animal grief, grief

When Your World Has Been Blown Apart by Grief, This Is What I Want You to Know

pet grief

It started with the phone call. But it didn’t end there.

It was like a bomb had gone off and I couldn’t breathe. I remember pressing my hands to both sides of my head after I hung up the phone and yelling, “Oh my god!”

Time stops when you get the news. When you see your loved one take their last breath. When you hold them in your arms and cry.

There is nothing that exists outside of this grief. Nothing.

When your world has been blown apart by the physical death of a being you love more than anything in the world, this is what I want you to know.

Your Ground Zero Is Your Own

The Oxford Dictionary defines ground zero as:

  1. The point on the earth’s surface where a nuclear bomb explodes
  2. The beginning; the starting point for an activity

Both of these are valid in the face of grief.

The Explosion

A bomb has just gone off in your life. It may have been one you saw coming, or one you didn’t.

When the explosion occurs, everything is different. Yet everything looks the same. And yet it doesn’t.

I remember waking up in the days after Ansel’s transition, gasping for air and immediately crying. I would reach for my husband in the dark, and we would cry together. It felt like an immense weight was bearing down on my chest and I couldn’t move or breathe. There was only pain. I prayed that it was all just a terrible nightmare, and soon I would wake up. But I didn’t.

I remember walking out of our bedroom and seeing sunlight streaming through the windows, my son Sevim napping on his fleece blankets, the sound of birds outside. I couldn’t comprehend this reality, even though it was the one I had woken up to every day before.

Why wasn’t Ansel sleeping next to Sevim? Why did I feel, throughout my whole body, throughout my entire being, that something was horribly, irrevocably wrong? Why was the sun out, why were the birds chirping, why was I breathing when such a massive explosion had occurred? Why was anyone still alive? Why did the world look so normal?

That normalcy in the face of grief felt awful, unbearable, invalidating to me. I needed my physical reality to match my mental one, but it didn’t, except that Ansel’s body was gone, except that I felt like I was going to die. But this ground zero was my own, even if others couldn’t see it.

Your ground zero is your own, too, even if others do not see or understand. It’s real.

The Beginning

Many grieving people divide their lives into the before and the after.

We don’t want to think of this as a beginning, and yet, it is.

It’s the beginning of your new relationship with your loved one, which is really just a continuation of the relationship you had when they were in their physical body.

It’s the beginning of your new home, for you must build a home here, at ground zero. You cannot go back to the place that it was before, for it has been annihilated.

It won’t be easy. In fact, it may be the hardest thing you ever do. It takes courage, and hope, and the ability to face your pain, your loss. It’s immensely difficult. Every step, every movement can feel like a marathon. And yet, it is what’s been asked of us after such a devastating loss.

I had no interest in building a new home at my ground zero, where everything felt dead. And yet, 11 months after Ansel’s passing, I sat on my therapist’s couch, where she was expressing disappointment that I had been doing “so well” and was now “stuck” in my grief. I left in the middle of what would be our last session.

There was so much I felt my therapist didn’t understand about my grief. When I called my husband after the appointment, I shrieked, “This is my life now! This is my life now! She can’t fix it or make it better or take it away. This is where I live now, and I can’t go back.”

We grievers would give anything to go back. But we can’t. I had been building my new home without realizing it, because I had nothing left to do, and there was nothing left to return to.

It’s not what I wanted. It’s the opposite of the life I had imagined for myself, for Ansel, for our family. But it IS mine.

Your Time Warp Is Real

When my sons Nadir and Fiver died, I didn’t experience a time warp very much. Their death was expected; indeed, it was planned—we scheduled their euthanization. I remember feeling disoriented about the time passing, but it was a completely different experience when my son Ansel died.

Time stopped for me and my husband when we got that phone call. It was an extremely surreal feeling, and I feel it to this day. Time felt like, and continues to feel like, the least real thing about our lives. Linear time did not, does not, exist.

It wasn’t just that I felt trapped in that moment we were sitting on the couch with the doctor on speaker phone. It was more than that. It was the strange slowing of time that comes with grief. It was days that felt like hours and minutes that felt like days. It was seconds that stretched an eternity.

Your time warp is real in grief. It may not seem real to the non-bereaved. But it is real to you, and it may last for a long time.

The first year may feel like two months. Two years may feel like six months. It’s different for every person, but know that what you are experiencing is normal, and it is real. Like, literally, because apparently time is not real, according to researchers.

You Are Not Insane

It’s easy to feel insane in grief. One minute, you may be sobbing, the next, laughing at a beautiful memory with your loved one. You may be having a “good” day and feel stable, and then, grief suddenly hits you like a blow to the stomach, and you bend over, gasping for air.

You may balk at the absurd ordinariness of things—scheduling a doctor’s appointment, making yourself a snack, watching the sun set. How could these things still need to happen when your beloved is dead?

You may begin to feel that nothing is real, or that everything is realer than it has ever been. You may hang up on well-meaning friends who say things like, “You just need to heal”, or walk out of therapy when your therapist tells you you’re stuck.

These are things you may not have done before. But grief changes everything. And it can be comforting to know that you are not insane. You are being asked to cope with an impossibly painful thing, and that is not easy for anyone.

Others Will Not Understand

Unless you have people in your life who have been through a my-world-was-completely-changed-by-death experience, others will likely not understand what you are going through.

We all experience death and loss in this life. The difference is that some people choose to close themselves off to the experience. There are many reasons people do this. Some feel that the pain is too much and that by feeling it, they will die. Others do not know how to cope with the pain, so they don’t.

People who have experienced such a huge loss and open their hearts to it are the people who will have more understanding, more compassion for you and what you’re experiencing right now. These are people who know better than to say “I know how you feel,” because they know that, while they have experienced something similar, your loss is your own.

It can be painfully isolating, maddening, and upsetting when people do not understand and say hurtful things. It helps to expect that people will not know what to say, that they will not understand, that they may even make things worse for you.

It sucks, I know. But sometimes, being honest with ourselves and removing expectations can be a kindness in grief.

You Are Both Alone and Not Alone Here

One of the paradoxes of grief is that you are alone and not alone.

You are alone in your grief because your experience is yours alone, and no one else can understand that, even people who knew your departed loved one, even people who saw you every day and the relationship you had with them. These people do not live inside your mind and, therefore, cannot know exactly what you are experiencing.

And yet—there are people who understand that. And those people are the ones who help you feel less alone.

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