The Grief of a Star

Grief does something odd to your body. Your limbs lose sensation and a numbness seems to take over you. Simultaneously there is this deep penetrating hollowness in your chest that balls up in your throat. Despite these feelings, you somehow can walk, hold a conversation and fry an egg. Time seems irrelevant though and you can barely remember how you or why you put your shoes on. Life feels outside of you, and it seems strange to think you are a part of its mundaneness. You cannot hear the song of birds or enjoy the shrieking laughter of a child. It feels as if life is mocking you. At least that is how I feel at the moment.

They say there are 5 stages of grief. I’m not sure where this shock falls into but my guess is that it is Denial. Should I be looking forward to the next phase?–Anger? or Bargaining? Depression? or Acceptance? I actually think I cycle through all of these phases within a day. My wound is open and raw. And I can’t understand why my Star died so soon and in the manner in which she passed. inuit.jpeg

I don’t really want to think about the fatal accident. I wasn’t there when it happened. I was feverously typing out a Thank You email for a job interview I had when my husband yelled for me to get in the car immediately because he had accidentally closed the truck door on Star’s neck and we needed to rush her to the vet. I sprung into action. As my husband handed our Yorkie over to me, I noticed her head wobbled aimlessly and she didn’t make any noise. Shit. This WAS serious! As I jumped in the truck, I tried to recall my CPR training and began giving her breaths through her nose and mouth alternating with 5-10 chest compressions. Her eyes were wide and her tongue was purple, dangling out the side of her mouth. But I wouldn’t give up. All the way there, I went on believing that it might be possible to revive her. The vet took ages with her, making us all feel hopeful. But after 20  minutes, when I asked for an update on her status, the vet came down to inform me that she appeared to have died instantaneously. She was dead.

We came home with her wrapped in a spare towel, in a cardboard box. We were going to bury her in our backyard. It was hard to imagine that an hour ago, she was chasing around the yard, excited to see us return home. She wouldn’t go to the toilet until all 3 of us–my husband, Hannah and myself- had to pet her and give her some kisses. She ran around in such a state of glee that it was dangerous to pick her up because she’d get so happy that she’d pee on us.

That time now felt so very long ago. Our friends came over to share our grief and keep us strong enough to bury her. I really don’t know how my husband could dig that hole. How his heart was aching at that moment. He removed her from the box and uncovered her, her body so much heavier than when alive, and stroked her apologetically before setting her down in the grave. My daughter was afraid to approach the now dead animal that had slept with her every night and tolerated all of her funny games. I can’t say I blame her. Seeing someone you loved so very much dead is a difficult image to erase. I still remember my dad in his coffin.  I was glad that she kept her distance until she was completely buried.

hairy potterStar, like many dogs (or other pets), brought uncommon joy to our home.  She was our “hairy” child that we had “puppy sourced” from a local doggy daycare and training facility. She was “imported” from Thailand, a pedigree Yorkshire Terrier that never grew beyond 2 kilograms no matter how much bacon we gave her. She was playful and smart and a bit of a bandit, stealing tissues, pen caps, and my daughter’s toys, hiding it in her favorite spot, under my trampoline. I called her a “love bully” because she would jump into your lap, nuzzle right into face and lick you with abandon. Other times she’d paw at you and bark, demanding to be played with. She was such a character! During my Skype interview the night before, she kept dropping a toy at my feet and begged to be played with. She was relentless. I had to give in and play a tugging game with her all the while trying to sound intelligent, confident and focused. We buried her with that same toy.

I had looked so very forward to Star growing up with my daughter. She was our “forever” dog. She really loved us. She loved us when we were sick, when we were grumpy and when we were neglectful. She loved us no matter what. And we really loved her too. I think that is what I will miss the most about her. Her stubborn and forgiving love.

Although our lives will not be the same without her, they have been changed. Her gift of unconditional love and sheer delight for life is one that I hope to strive for. She made me a kinder, more patient and gentler person. Even though she is no longer here to help “train me to be a better human”, I hope these lessons in love will remain. Perhaps then she will truly be our “forever dog” after all.

Rest in peace, Star. May your joy still shine brightly upon us.

Good bye, Hello: Resilience

The end of the school year always makes one emotional. For most teachers, it is sweet relief but there is regret–regret you didn’t do or complete something with your students and colleagues. So much unfinished business!  But I feel like a bit of me is experiencing grief, like there is shock and there is sadness. This is partly because, as an international teacher, you are among a unique group of people–people who are curious about other cultures and are keen to seek adventure. These people become a second family to you and you feel sad when they move on. And I worry, maybe you do too, that you didn’t express enough love and gratitude to them–that they don’t know how much care for them. That’s true for any loved one of course. But I wonder, if something was to happen to them, would they know that they mattered to me; and that as a result of our friendship, I have become a different person, hopefully more loving, more open-minded and full of life. This is heaviness I feel in my good byes.

Resilience

It’s kind of serendipitous that this week we focused our mindfulness practice on self-compassion. It is true that we respond to suffering of others much better than we are to ourselves. So I have been confronted with the fact that I am more likely to offer gentleness and understanding to others than I am to myself.  Despite my positive intentions, I have still made mistakes, said or did things that I felt were “wrong” and I really beat myself up for them. I linger on my errors, on words or deeds that just aren’t “perfect”, and have a hard time forgiving myself and being self-critical. Saying my “good byes” has really acerbated this feeling for me, especially since I have had such a stressful year. I wonder if I have let down people who I care for–not just friends that are leaving but also loved ones because I have been so self-involved that I may have forgotten about them. I’ve had so many emotions surface this week, that having some self-compassion was a tool that has become indispensable to help me overcome my feeling of loss.

The 3 main components of this practice are: self-kindness, common sense of humanity and mindfulness. Self-kindness comes in handy when we are struggling with these kinds of emotion, as we turn away from judgement and bring to these emotions a sense of understanding and acceptance.It is completely normal to feel this way and recognizing my humanity helps me to feel connection to others in the inevitability that I will make mistakes as a human. I can then extend some goodwill towards myself, just like I might to another suffering person such as a friend. While bringing mindfulness to these emotions provides the opportunity to observe them, not only in my mind but also in my body. I can create some space between me and my thoughts and generate love towards myself, despite my flaws.

What-is-Self-Compassion

What I find so fascinating about this practice is that it creates physical changes in the brain. Offering self-compassion not only generates the “tend and befriend” response (as oppose to flight or fight response) and generates the love connection hormone, oxytocin, but it also causes neurons to fire and wire together. The more we practice self-compassion, the more we are fine tuning these circuits in our brains, which can become hard wired and the default mode. In other words, I can develop resilience and bounce from my negative emotion, more often and faster, with each time I practice.

Thus, in the face of suffering and self-criticism, I can shift my awareness and start to develop a new pathway. Obviously this is the sort of thing which lifts us up out listeningof a state of despair and moves up into hopefulness and positive expectation.

With that in mind, I can feel the appreciation for the people I have come to love, and experience the blessing of our meeting–even all the crazy parts in-between! And before I know it, I will begin the new friendships that will come in the future; hopefully, one of those friends will be myself-and that friendship is one that will last a lifetime.