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Working through my own grief

For the first time in a few years I have some of my own grief to work though. I’m not so used to being on this side of the table. A dear and precious member of my family has died.

Kaia with our beautiful, Bonnie

My daughter and I lived in Bali for a couple of years. We left there and came back to live in NZ almost 2 1/2 years ago. It was meant to be a 3 month break before returning to Bali. It turned into 6 months. Then at some point I realised…accepted…decided that we wouldn’t go back at all.

There was one thing about that decision that was very hard. Our dog, Bonnie.

When my daughter was around two, I decided to foster puppies there. I’m animal-mad and I think it’s so wonderful for kids to grow up around animals. But given our living situation we couldn’t own pets. So fostering – temporarily and frequently – seemed a good idea. How naïve I was about the dog-adopting situation in Bali! And about who I am when it comes to animals! It’s very hard for them to find homes. Especially the regular old Bali dogs. And much more so the girls. And even more so for nervous dogs that aren’t immediately friendly.

And that was exactly who we took in.

We fostered two little sisters – maybe 2 or 3 months old – found dumped in a box in a market. Scared, alone, and covered in fleas. They both bonded instantly with Kaia and I, acting as you expect crazy, excited little puppies to act. So it took me a while to realise that they were like this only with us. They were terribly frightened of almost everyone else. (Bonnie only really truly bonded with one other human in her life). Claudey, miraculously – given she was the more nervous of the two – was rehomed after a couple of months. But Bonnie never was. By the time we’d had her 6 months I’d accepted both that she probably wouldn’t find another home and that I didn’t want to give her up. We loved her dearly. And she was very much a part of our little family.

Leaving her behind was so hard. She would have been near-impossible to rehome. Someone agreed to look after her for 2 months for me (when I thought it’d be a short break in NZ) but after 5 weeks had me put her in boarding, as she couldn’t cope with the fearful behaviour and didn’t want her new puppy to pick up Bonnie’s ways.

Since then she had lived in two different boarding places – both taking wonderful care of her. The whole time I haven’t really known what to do for her. The cost of bringing her to NZ was huge and prohibitive. But also the process was long and complicated and I wasn’t sure my dog, who was scared of almost everybody and hyperventilated and vomited even on car-trips, would survive such a journey.

Every month I would pay her boarding, her vet bills and see photos of her and videos of her out on her walks. Always hoping I’d figure out a way to have her with us again.

Until a few days ago when I got the news that she had died. It was a short, sharp illness that surprised all involved. She wasn’t sick for long, and was only 4 years old.

It has hit me very hard. I’ve been up and down the last few days. I’ve dissolved unhealthy amounts of eyelash glue (I have extensions) into my eyes with all my tears. And every time my daughter hears a particular song playing – the song that accompanies the video of Bonnie’s ashes being spread on the beach she loved – she comes to cuddle me. Because she knows I’m watching the video and that I’m crying.

I’ve been overwhelmed with lots of different emotions and thoughts. Those I’ll share in a blog to come as I take a closer look at them.

This is the first time in a long time that I’ve had to process and work through my own grief, rather than help everyone else with theirs.

It’s strange, painful, and curiously enlightening. With the work I do I can’t help but explore my experience and learn more about grief from it.

I’ve decided that instead of processing and working through this privately, I’ll do it here, over the coming weeks, with you.

There is so much already that I want to share. But in this post there are only two things I’m ready to cover. One is the (ridiculous) hierarchy of grief, and the other is why I want to do this healing work around Bonnie’s death.

Some people’s reaction to all this would be “but it’s just a dog”.

Maybe. To you. But it doesn’t really matter.

There is a ridiculous and prevalent idea that there’s some kind of ranking of who can feel what and how much for who when it comes to death. And in this ranking a mere ‘pet’ in meant to be at the bottom. It’s a bizarre notion that we are entitled to feel or not feel a certain amount depending on who they are and what the relationship was. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it was or wasn’t your child, your partner, your parent, your cousin, your best friend, your old school teacher, your postman, your neighbour, your penpal, your ex-cleaner, or your pet rat. It doesn’t matter who they are and what official relationship they had to you. Nor is it even vaguely relevant how it compares to what anyone else feels about anyone in their life that died. It’s kinda odd, and certainly unhealthy, the way we make these comparisons and think it means anything or is some kind of guide of what you can/can’t or should/shouldn’t feel.

In summary, if someone in your life died and it’s having some kind of affect on you, then it matters. As for what anyone else feels and how your grief compares to theirs. Who cares? Your experience is your experience. Honour that.

And why do I want to work through my G.R.I.E.F process on Bonnie?

It isn’t because it’s so terribly painful and I need a way to cope. I can handle the pain for now. And the honest reality of it is that Bonnie wasn’t part of my everyday experience anymore. I’m not used to seeing her everyday and haven’t been for a while. So I fully expect that if I just left things alone my pain would fade fairly quickly as I got back to my regular life, which doesn’t involve her. I expect before long that I wouldn’t be thinking about her much anymore and it would hurt less – not because I’ve healed it, but simply because I touch it less often. This is actually what happens to most people’s grief. This is what leaving it to time achieves.

No, I want to do this for myself but also for Bonnie. I want to work through this process and heal my grief around my Bon because she deserves it. She was a beautiful member of our family and was a source of love, comfort, and companionship through a very difficult period of my life. She was a sweet wee girl and deserves to be remember clearly, with just love. Not through a filter (no matter how thin) of pain and regret that gets in the way of that love.

Simply, I want to be able to love her clearly. And you can only do that without the grief and without the necessary forgetting that happens when it hurts too much. She deserves more and so do I.

So watch this space over the next few weeks as I share my experience of ‘unpacking’ and healing my grief.

I’ll admit to feeling apprehensive. I think it might be challenging for me to share what will be some painful and personal stuff, especially from a vulnerable place.

But sharing here can possibly help others who can see a live example of grief being healed and what that can look like. And it will certainly help me to do and to have some company as I do it.



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