Finding a new normal … flexibility … cull the herd … start something new … patience.
You’ve just lost someone very important in your life (including a pet). How do you get back to normal, back to functioning as it was before the loss? There’s no list to follow, and nothing that will work for everyone. People are all different — introverts and extroverts function differently. Someone that is used to keeping things bottled up is not going to open up and communicate with just anyone, regardless of their relationship. I can say that shutting the world out is not the best road, speaking from experience. When I lost my dog Lucy, no words were gonna bring her back. That sweet face that met me at the door every evening was gone. When my dad died of cancer, I cared nothing about hearing someone tell me how much their loss hurt or even what they did to feel normal again. Normal was gone. There would only be a new normal. Remember the movie Back To The Future, when Emmett Brown drew a line on the chalkboard explaining how the future skewed into a new alternative future? This was the new future without my dog and without my dad where I had to live.
After some time passed, whether it was days, weeks or years, focusing on daily life got easier. Now I can look back at a few things that helped, but at the time, there was no plan for me to follow or list of things to check off. The introvert kept it locked up. I can’t say there are levels of loss or levels of pain but there are certainly differences. For some people, dogs are furry animals that live in their houses or yards, and they give them food and water. Dogs at our house are family members with equal run of the yard, home and furniture that also go on vacation with us. Yes, they sleep in the same bed if they desire and go to the doctor for regular checkups or if they are sick. They are part of the family, so losses are hard. After a period of undetermined time, another dog joins the family but never replaces her predecessor.
Losing a family member, especially a child (which I fortunately haven’t experienced) feels different. When you hear a story about someone who died at 98 years old, it feels way different than hearing about an infant or a college student.
Flexibility … during a conversation with one of my dad’s doctors, after he told me about the statistics of the brain cancer we were dealing with, he said, “Make short term goals and be willing to change.” It was eerily similar to one of my dad’s favorite sayings, “Make firm plans and stay flexible.” The flexible part is what I used to apply to the new future. Flexible meant being willing to talk to people about the loss. In some cases, it meant going back to the people that were truly helpful during the illness and thanking them for helping. Referring back to the introvert category, talking isn’t always easy, whether it’s to a counselor or a friend. It’s just not natural for some people.
Cull the herd … as time passed, I realized there were people around that always responded to any comment or situation by telling me how their own pain was so much worse than anyone else’s or that they “knew how I felt”. You see them on social media all the time, but they are much worse in person. I call them “toppers” — people that always respond with their own story, trying to top what was just said. They are only listening for an opening to insert their own drama or pain. Bottom line is they are not listening to you, and they are not helping you. I had to steer clear of these folks. Whether it was permanently or just for an extended break, they had to go.
Start something new … Over a period of time, with family cancer losses and several diagnoses including my own, my wife and I got involved with helping others deal with their cancer journeys. We started a nonprofit, raised some money, helped people get information, etc. While that did bring back some tough memories, we had some great experiences and made some wonderful friends. Some people had their cancers diagnosed earlier because of our efforts. However you deal with a loss, it will take time and patience with no deadline which is hard to deal with in today’s world.