Enjoy this monthly blog post from Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services.
Grief is personal. And only I can feel the grief that I am facing. No one can do it for me.
When Kristen and I were first married, we did something we knew we should not have done — we got a puppy. Our first mistake was going into a store called “Active Pets”. The next mistake was holding the puppies.
We were drunk with puppy love and Jackson Riecke became a part of our little family. However, we got our fist jolt of sobriety in the middle of the night when that sweet bundle of cuteness started yipping. And crying. And whining. A single thought went through both of our minds, “What have we done?”
If you have ever had a puppy, you know exactly what I mean.
The first 12 months were filled with the usual nipping, chewing, mess-making and uncontrollable behavior, but Jackson was a smart dog. I taught him every trick in the book. His bright eyes sought to please and, once he matured to his 12-pound adult self, he stopped yipping all night. He was a perfect pet. He was sweet, loyal, obedient and smart as a whip.
He was with us when we moved for the summer, then when we went back to college, then to Fort Wayne. He was there when my wife miscarried. He seemed to know we needed him. He was there when we brought our firstborn home a couple years later. He welcomed two more boys, both born at Parkview about 16 months apart. Jackson got demoted from ‘son’ to ‘pet’, but the boys loved him as much as we did. Eventually our daughter and Jackson also became fast friends.
However, the really unfair thing about the lifespan of a dog is that they progress from young to old in the short time it takes us to have a few kids and move a few times. My good friend had gone from young and spry to old, deaf and half-blind.
And then it happened.
He was no longer himself. How could he be? He had given his life to us in love and devotion, and now he was nearing the end. One day, as one of our boys brushed by him, he snapped. Literally, Jackson snapped down on his foot and drew a little blood.
I was at my desk in the basement when Kristen called me up. My old friend was in the kitchen, looking up at me. We all knew what this meant. The old and sick dog we had been nursing along was no longer himself.
If you have ever stood by an animal at the end, you know that it’s pretty much one of the hardest things you will ever do. He had been my companion through basically my entire adult life.
As I stood by him in the exam room, his tender eyes looked up at me. His face was no longer the bright countenance it once was, but his ears still pointed straight in the air.
My tears carried me out of the office. And over the next week, I broke down many times.
My kids were worried about me. My son asked Kristen if she thought I would be able to attend the NFL game we had tickets for that weekend. His mother assured him I would pull it together long enough to attend.
As a chaplain, I deal a little bit every day in real human grief — over human loved ones. Moms and dads, husbands and wives, grandmas and grandpas, sons and daughters. So, why would the death of a dog affect me so much?
Because grief is personal. We grieve when we have lost something — not just because something is sad. When a situation is sad, we may feel sympathy, but when we have lost something we feel grief.
What have you lost? Have you lost a loved one? Have you lost a way of life? Have you lost a phase of life or a relationship, or a beloved pet?
Don’t tell yourself you should not be feeling this way.
The best way to acknowledge that you have lost something is to grieve. Sit down and cry. Think about what you have lost. Look at pictures. Write about it, talk with someone.
If you are in grief today, don’t try to get out of it. Simply feel your personal loss.
I can still see those dark eyes looking up at me in his last moments and although it still tugs at my heartstrings, I was able heal (and even make it to the Colts game) because I let myself be sad over my personal loss.