Grief from a loved one or pet departing our world can bring even the strongest people to their knees. It’s a very powerful emotion that can be overwhelming. We want to hold on to those we love, human or animal, forever, but unfortunately no one lives forever. When a person or beloved pet dies, our hearts break, sadness settles in, and we become lost. These powerful emotions can send someone with mental illness in a spiraling down fall into the deepest depths of his or her hole, and it can threaten to send a person in recovery back into darkness.
Four days before Saint Davids Writers conference, my husband woke me up before five in the the morning. Our dog, Elli, was walking sideways and could barely make it up the stairs to our porch. I brought her up to my bed. As the morning progressed, it became harder and harder for her to move her back paws. By the time a veterinary office opened, she couldn’t move her back paws at all.
We drove Elli to a special veterinary hospital in Pittsburgh with the hope they could help, but, to our dismay, there wasn’t much they could do. We had to make the decision to put her to sleep. My heart tore into pieces. Tears poured from my eyes like a flood. My husband and I tried to think of possible ways to keep her with us, but in the end there was no way we could save her without putting her through pain.
To us, Elli wasn’t just a dog. She was our child and a comfort for my mental illness. Putting her to sleep was like taking the life of our own baby. Heartbreak, grief, anguish, sadness and anger gushed throughout me. Everything at home reminded me of her: her toys, her little shirts, her bone and so on. I’d wake up in the middle of the night crying. I begged God to wake me up from this nightmare. My little girl couldn’t be dead. This couldn’t be real. She was only four years old in human years.
The sadness increased as I faced each day before the conference. I cried in the shower, I fell asleep on the couch crying while holding her collar, and I cried at our family’s Father’s Day picnic and at random times during the day. I felt like I was slipping back into the dark hole. I feared I might have to go back to therapy to deal with my grief. I felt hopeless. I thought of skipping the conference, but my husband refused to let me.
Grief overtook me and I wanted to give up on everything. I wanted to give up on my writing, on fighting to stay well and going on with my life, but my husband encouraged me to fight. He continued to remind me how far I have come and how I could not let grief defeat me. He told me to go to my conference and not mention my loss or dwell on it.
To cope with my loss, I turned to my friends, family and husband; I started journaling; I wrote a poem about Elli; I kept myself busy; I cherished my happy memories of Elli, and I went to the conference. The conference kept me busy and I didn’t have time to think about my grief. Coming home was hard, but with the grace of God I was stronger.
I’m still grieving, but I’m working hard to cope and stay within the light. I’m planning a memorial for Elli, I journal about my feelings each day, I turn to my support partners for comfort, I remind myself about the positive things within my life, and I’m writing this blog.
Staying in the light of recovery is important, and each day I take steps to face my sadness without slipping back into the hole of depression. Every day is a struggle, but knowing my doggie baby is in heaven free from pain and that she will live forever in my heart, helps me stand within the light.