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Grief and Relief
Often, I hear someone say they would like relief from grief when they are bereaved. It is rare, however, to hear a person acknowledge that feelings of actual relief co-exist with feelings of sadness in deep mourning. But it is true, especially after a “long-haul” death or other ending, that some part of us feels relieved. This is what I noticed in the past couple of weeks after we had to euthanize our cat, Dusty Baker (see December 2014 issue for part one of that story). Her absence in the household is mighty loud; there is no way to skirt this fact. At the same time, I will admit to coexistent relief that Dusty’s long-haul death is complete. Feeding the other cat in this home is now a low-stress affair. I do not wake up every morning wondering if we will find Dusty, dead, on her special heating pad. I will not come home from work to find out if she has vomited all over a piece of furniture or the bathroom rug. This does not lessen my sadness that we have lost our sweet girl. I just happen to feel relieved, too. Do you think this means I did not love her? Of course I did, and still do.
Five or six days after Dusty’s demise, I learned that an old friend I knew back in my 20’s had died of lung disease. As I read Facebook posts about Sheryl’s life, illness, and passing, I wondered if those who cared for her will experience some relief in addition to gut-wrenching grief over this 58-year-old’s premature death. I know I felt this way when my sister succumbed to Stage 4 Melanoma in 2013. I hated to see her go and at the same time, I was so relieved that she was not suffering any longer. Who is a fan of suffering, right?
It still puzzles me when people have such difficulty acknowledging feelings of relief when a beloved dies. I wonder if we suffer from a belief that it is impossible to have contradictory feelings. Is there a should in there that says we should only feel sad in the aftermath of a loss? We humans are way too complicated to expect that we feel only one emotion at a time. I hope that we can launch a mini-revolution by being willing to claim the whole range of emotional responses we go through as we mourn. Are you with me?
The Courage Part
It takes courage to go out Out on a Limb and admit to you that I experience relief following these long-haul deaths. The monkey-in-my-mind starts chattering away to tell me I should write about some other topic this month, or to prepare for people to judge or reject me. I have to say back to that monkey something like “thanks for sharing, and sorry, gotta do this anyway.” The longing for congruence trumps the desire for approval.
What Will They Think?
Sometimes, we express fear about what the deceased person or pet might think about this admission of relief. “But what if so-and-so is watching or listening? Will they be upset?” I believe that if the deceased know that loving them is the root of those mixed feelings, that is what will stand out. Besides, I am told that in the afterlife, these kinds of worries are off the radar! Grief, relief, anger, guilt, sadness and disbelief: why not claim it all?
Your January 2015 Prompts for Joy
Click here for a quick, amusing music lesson from a 5-year-old.
(Thanks for sharing on Facebook, Stefanee Lucker!)
Click here for just one of many videos found on YouTube for grieving pet owners. While this may not seem like a prompt for joy, it is helpful to watch videos that match or mirror your emotional state.
All previous Prompts for Joy (PFJs) can be found at my website, unless the video url is no longer functional.
Joy-Gram for January 2015
Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” ~ Mark Twain
Here is proof that we can find love in the most unexpected places. Thank you, potato chip!
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·