My 16 1/2 year old pug Gracie slips away more each day. She isn’t suffering, the vet confirmed that, but she also isn’t here — or rather, she’s here, but not here. Dementia, hearing loss, impaired vision, and the distance that comes with advanced age and a weakening body have taken away my trusty little companion. As she gets worse, so does my grief. At this point, tears are always there just under the surface. I feel death moving in, I listen to her breathing as I go to sleep and wonder if I will still hear it in the morning. It would be better if she went on her own, if I didn’t have to make the decision to end her life, but no scenario will ease my grief over the chasm that will open up when she is no longer here.

In the 6 years that I ran my support group, Beyond Alzheimer’s, I have listened to many people speak about grief, and I have counseled many people on the journey of it. I’m now faced with taking the advice I gave to others. So many people have told me about the changing landscape of their life when grief claims them — how some friends avoid them, how they feel lonely and self-conscious about the visible sorrow they carry with them. I went through that with my father’s Alzheimer’s, but it was a 10 year journey, so I think some of the intensity was spread out across time. This grief right now is immediate and constant. It leans into me, breathes with me. Grief does change the landscape of your life. People you thought might be there for you move away from you instead, or say inappropriate things in a misguided effort to cheer you up. Someone who is grieving doesn’t want to be cheered up; they want to be listened to, heard. They want the other person to give them room for their sorrow. I heard about a woman whose child was killed and was subjected to people saying things like, “It’s such a blessing you have two other children.” I’m going to assume that they meant well, but if they had any reverence for grief they would never have been so callous.

On the flip side, strangers sometimes show the compassion and empathy that’s longed for. There have been times when I’m walking Gracie, or carrying her, which is more and more necessary, and someone will stop me, tell me about their last dog and how the end came. They will share with me their sorrow, how hard it was, and let me know that they understand how I’m feeling. I’ve found myself on many sidewalks fighting back tears in front of a total stranger. I’m so grateful for these interactions, for the reminder that not everyone shies away from grief, even someone you’ve never met before.

For the people who do shy away from it, I have come to feel sympathy for them. We grieve to the depth that we have loved. I said that so many times when I was running my support group — that grief is an aspect of love. So someone who resists grief, puts up barriers against it, does a happy dance to keep it away, has also put up barriers against overwhelming love, the kind of love that knocks the earth off its axis. I don’t ever want to be one of those people.

My heart is breaking because it was so filled up by a sweet little dog who was the size of a shoe when she became mine and who brought love and laughter and loyalty into my life for more than 16 years. I will get another dog — probably very quickly after the end comes. My father believed strongly that you need to fill up the yawning emptiness that the death of a pet leaves in your heart even though you are still grieving. He emphasized that grief and joy can co-exist, and I’ve found that to be true. But for now I wait for what I know is inevitable. I breathe her in, I remember the life we had together, and I pray that the end will be peaceful.

8 Responses to ABOUT GRIEF

  1. Lori says:

    “We grieve to the depth that we have loved.” Perfect. Hugs to you as you carry out your contract with this precious baby. You do all you can, and that’s all you can do. Love you, Patti.

  2. Amelia Stewart-Rossini says:

    Thank you for penning this beautifully written piece.
    As much as I love the little poopsies they just don’t stay with us long enough. The powerlessness is difficult for me to accept.

  3. christopher cluess says:

    Thanks so much for this. I lost my dog in December of 2020 and my heart still aches. We have since brought another one into our home and he is rapidly becoming beloved among us. I tell him stories of the one who came before. It’s actually a beautiful thing.

  4. Rodney Wilson says:

    God bless Gracie and her spirit for all the wonder and love she brought into the world and into your life.

  5. Carla Griffin says:

    Your father was a wise man. How wonderful that you can take his wisdom to heart.
    Gracie has brought you great joy and received great love from you. She’ll always be in your heart, even as you wait and seek to fill that yawning hole she leaves.
    My heart hurts for you. I’ve recently lost my precious Pearl and it is heartbreaking. But, there is another sweet, loving soul waiting for your love when the time comes. Especially as you have so much to give…
    Thinking of you…

  6. Joy K says:

    GRACIE is blessed. RIP🙏
    Brooke Baldwin’s beloved pug also passed away last year😓

  7. BG Rhule says:

    When I was going through the year of being completely lost after the passing of my older son, There was little anyone could say to me and I learned To be selective and who I shared I with. I was annoyed with my brother-in-law For constantly obsessing with causality. What did it matter? He was gone and I would never get to hold him again. All the hopes and dreams for his future were gone. I watched the documentary about Grief as the poet Laurie Anderson expressed it particularly with the passing of Lou Reed. Tears, she said, are the outpouring of love. I found that comforting. I have to believe in the Christian/Buddhist believe that we will see them on the other side. That Faith sustains me. I hope it does for you too or whatever else may work. I think only time truly works ro mitigate the rawness of initial loss. Either way, I hope you find it Patti.

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