When We Fail in Grief

Saturday marks the third anniversary of Lilly’s death from an adverse rabies vaccine reaction + the side-effects and complications of treatment. I wrote in the pet loss book — Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of Your Canine Soul Mate — that I’m forever changed by the loss. That statement feels more true now than ever. When I wrote the book, I talked about fearing that I may never recover from the loss, and that too remains a real concern. This last week, in particular, has been difficult in a renewed way. Here’s what I’m thinking about when we fail in grief.

obit photo

I suspect this year is harder because I know that the first anniversary of Ginko’s death is also coming up in about a month.

So, even if I can shake myself out of chronic weeping, my heart knows that another painful hurdle is just ahead.

ginko obit photo

And, then in May, it’ll be the 5th anniversary of losing Tom’s mom.

And, then in June, it’ll be the 4th anniversary of losing my mom. 

And, so on …

I pride myself on having friends of all ages. People way younger than me, and people way older.

I’ve often found much-needed inspiration from those many decades ahead of me in life. I see them still standing amid unimaginable losses — of parents, of siblings, of spouses, of children, of life-long friends.

At the same time, especially lately, I’ve found myself in the role of elder. I’ve been providing insights and advice to people a decade or two younger than me. Granted, most of those conversations are about happy things like marriage or adding a new puppy or major career changes.

But I have coached, for lack of a better word, several friends through hospice situations and how to cope with the individual emotions and group drama that comes with sitting vigil in a loved one’s final days.

I do my best to lend an ear or a shoulder to pals just now entering the consuming task of eldercare — a road I’ve already walked.

I can’t say that I’ve always been my best self in the face of loss. I have not.

My grandpa was terminally ill with cancer when I was a teenager. I went to support groups and classes with my mom for families of cancer patients, and yet I didn’t always know how to deal with how he was feeling about it (or how I was feeling about losing him) when we were face to face.

At one point, he was brave enough to call and let me know that I had hurt his feelings by being distant with him at a family gathering. Of course, I immediately apologized, but I don’t remember being mature enough to explain that I didn’t know what to say or do.

That incident still causes me pain and regret. I like to think that somehow he knows that:

  • I understand better now.
  • I’ve had more experience in sad and complicated situations.
  • I’ve gained deeper and broader compassion.
  • And most of all .. that I’m desperately sorry for hurting his feelings at such a time of tough transition..

On this anniversary of Lilly’s death,
let’s try to be our best selves
when others in our lives are struggling.
And, when we make mistakes,
let’s ask others to forgive us
and in turn forgive those
who fail us in a moment of need.

I know it isn’t easy, but let’s try.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I’m a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles … and, of course, all things pet related.

I don’t just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Betsy Crittenden - March 14, 2017

We lost our beloved Hershey (chocolate lab mix) 1-1/2 years ago and some days the pain is still very difficult to endure. We are unable to bring ourselves to get another dog. But you live not far from Denver, Colorado. Did you ever seek a second opinion from Dr. Jeff Young of Planned Pethood Plus in Denver? He’s a featured vet on Animal Planet but Dr. Jeff’s veterinary practice is committed to his ‘low-cost animal care for all’ mission statement. People have driven across several state lines to have an animal treated there. It’s easy on the pocketbook. Too bad there aren’t more vets with that type of mission statement. I had a traveling vet who treated my Hershey before she had to be put down, and he saved us quite a bit of money, especially in the last 6 months of her life.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 14, 2017

    Betsy – I’m so sorry to hear about Hershey. These losses are so hard. Lilly had a whole team of veterinary specialists working on her complicated case (and offering their insights). I have heard of the veterinarian you mention, but no … I did not contact him for Lilly or Ginko’s cases. I’m a big believer in finding and maintaining strong / long-term relationships with veterinarians so that you’re not constantly starting over with new people. I will make a change when needed … like I did with our neurologist, but otherwise, I really try to work with the same good people all the time.

Kelly Goswick - March 9, 2017

Oh my goodness, do I feel you! I just lost my mom Dec. 7. It has been 3 months and some days I wonder if there is just something wrong with me. Others seem to move on so much better. I struggle. I remember how hard it was when we had to put our beloved Cooper, a beautiful Border Collie 6 years ago due to stomach cancer. I STILL miss that boy! I couldn’t bring myself to get another Border Collie. I can’t replace him. I got Jack Russells instead. I have decided that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We are all different, we grieve different, we heal from the loss different. But I believe we do heal. The hole is still there but the memories eventually turn to joy rather than pain.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 10, 2017

    I’m so sorry to hear about your Mom, Kelly. I think that 3-month mark is really hard. I remember feeling so discouraged, then, and also at 6 months. Hang in there. Keep working through the feelings as they arise. It’s all you can do.

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