Grief is three dimensional

All of us, at some point in life, will deal with grief. It can be the loss of a person, a pet or a part of ourselves (a relationship, a career, a job or a skill).

I am no expert, but I have lost people and a dear dog who were very precious to me. It is only with this most recent loss, my beautiful two-year-old female German Shepherd, that I have started to find some structure to my grief.

When my mum died four years ago, an extremely close and complex relationship for me, I was lost. I started on a course of study that would take me into the realms of psychology and help me to pick apart that relationship and who I was as a result of it. I sincerely hope it has led me to a better and happier place; but during the journey I struggled with my grief. One of the things I struggled with, was the perception I came across in the texts that anyone still grieving after a year was `stuck’ and probably `pathologically depressed’. Maybe I was? I was doing a bloody good job of living with clinical depression if this was it! More texts told me what I absolutely needed to hear, that there was no arbitrary cut off at 6, 12, 48 or even 360 months! My grief was my grief and it depended who I lost, how I lost them and what our relationship was.

Our dog taught me lots of things. She had character to spare and it took me a while to accept that this mischievous, funny, beautiful, stubborn and loving little character was okay to open my heart to. Looking back now it seems silly to have taken time, but I was still heart sore from mum, I had unrealistic expectations of that puppy and I was doing too much in general. After a year or so our relationship blossomed and became an unconditional love, an often-used phrase but one that I had never truly understood before. Then in, what seemed, an especially cruel twist of fate she became seriously unwell. A part of me wanted to lower my head again and see this as a slap in the face of happiness; to surrender myself to misery and depression, but I managed a balanced view that this was just a challenge, that our darling girl was just extra special, and we would love her even more for it. Then fate took her from us.

So here I am, determined not to bow my head and wanting (as I always do) to make some sense from this; so here is what I have learned. I see three dimensions to grief:

• How the loss occurs, in the loss of a person this includes how they die, how much time you have with them, whether this is an “out of time” death (such as the death of an infant or your child), whether you can be there, whether you can make any sense of the events that happen;

• The loss, having the person ripped from your life, what’s the timing, where are you at in your career, your relationships and what part does that person play, how is your relationship with them at that point in time, how much are they woven into your life and your story;

• Missing them, not having them in your life, not there to share things with, not there to give you advice or for you to help them. Not there to enjoy the activities you used to enjoy.

These three aspects are interwoven but my hypothesis is that the first two dimensions can be processed and progressed in some way. The third dimension will never go, the shape and presence of that person, pet, relationship, will always be in your life; a part of who you were; a part of who you are; and part of the memories that you see, feel and (hopefully) cherish.

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