Managing grief in our own ways

Grief is something that most humans experience. In fact, if you don’t experience grief and sadness, I think there would something quite wrong with you or you are an enlightened being who possesses no more emotions!

So for the rest of the ordinary mortals like me, we still experience grief, especially when there is a loss of a loved one, and especially of our pets. Because for me, pets are our children.

The Chinese has a saying: Grandfather dies. Father dies. Son dies. (Yes, Chinese are an extremely patriarchal people!) It means that the natural progression of life to death should be a chronological one. If a parent had to bury a child, that would indeed be much sadder than a child having to bury a parent.

So when our pets leave us, it is exactly like a parent having to “bury” a child. That is why it is more painful.

But that’s what we want, isn’t it, to outlive our pets so that we can see them through their lives? It would be so much worse if our pets had to “bury” us. Then, who is going to look after them when we are gone?

So when our pets pass away, that grief and sadness that we experience, to me, is much more painful that losing an elderly relative.

How do we process that grieve? I believe that everyone processes grief differently so there is no one single way or a “best” way to do it. Neither is there a right or wrong way. We are all different humans, with different psychological make-up.

But in general, research says that there are stages to go through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

I remember clearly when Kimba passed away in a road accident right before my eyes, I went into total denial, then compulsive bargaining, depression and I don’t think I have accepted it yet. His death was too sudden and too tragic. I picked up his bloodied convulsing body and he died in my arms. Not peacefully too. I was drenched in blood. Kimba’s blood. Kimba was supposed to grow old with me. He wasn’t supposed to be so rudely and brutally taken away from me. He was still a kitten. Till this day, that neighbour who ran over him still doesn’t know what she did. I didn’t tell her either.

I remember I still had to go work the next day and days after that, and whenever I waited for the elevator door to open or I opened any door, I was in denial and I bargained: When the door opens, Kimba will walk out to greet me. I would give ANYTHING for that to happen. Please, please, please, please turn back the clock and I would never have allowed him to go out to throw the garbage with me.

Kimba was Indy’s new best friend at that time. They were about the same age. He came from the back alley covered in fleas and he bonded with me instantly. Our relationship was too short.

That was the most painful pet death I had to go through. It was totally unexpected and it left me completely debilitated. I was depressed for months after that.

So, there are stages to go through in the process of grieving and if we are a good friend, we must give space and time for the person who is grieving…to grieve properly. We should never deny her sadness or tell her not to be sad.

I do not understand why people like to tell a sad person not to be sad, or tell an angry person not to be angry. The person is already sad (or angry), why are people denying how that person feels, as though she should not feel that way? Who are we to tell another person that she should not feel what she is feeling?

How about just saying, “I hear you (if you really do, that is), how can I help?  Would you like to talk?”

For me, personally, “How can I help?” is a helpful statement when I’m grieving. Then, depending on who you are, I can tell you what I need from you.

And please don’t say, “I understand.” That’s being so presumptuous and almost condescending. Do we really understand how the other person is feeling or grieving? Just because we have been through a similar incident or something we think is worse, how can we say that we understand how the other person is feeling? No two humans are alike. Worse than that are those people who tell you, “You think you have it bad? Mine’s worse.” and proceed to tell you all about it, making it all about her instead! These people aren’t helpful. They are just condescending.

And what if we don’t want to help, then don’t say “How can I help?”.  How about just saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “My deepest condolences for your loss”. At least that is kind and we are not denying that person the space or time or right to feel sad.

So there are these people who deny you the right to feel sad, but on the other hand, there are also a handful of people who think you MUST grieve in a way approved by them!!

I recall the time when Bobby passed away. This was years back. A few days later, we had an event, and as always, I am always at every event that AnimalCare participates in. So I was on duty at our booth. One reader came by and reprimanded me, “How can you still come this event?? Bobby just passed away. You should be at home feeling sad. How can you be here as though nothing had happened??”.  She was clearly very upset with me. I was a little taken aback but rather than react to her, I just told her that I had accepted Bobby’s passing and I’m sure Bobby would have liked me to be at the event to raise funds to help more animals. She shook her head in disbelief and walked off. I think we lost her support that day. But never mind.

Bobby’s passing was expected. He was already very senior in age and his health had been deteriorating. He had also been having seizures every now and then. The night before he passed away, his body had already hardened. I knew he would pass on that night and he did. It was peaceful and I was relieved he would not suffer from the seizures anymore.

So where am I with Cleo’s passing now? She passed away two days ago and here I am, writing almost non-stop and replying to emails from people seeking AnimalCare’s help.

I was beside Cleo all the way, during the hours leading to her demise. When I knew her end was near, I was already playing chanting music for her. I only left her for awhile to feed all the cats, and I was checking in on her in between. Then, I was back with her again. When her breathing slowed down, I called my husband in so that he could be with her in her final moments. She and my husband have a bond.

So we were both with her for those last 3 minutes until her breath stopped. Yes, I shed tears because I was very sad, knowing how much I’d miss her. I shed tears many times after that too. I was sad. After I gained my composure, I felt I had to come and write about her demise so that everyone who had been rooting for her will be informed.

I make my life experiences with our pets part of the AnimalCare educational component as I believe the best education is education by example, so I share everything that I do. For this, I have already given up my privacy and in return, I get so much moral support and treasured friendship from all of you. When I see how some other social media platforms are full of unreasonable criticisms and hateful comments, I am so very thankful that we don’t have such people here. We can always agree to disagree, but we do it in a civil and respectful way. For this, thank you, dear friends.

After writing about it, I decided to compile a photo and story tribute to Cleo and I did that, but as I was doing it, emails started coming in from strangers asking for help, so in honour of Cleo, I had to attend to those as they were urgent. The work doesn’t stop; it has to go on. Of course Cleo would understand. She would want that too.

The Chinese generally believe that for the next eight hours, we should not disturb the remains of the newly deceased human. This duration is given for the consciousness to end “properly” and completely. For pets, I would think it is about six hours before rigor mortis sets in or when the remains turn hard and cold. Then we know for sure the consciousness has ended.

I don’t know how far the above is true, but it is a Chinese practice and we practise it for humans. I do it for all our pets too.

Consciousness is a brain function so by right, it should end the moment the brain stops working, but here’s the tricky question: Exactly when does the brain functions stop? Is it when the heart stops or when the breath ends? I don’t know, so I’d just follow what the Chinese have been practising for time immemorial – just wait for eight hours before we do anything.

So, that was how I spent the night, but I did go in and stay with Cleo in between all my computer work. From the chanting music, I changed it to soothing peaceful music and I let it play all night until the next morning. I felt the soothing music was more fitting for Cleo. Her passing had been so peaceful and serene.

That was how I processed my grief for Cleo – I kept myself busy.

Have I accepted her passing now? I don’t know, but I know I’m not in denial. I am not bargaining for anything because no one escapes sickness and death. I am not angry either. Perhaps this is because I know I had left no stone unturned and I had done my utmost for her during the past month when the decline started. If I could turn back the clock, I might have even done less, knowing that whatever I had done on the last day was not necessary anymore.

So no, I have no regrets at all.

Will I be depressed in the days to come? I hope not! I still have to look after Indy, Cow Mau and all our cats. Depression is a horrible condition that saps all your energy away. I know as I’ve been coping with bipolar depression since my late twenties. It’s not something I would wish on anyone.

Since my longest depression (which lasted two years), I have ramped up my determination to find a solution to my condition and so far, I have been depression free for about two years now…and counting. Touch wood. Fingers crossed. I researched on supplements myself and found the gut-brain serotonin condition. Long story, not for this blog!

But coming back to my purpose of writing in this post, I just want to share that as humans, we will grieve. And let’s allow our friends and loved ones to grieve because grieving is a process and it is only by going through the stages that we will begin the recovery process. We will accept.

This says that it is noble to mourn.

I’d say it is necessary because we are human and we have feelings.


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2 responses to “Managing grief in our own ways”

  1. Irene

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. I’ve long practised to not deny people the chance to grief, and you worded this thought very beutifully.

    1. chankahyein

      I’m thankful you agree and practise not denying people their chance to grieve. Thank you for sharing.