Over Christmas I lost my baby bunny, Roger. When I say lost, I mean he died. It wasn’t completely unexpected. We had been spending enough money for me to have needed to take a job just to pay for his vet bills. First, it was pneumonia. Then his teeth started growing in the wrong directions. Then he got an abscess in his jawbone that may or may not have been cancerous. As the infection spread, he got a second round of pneumonia in his already damaged lungs, and in the end he couldn’t breathe long enough to eat. Three years of at least monthly vet visits. Three years of intermittent tears as I worried about him. Would this be the last visit? Would the procedure turn out ok? We were trying to brace ourselves for one last and incredibly risky surgery on his jaw when we got the call on Christmas eve that things weren’t going well with him. That Friday, the vet said it was unlikely that he would last the weekend. We cut our trip as short as we could without offending my family and we sprinted back to PA. That Monday we said goodbye.
I had hoped that maybe since it was before the new year and since I had so much time to prepare, my grieving process would be short. My workaholic brain planned and calculated and estimated that if I journal daily and was very open with my feelings, if I exercised regularly, ate well, got enough sleep, and took time for self care I should be done grieving in a month, maybe two. If you want to know what intellectualized denial looks like, I think this is pretty much it.
I thought that two weeks of studying would have been enough to keep my mind relatively occupied. I picked up extra time at work to help pay off the final vet bills in the interim. In total, I studied about eight hours in the two days before the exam. I spent the second week of “studying” trying to drown myself in enough self-care to get myself to study, but any time I tried to really focus on work I would burst into tears and spiral back into this grief pit of despair.
The problem with self care is that you have to have the motivation, energy, and desire to do it. I’ve found that grief leaves me irritatingly incapacitated and unable to do anything that remotely resembles self care, with the exception of eating large quantities of chocolate. I find myself ecstatic to fill any gaps in my schedule with just about anything (fun or work), but then dreading it every moment until it’s over. I want to sleep, I’m exhausted, but I can’t.
There’s a Roger shaped hole in my heart. I keep trying to fill it with things, with work, with care, and it’s not helping. I’ve heard that grief tends to snowball. Every experience of loss digs up every previous experience with loss to create an avalanche of past hurts that can overwhelm you.
I’ve been told that the only real way to grieve it so sit with it. To focus on the memories, to relive the good and the bad. Set aside a specific time every day to focus on those you’ve lost, use symbolic imagery like lighting a candle. The problem is the recovery time. Experiencing grief feels like running a marathon to me, so how do I get back to work? How do I balance grief and continuing on in life?
I think the most surprising aspect of grief is how it’s linked me to others. As I mentioned before, I threw myself into my work to try and distract myself (and cover the bills). Unfortunately massage therapy left me with hours of time in silence with little protection from everything I was trying to escape. I’ve mastered the covert (and sanitary) tear wipe that is undetectable to a client. I managed to control the urge to sob and curl up in a corner, though I did spend a few breaks crying in my room in the dark. I firmly believe that if you don’t let it out, it will find it’s way out when you want it to the least.
I got distracted, the surprising part is that my grief connected me to my clients in ways I never anticipated. I find my grief resurfacing with a client unanticipated, only for my client to confess to me that they recently lost a loved one. I’ve experienced the anger of a client, the sadness of a client, but never grief. It’s opened up a whole new dimension for me and for my practice. I think that we as a society don’t have good supports for people who are grieving. We expect those left behind to put on a show and a brave face, to handle an endless flow of well meant derogatory comments and suggestions all while hosting a slough of hungry relatives and keeping things together at work. Why don’t we let our people grieve? Why do we expect anything other than wailing puddles of the human experience? Why not come around the family and let them fall apart for a while? Why don’t we take care of them?
I find myself becoming more agitated and resentful every day. I wish there was more of a road map for how to do this right. I hope that somehow my experience will translate into a better understanding of someone else’s experience, maybe I can provide an example of how to cope with my grief to my children. To show them how to take care of themselves and each other when things go wrong. Maybe my experience can help make the world a better place someday.
Until then, I still miss him. I ache for him, and I don’t know what to do. Talking to people seldom helps because few people understand how a rabbit can be meaningful to a person. I think about him often, and I don’t know where to put the pain. I don’t know how to ask to be taken care of, or even what that looks like. My goal until I figure it out is to try to keep myself from filling the void with random activities, food, or purchases. I will continue to try to keep the resentment I’m feeling out of my relationships. Finally, I’ll try to keep from hating myself for needing to grieve. I will allow myself time and space to grieve and not hold myself to the same ridiculous standards I hold when I’m well.