Broken hearts come in all forms: a death, a failed relationship, a lost job, a material object. When our dog, Zachary, crossed the Rainbow Bridge last month, in my arrogance I thought I was prepared. I knew his health was failing. I told myself it was the cycle of life. We had a good time and had been there for each other when we needed it most.
As a hospice nurse, I was well versed with the signs. However, I failed to consider my emotional needs and all the grief that had accumulated in my life within the last few years. Many friends had passed and I became the last surviving member of my family. A major relationship failed. Zak’s sister Zoey had died two years before. Within two weeks I sold two homes associated with my childhood. Circling me was the thought that my best years were behind me.
The day after the euthanasia service had come to our home, they sent me a letter about a grief group that might help with my nonstop crying. First, please not this: you don’t have to take your animals to the vet anymore to end their suffering. Kind, nurturing vets will come to your home so your pet dies in peace and dignity. It’s like hospice for our animals and it was right up my alley. I can’t say enough about Journey’s End and how they supported our family.
The grief group they suggested was exactly what I needed. You can ask anyone. I’m not a “joiner,” but this felt safe. No, I’m not healed. There are huge crevasses in my heart. I still cry every day. In all of this I have learned that it’s okay to have these emotions and feelings.
I’m sure nearly every community has support groups specific to your needs. Ask around and don’t wait until you hit bottom. By hitting bottom I mean your functional levels decline, you develop physical ailments, you can’t eat as you used to, you turn to products to numb your feelings. Your health is important and that includes your mental status.
Below I have listed some of the concepts I learned in my grief group. I hope some of them can help you or someone you love. I know that’s what Zachary would want for all of us.
Today, many bereavement experts believe healthy grief includes forging a different relationship with departed loved ones and that it’s entirely natural to want to stay connected. American playwright Robert Anderson, author of the film Tea and Sympathy, famously said, “Death ends a life—it does not end a relationship”. The new thinking is focused on the Continuity Bond model:
• Grief is ongoing; it isn’t something that you finish with, it’s something that becomes part of you.
• While grief is ongoing, it isn’t continuous—you may experience temporary breaks in your grief and also recurrences.
• It’s normal to stay connected to a loved one who has died.
• Our continuing bonds with the deceased explain many natural grief behaviors, such as looking at photos, keeping a loved one’s belongings, creating a memorial garden, talking about our memories.
• Remaining connected to a loved one can help us to cope with grief.
• It’s also okay if the idea of a continuing bond doesn’t bring you comfort—everyone is different.
The Continuing Bond model says that when someone we love dies, grief isn’t about emotionally detaching from them and leaving them in the past. Instead, it’s about adjusting and redefining the relationship so that the bond is able to endure in different ways throughout your life.