Good Grief

If you are alive, chances are you have experienced loss in your lifetime. The loss of a job, loss of your youth, loss of a friendship, and the ultimate and heart breaking loss of a loved one can leave you with a gaping hole in your heart.

I have recently experienced the loss of my best friend; my roommate of 17 years. He was with me during the good, the bad, and the very ugly and listened to my woes without judgement or ridicule. He was my cat, Kato.

As his health was quickly deteriorating and I knew I had the inevitable decision to make, I braced myself for yet another period of grieving. The trouble with grieving is, as I learned through the death of my father, if you put it off or rush through it, it comes back years later with a vengeance. We all must go through the process of grief as it is a part (albeit an uncomfortable, rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-on-it, crappy time) of good health.

When my father was dying, I immersed myself in the writings of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Her book, On Death and Dying (1969), was a brilliant examination of the process of death, dying and grief. She helped me understand the suggested five stages of grief (challenged by many, but still valuable); denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Being aware of these stages helped me understand my thoughts and emotion-driven behaviour as I began moving through each stage.

Shock and denial, the first stage is the worst. I wandered the house repeating to myself, “I can’t believe he’s gone.” I thought I saw him hop on the bed or walk to his food dish… how can he no longer be here? Yup, this stage sucks the funny right out of life. It’s waking up in the morning feeling good and then it hits me…. he’s gone. It’s crying because I found a crumb of his food on the kitchen floor. It hurts and it is healthy.

Unfortunately, the process of grieving doesn’t have a timeline. Everyone grieves differently and does it in their own way. For me, after euthanizing Kato, I wiped my schedule clean and gave myself time to allow the process of grieving to happen. It came in waves, it hit hard, it took a break, it hit again. There was no meaningful pattern (that I knew of) but my awareness of the importance of letting it happen was key to the healthy process of grieving.

I am now moving into the stage of depression and plan to be there for as long as it takes. I may not feel the joy and passion for life during this time, but I know that is okay as it is a part of the process. Understanding this process and trusting that I will feel passion and happiness again helps me to move through it at my own pace without rushing to feel better.

When we reach the final stage of acceptance it’s like reaching the finish line of a long, gruelling run. The clouds will part, we will feel joy again, and find meaning through the experience. Meanwhile, it is important to remember that to be healthy and well balanced, we must allow for the perceived “underbelly of balance” to emerge. We must feel the harder feelings and experience the grief before we can move on. If we put it off for another day, we will find it harder to find balance and well-being in the future.

Kathi Cameron holds a masters degree in Exercise and Health Psychology and is an author and speaker on topics related to health promotion and realistic health behaviour change.