By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,
MA, LPC, MAC
Good-byes Are Never Easy
This is the time of year when many of us are saying goodbyes to lakeside friends who migrate north to enjoy a warm northern summertime with their other family and friends. Although we’re sad to see them go, this kind of goodbye is pretty simple because we know it will be followed by another hello when our snowbird friends return on the cold winds of autumn.
More permanent good-byes can be much more painful. This week I had to say goodbye to my beloved dog, Maggie. After almost 11 years of loving companionship and more than a small dose of mischief, it is difficult to accept that she is no longer by my side. She had the greatest zest for life of any dog I’ve ever known. Before we took her in, she lived by her wits in the streets. In our early days together, one of her favorite tricks when we walked together was to dash into an open doorway and re-appear seconds later with a tasty meal in her mouth, slyly in and out before anyone knew she’d been there.
A decade later she finally came to believe she’d never go hungry again and didn’t mind the frequent “qué gorda” comments she received as we walked down the street. She had a good life with us and added a lot to ours. I’m really going to miss the ol’ girl.
Many of my friends have also lost their own beloved pets in just the last few weeks. We all share a common sorrow. Living in a retirement community, we face all-too-frequent losses of friends and family as well. Every week I open my copy of the Guadalajara Reporter hoping I won’t find an obituary for anyone I know.
Every loss is painful, and getting through it is a slow process and not an event. Let the process take whatever time it needs. There’s no hurrying up and getting back to normal because things really won’t ever be the same.
A good place to begin the healing journey is by remembering the past. It can be tempting to get rid of all mementos and material objects reminding you of your loss. This isn’t the time to do that yet. Just because this person or pet is no longer part of your life doesn’t mean the wonderful memories no longer deserve a special place in your heart. Instead, recall and reflect upon the happy times shared together, milestones, and special events. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
All the pain of losing Maggie is a small price for all the joy she has brought over the years. I’ve packed away her food bowl and her doghouse, but I’ve placed a photo of her beside her collar and tags where I see them every day. I’ve been remembering and sharing dozens of stories of both how good and how very bad she could be. Every memory makes me both laugh and cry, but they all keep her alive in my heart.
Be gentle and patient with yourself, taking time every day to listen to the still quiet voice within. In a typical grief response, the intense initial pain loses its sharp edge over time, and your energy gradually begins to return. The process may be slow, and progress is not always linear. Different emotions can pop up when you least expect it.
Anticipate special events that may trigger a flood of emotion and develop some possible actions you can take to help yourself through it. Plan activities with friends at times that may be difficult to be alone. Maybe it’s time to consider adopting a new pet, or to get more involved in some new social or educational activities. Open yourself to whatever new possibilities await.
Endings always herald a new beginning. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Soon the ice will melt, and the blackbirds sing along the river as pleasantly as ever.”