I had this insane idea that I would leave you with Frankie’s departure and then move on to my new life and my new(er) blog — as though my years with Frankie could be put aside that easily or that, maybe, if I didn’t write about it, the pain wouldn’t be there. But that’s not honoring Frankie’s memory, my grieving process, or the journey of loss I’ve been taking with you all.
So here’s my first dispatch from the other side.
I’ve said it on Facebook but in disparate status updates and in different places — and, besides, not all my friends are on Facebook, shocking as that may be. In any case, it bears repeating, over and over: I am grateful for every acknowledgement of Frankie’s passing, no matter how brief. Of course I value the detailed assurances that what I did was an act of love, and appreciate every personal comment. At the same time, those brief “Bon Voyages” also say to me “I read what you wrote, and how you wrote it. I’m thinking of you.” And that means a lot.
Which brings me to…
Grief — and Bad Behavior
I left the house about half an hour after saying good-bye to Frankie on Friday, setting off on a writing assignment-related research trip around southern Arizona with a friend. My mission: holding it together through emotional and physical exhaustion to get my job done and then having a cathartic evening of wine and conversation with friends who know what I’ve been through.
For the most part, I succeeded in the first part of the mission. The second part, not so much. I didn’t yet know what I expected or wanted with regard to my grief. It was unreasonable to expect that others would.
People Who Know vs People Who Don’t
I discovered that, at least for the purposes of my research, I was okay around people who didn’t know what I was going through. It was a relief not to be “Edie who just lost Frankie.” I went to several nature preserves, which were very soothing, interviewed wildlife experts, B & B owners, restaurateurs. I was functioning, all pistons charging, being my professional self.
It was the designated relaxation portion of the trip that proved the most stressful.
The mutual friend that my travel companion and I were visiting lives in a lovely, remote location — so remote that it took a longer time to get there than expected. It was nearly dark by the time we arrived, and for the last couple of miles on a dirt road, the fuel light was on. I was super stressed.
Our welcome was warm. Wine and a wonderful comfort food dinner were provided, as promised. So why couldn’t I relax? Because of the one thing I didn’t get: Any mention of my loss, or questioning of how I felt about it.
I won’t go into the gory details. Let’s just say I drank more than I should have and got more and more upset as the conversation rolled around topics that weren’t foremost on my mind, people I didn’t know. I began feeling more and more disaffected, until I finally lost it and yelled very bad words at my hostess and my other friend.
I stormed out to the car to get my phone, to return a sympathy call received earlier that day. If you will recall, I was in the middle of nowhere. It was pitch dark. I had been drinking a lot of wine. I tripped and fell on my face — luckily in the dirt.
This did not improve my mood. Ice was provided, Ibuprofen…but no “Can we talk about why you’re so upset?” A call from friends in California allowed me to vent my anger and grief. I sulked in my room by myself for the rest of the evening, posted a few cryptic status updates on Facebook, and went to sleep.
The next morning
I woke up with a black and blue chin and scraped nose — and a heart full of remorse. I had behaved badly. My hostess had prepared a lovely dinner, provided me with a lot of excellent wine. She is a nice, sympathetic person, an animal lover, just not a mind reader.
I did not exactly apologize but explained where I was coming from. She in turn said she had thought we would get to discussing my loss later in the evening. Fair enough.
But people in pain are not disposed to being fair.
The moral of the story
I can’t speak for anyone else; I can only attest to the efficacy of this advice for a small sample of one. But I would suggest that if a person you know has suffered a loss and they know that you know, tell them you’re sorry and ask them how they are. Then ask if they want to talk about it. If they say no, let it go.
But do it immediately, especially if they are from New York and disposed to be a bit clutzy. Don’t wait until they have worked up a head of steam, told you to go fuck yourself, and fallen on their face.
It just adds remorse and guilt to the grief.
At least for me. What about you? What do you hope for from others when you’ve experienced a loss, whether of a pet or a person?
36 thoughts on “Gratitude & Grief: A Guide to Dealing with (My) Loss”
Thank you for sharing that. This post really ripped my heart out. Your honesty is appreciated. I felt similar when my son was born with a very serious heart defect and my friends would call the hospital and not mention it but tell me things like shopping for shoes and how they were searching for a certain color and size on clearance sale at Marshalls. I felt like…my kid may not come off the vent and I don’t give a F about your shoes. But in hindsight, they did call and they were doing their best to deal with something that they didn’t know how to deal with. We learn that people all deal in their own ways. I agree, a hug and a kind word would have been nice.
Oh, Nancy, I hope your son is okay now. Thanks in turn for this. It goes to show that people may care but just don’t know how to show it — which makes the person in pain even more upset. It’s so hard to know. Maybe this discussion will help.
So sorry for your rough night and that you didn’t feel supported. I appreciate your honesty and will take your comments into my heart.
I will tell you that some people have personal cultures where they think the kindest thing they can do for someone is not make a big fuss over emotions. That may have been what was happening with your friend. WASPs are particularly prone to this.
In my own family, I remember crying at my beloved grandmother’s funeral and having family members ask me what was wrong?!!
I also have made the mistake of trying to take cues from someone I knew was in pain by not bringing sad things up first. I thought I was being kind and sensitive.
But your post is a good reminder to all of us that if we’re going to make a mistake talking to someone in pain, it’s better to make the mistake of appearing to care too much than to appear to care too little.
For now, I wish you time with people who can give you what you need to grieve.
The upside is that your friends understand and forgive you…The downside is that you’re adding guilt which you don’t need to do…I’m the kind that holds things in…I don’t often’ about loss and that’s not healthy for me and I know it…I suffered a great hurt yesterday and forced myself to reach out to people I knew would understand what i was going through and it really worked…Reading their words and knowing that someone cared made a difference and i calmed down and felt much better…It’s up to both sides…Friends can and should reach out to you, but I’m learning how to ask for comfort when i know I need it
Oh, Edie! I’m so sorry! Our unruly emotions can certainly play nasty games with our patience and logic. I suspect, when they revolve around events that don’t happen every day, our struggle is rooted in our lack of practice in how to deal with them.
My messy process of late is to draw boundaries for myself, but I’m not good at it on so many levels. I’m not good realistically voicing my needs or assessing my capabilities along a timeline for work. Nor am I good at communicating these things to other people. My first real and very recent attempt last week at sorting this out was a sloppy mess. My emotions got the better of me and I said things I wish I hadn’t. Thankfully, by admitting that this was a sloppy first attempt, the recipient followed up with some added compassion.
I realize that, in some ways, my struggle is not the same at all as the grief you feel — yet, in the bigger picture, it truly is. We both appear to be in a place where we’re just learning how to ask for what we need – or maybe we can do it in some areas but not others. No matter the reason for the journey, forging that path is equally difficult.
I’m now learning that we humans often forget that we are the ones in control of our well-being all along. It’s our job to commit that to knowledge and to allow self-compassion to rule the day in caring for ourselves and asking for what we need.
Go easy on yourself. You are hurting more than you know, and more than others may understand. Perhaps, even when they do understand, they want to offer a pleasant diversion, awaiting your cue so as to know when to delve in. People rarely do things to be malicious. It’s amazing how our internal tapes tell us otherwise the moment we don’t get what we need, isn’t it?
I watched this last night as part of an Oprah/Brene Brown class I’m taking. It sounds like this is one of those moments when you could give yourself a little love. And so you know, you already have mine.
Love the honesty in your post. Grief is hard, any way you look at it. I would do fine until anyone asks about my loss. Then ughhhhh messy tears. So I get the work/relax change of emotions. Go easy on yourself. Sharing this – in all of the nekkid honesty – helps so many. I hope you keep blogging here.
Beautiful post, Edie. Beautiful and painfully honest. Thank you for having the courage to write and share it.
Grief is indeed messy. I’m so sorry for the upset, for the fall, for everything. Some days are going to be better than others, but those first ones are brutal, plain and simple. As you’re grieving, everything else people say, do, and post online feels inane. Scream-out-loud inane. I totally get that. Take care of YOU. Frankly, everyone else can sit on it.
May your journey through your grief
bring you to that place of solace
where your memories of
settle into your heart
I can completely relate. When I lost my mother as a young woman, I spent months both astounded and irritated by the fact that the world kept going and that people kept trying to talk to me about (in my mind at the time) seemingly inconsequential things. The things I thought (and said) about people were not always kind. It’s jarring to realize that the world keeps turning even though your personal world has changed so significantly, and it would make me pretty angry at times. You don’t have to be fair right now. It’s okay to be unfair for a little while.
That being said, I think that those around us – especially those who have not experienced the same kind of world-altering loss – don’t always know how to react. Some people worry that they shouldn’t bring it up unless you do. Others will think they should try to get you to have endless heart to heart conversations. Neither one really sat well with me, depending on the day.
There were days where I would get actively annoyed if someone did ask me how I was doing. (I mean, I’m just sitting here eating a sandwich – let me eat the damn thing in peace, you know?) I’d get annoyed if they chose to offer condolences in a way that bothered me for some reason or another. (If one more person told me my mom was “in a better place” I probably would have shoved a boot in a place where the sun doesn’t shine.) Other days, I’d be upset that no one seemed to acknowledge my loss.
The truth is, when I was deep in the throes of grief, I was pretty unpredictable and never all that satisfied with anything that others were doing or saying. Good friends will recognize that you’re in a bad place, and will cut you some slack. They won’t expect apologies or any of that nonsense – they’ll just try to be there in whatever capacity you happen to need at a given time. I tried to drop some thank yous when I finally emerged from the darkest parts of my grief – especially to those closest to me, who I really took it out on at times- but it took some time.
For now, just take care of you. Let yourself be annoyed. Let yourself be angry. Let yourself think uncharitable thoughts. Sometimes it helps a lot to just get it all out there.
Sending more hugs… if you ever need to chat, I’m always around to listen. I find myself chatting about grief with friends more than I ever would have imagined.
I’m sorry this ended up being such a novel…
Not a novel — not even a proper blog post… seriously, I appreciate your thoughts, at whatever length.
I’m so sorry for all you went through the other night! And I understand and empathize totally, having been there myself several years ago. I’m happy for you, though, that apologies all around the next day soothed hurt feelings and repaired the rift.
We all struggle at times with the conflict between needing to reach out for sympathy/comfort/understanding and the lessons of childhood when we were told to “stop crying, get over it, and move on”. And we add to that all sorts of other emotions. It’s good that you found the courage to write out and post your thoughts; not just for yourself, but for us — your readers — as well who need the reminder at times to be gentle with ourselves. I know from my own experience that there will be days when you feel better than others, stronger. But don’t feel guilty about the rough days. Allow yourself the “luxury” to grieve. If that means having to excuse yourself from whomever for a few minutes to go to the ladies’ room to let the tears flow, then so be it. And the hell with anyone who doesn’t like it…we all grieve in our own way but denying ourselves the process just makes it harder to begin the healing process follows.
Edie, I’m so sorry for your loss of Frankie. You never know how you’ll react to grief. You feel like talking about it, or you don’t. And that can change minute to minute. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.
The first few days, I needed to be left entirely alone. I probably could have functioned, but I didn’t want to, not even to accept condolences. I couldn’t even describe my experience as grief; it was stark cold terror of how life would or could proceed without my canine partner. After that, when I more or less rejoined civilization, I blurted out the fact of my dog’s death to everyone I encountered. Come to think of it, it’s been 2 1/4 years (but who’s counting) and I am still doing that.
A friend gave me a tiny lapel pin depicting a dog with a halo. I don’t wear dog stuff, I don’t wear angel stuff, but I told myself I would wear that pin until I could go a day without crying. I wore the darn thing for a long time…I kinda like it now.
I ached reading your post. I’m so, so sorry. And I totally get your behavior and likely how you felt. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve been on both sides of your situation. When Kitty, my friend, and our Vet friend, euthanized Morgan on December 12, 2005 “a little after twelve,” I was a total basket case. And, my partner in life, my husband, acted as if NOTHING had happened. Rage does not even begin to describe how I felt towards him. The irony of the situation was that we had gotten married after living together for 19 years on Dec 12 “a little after twelve” in 1991. Some loaded anniversary date and time. I didn’t think our relationship would survive and it probably would not have except he was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few months later (He’s totally fine now.) which helped me to feel something for him other than raw hatred. I really did show up for him. Big time. We’ve talked about these events many times now and he’s apologized over and over and vowed it will never happen again and it still hurts, and I still recoil, although certainly not as much. So I know what it’s like to be with a person or persons who are not willing or able to just be there for you, with you. In my experience such emotional abandonment compounds the grief and pain a million times over. Then, there have been times when I feel like I didn’t show up as much as I could and should have for a friend who suffered a loss. I try to rationalize that it seemed to me that she just didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want to intrude and so I stayed mum. But, I should have done as you advised and asked if she wanted to talk about it, that I wanted to listen, if that’s what she wanted at that time or any time. So I’ve been fucked and I’ve fucked up. Thank you again for your honesty and grace and keeping it real. I’m a huge fan.
And I think your advice is the best – if you know someone has had a loss acknowledge it and ask them if they want to talk about. Worst thing you can do is ignore it! I appreciate your discussion of this difficult subject. I think most people mean well but don’t know what to say or do so they opt to say nothing. And as you expressed, that did not feel good at all.
Well spoken, definitely a lesson I will take to heart, being my stumbling self in situations like this when to pop “the” subject. I have to admit, I would have been afraid to be inconsiderate bringing it up that early. Probably one of those bloody cultural things. And don’t feel bad, at the end of the day you kicked some butt for people like me and your host that definitely need it. Nothing a marguerita can’t fix !
I think we have all fallen into the trap of thinking that bringing up a source of grief will”remind” the bereaved of their loss. As if they might otherwise forget the gaping hole in their chest where their heart used to be. I’ve felt the raw need to talk. I’ve also been so exhausted I could not bear to hear or say another word. I think the best thing to do is acknowledge early and often, then give the friend who is hurting the option of talking or not. Sometimes just talking about practical details (rather than “How do you feel?”) makes the world feel a much less lonely place. And remember, grief doesn’t go away because you’ve sent a card or said, once, how sorry you are. Keep taking care of your friend.
Totally agree with Kate K above who said exactly what I was thinking, and said it very well:
“And I think your advice is the best – if you know someone has had a loss acknowledge it and ask them if they want to talk about. Worst thing you can do is ignore it! I appreciate your discussion of this difficult subject. I think most people mean well but don’t know what to say or do so they opt to say nothing. And as you expressed, that did not feel good at all. Kate K.”
I still have not gotten over the ignorant comments of my creative writing class that did not realize my third person creative writing essay on the animals that came around before and after a (my) mother’s death was, in fact, not fiction. Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t tell them, but my grief was such that I wanted to transpose it into something else. And that was 14 years ago.
Somewhat coincidentally I just this weekend posted a review of a poet who wrote for 10 years on the loss of her daughter from an inoperable brain tumor and who found solace in the concept, found both in Jewish and in Native American traditions, that the spirit joins nature; a friend just wrote me that his cousin lost a daughter the night before from the same cause and that he would be sending on the essay in a few weeks when he thought it could help.
There are grief groups for people who have lost people – are there grief groups for people who have lost their animal companions?
Also, would like to send you a card – haven’t looked to see if there’s a mailing address on the site – maybe you can email it or post on fb for friends?
Thanks, Diane; I’ll read your review. There are definitely grief groups for people who have lost pets — but I’m lucky enough to have this one, my blog readers.
I’ll DM you my address on Facebook — thanks for thinking of sending a card.
I am so sorry. Mostly that Frankie has died, also that your friends didn’t know how to help you. I think most people do want to talk about their own grief, or at least to hear it acknowledged. From the outside, talking about it feels dangerous, not just because it is sad and hard to find the right words but because it is so often imaginable that right now, in that particular moment, the griever has managed to put their mind elsewhere and that to speak of it would bring it all crashing back. I know I need to get better about just coming out and saying it and then mostly letting the person take the lead about how and when to talk about it but making sure they know I care and am ready to talk if and when they want to. I’m glad you were able to say something but I’m sorry it couldn’t be before the frustration and neglectedness spiraled up so intensely. It’s so hard to ask others to give something like that–what I want is for them to take care of me and it can feel less if they have to be nudged.
At any rate, I don’t know you really and have only been reading for a few weeks, but I have been thinking about you and about Frankie.
I’m so sorry about everything, Edie — the loss of Frankie, the blow-up at dinner, the bruised face, the guilt, the remorse, the anger, the sadness.
I’m one of those WASP-y people that Pam talks about. I just want to shut everything in, keep a stiff upper lip, and stay away from anything that might make the wound open up and hurt more. Therefore, I project MY reactions on other people, and definitely would have been one of those who was trying distract you rather than comfort you. I’m so sorry that you got these additional hurts–psychic and physical–on top of your deep sadness about Frankie.
And I appreciate your laying bare your feelings here and giving people an opportunity to think about these difficult human interchanges.
Your actions are certainly understandable, at least to me. Without exception, we all grieve in our own time and in our own way.
I have grieved the loss of each of my animals in a different way; some I think were constructive, some not so much. My mother has Alzheimer’s disease to the point where she no longer knows me. I grieve for her each and every day with tenderness, anger, sorrow, loss, mania, blankness and emotions so visceral I cannot describe them properly with anything but screams. Catching me during one of these periods is not an exercise in conversation with a reasonable person.
We grieve for whom we grieve and in the way that we are able at the time. How can it be any other way? Through you, Frankie taught in life and he continues to do so afterward. Quite an amazing duo you turned out to be.
Be as well as you can be and take the time to release what you must.
Good reminder, Edie. Grief can be such a mine field, and I’m guessing a lot of people just don’t know what to say or do when someone else is grieving. I know when I’ve been grieving, I tend to want people to just get on with life, tell me about the little things of their day, and remind me that there’s a “normal” out there somewhere. But when in doubt, good to ask.
Grief is just so personal and some people aren’t comfortable bringing it up first. There is no one right way to handle a situation and I am sorry you felt so ignored and unsupported by your friends. I am certain they didn’t mean it but that kind of logic very rarely has any import when you are so – understandably – vulnerable.
I am sorry your weekend didn’t go as well as you planned but I do hope you are able to take the time you need. Don’t rush and don’t feel guilty for your feelings. They are all valid.
Thinking of you…
Oh Edie – I am so sorry to hear about your tough evening. I certainly understand the “I don’t want to talk about it/Why is no one talking about it reaction. And I have certainly said more than a few bad words through my grieving process. Don’t beat yourself up – grieving is uniquely person. No one can tell you what you should be feeling. And the people who love you love you no matter what. xo
As you know, Edie, when a Jewish person dies, the immediate relatives (spouse, parent, child, sibling) will “sit shiva” (they stay home for a week, receiving condolence calls and focusing on mourning). After my dad died, I always warned anyone I knew going into that week, “People are going to say really stupid things to you in the next week, because they’re uncomfortable and won’t know what to say. I’m telling you so you’ll be prepared.” I have had people thank me for the warning after the week was over, because, gosh darn it, it was true.
How true? When I sat shiva for my dad, an insurance agent left his cards lying around the living room. Like my father’s death was an ad for life insurance. My mother had a bird.
So, yeah, not so surprised your friends didn’t give you the expected support. Hope you can get past that, retain the friends, and still find comfort elsewhere.
This summer, Bunny and I became hospice volunteers. One of the things I learned about was about dealing with family members, especially after the person has passed away, and how you need to try to remember to make it about them and not apply your own experiences or beliefs and tell them that you “know how they are feeling.” I’m still learning about the culture of grief and how to support and comfort people who are grieving, but I realize that I mainly have myself to use as a litmus test. We all go through stages of grief, and surely anyone who has experienced a loss understands that. I am betting that they didn’t hold any hard feelings against you.
I meant to respond when I read your post yesterday. It made me sad. I know just how you felt when no one even mentioned Frankie’s passing. I think people just don’t know what to do or what to say.
I still remember my friends pretending everything was normal even though my dad wasn’t lying in a hospital room in a coma. I was partly relieved because it allowed me to forget for a few minutes, but I was also upset that no one wanted to discuss it when I so badly wanted to do so myself.
I wish your advice could be shared with everyone. It should be. It might lead to some amazing conversations. It also might help the person who is grieving. I am so sorry things went so badly Edie.
Very true! Although not going through the same thing, I think I am grieving too and I am currently in the place where I want to talk about it, keep talking about it, talk about it some more and then discuss it again! If you want anyone to rant at feel free – so long as you know you will get the exact same rant back from me!
Your comment “But I would suggest that if a person you know has suffered a loss and they know that you know, tell them you’re sorry and ask them how they are. Then ask if they want to talk about it. If they say no, let it go”, makes perfect sense. But I also feel that instead of letting your anger build and then lash out at your friends it would have made sense to put the cards on the table about how you feel about their silence, waaaay before things started escalating. In that sense, I feel an apology is definitely needed. As an alternative, you could have NOT said anything, and decided to discuss the situation at a later time, if still needed.
I’m not saying any of this with the goal to berate you–I love your blog and I am really moved about your ongoing thoughtfulness about things. But since you asked…
While I’ve never gone thru the exact scenario that you just described, I’ve lost precious four leggers, I’ve drank too much and said things I maybe shouldn’t have said, and most importantly – I am the type who holds things in that upset me until either I end up in tears or blow up at the person. Either way, it’s never pretty, and it’s certainly not healthy. But we can’t help the way we feel, and you have every right to your emotions – especially after losing a beloved family member. Although it certainly is not funny at the moment, I do hope one day you and your host can put this behind you and laugh about this. At least the falling down drunk part.
We do what we do in the midst of grief.
That’s as it should be, I think. As the old quote says, “…those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter won’t mind.”
As far as I’m concerned you’re going thru these days the best way you can. And that’s all you need to expect of yourself. And while you’ve been doing that, you’ve opened my heart and broadened my perspective, right along with introducing me to a woman and a dog that I now care about.
I’m hugely grateful for your generosity of spirit. Thank you.