to have another elderly dog put down. I’m feeling overwhelmed.
I know these things happen to everyone. I tell myself that I’ve got a good life — we can live on my husband’s salary, our house is paid for, we have enough to eat, we won’t be destitute or even suffer much from the loss of my salary. My husband is wonderful and very supportive. But I can’t logic myself out of my grief.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
How do you tell when grief becomes just feeling sorry for yourself? A week for a dog, a month for a friend, a couple of months for your career? How do you make it go away?
I’m so sorry. That is a staggering number of losses in a short period of time. Of course you’re reeling.
You don’t “make” grief “go away,” though. In my experience, at least, it doesn’t work that way — and the idea of a set time to feel bad (and its companion idea, that there’s a time past which you aren’t supposed to feel bad) is anathema to grief.
It’s more like weather, where you just experience it until it eventually passes … and you know it’s going to come back sometimes when you least expect it. It’s perfectly normal, and healthy, to feel a wave of grief out of nowhere years after a loss. Not only will some part of you always miss a lost companion, you will also always remember the pain of a death. Not every waking minute, but when you’re reminded somehow, sure. Or just when your brain decides to go knock-knock, remember this?
It seems you’ve been going this alone, armed with logic and an inclination to be rather hard on yourself. While grief is something you do feel and deal with individually, you can work through it collectively. A grief support group might be just what you need, a place to feel that it’s normal, and not your fault, to be filled with dread. Your husband sounds understanding and patient; consider taking his cue and being more patient with yourself.
For Grieving: Wow, I just teared up at my desk. I’m so sorry for your losses. You sound like such a generous person, rich in love — anyone who helps that many dogs surely has a heart of gold. I don’t know you and can’t really do anything for you, but I hope it helps to know that I’m thinking of you and wish you well. I’d imagine a lot of other readers are too. Sending you virtual strength and hugs.
Aw. Now you have me tearing up. This shows so much better than I can how other hands can help carry the weight of grief.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.