A Few Thoughts on Surviving Loss

“Sarah, where have you been?” I’m touched by the number of times I’ve received this email in the last few weeks, and so I’ve decided it’s finally time to share. The photos won’t be perfect and crisp, but nothing about the last few weeks has been that way either, and I want to be real.

When I woke up on a Monday morning, three weeks ago, I already knew that something was wrong.

If you’ve been around here for a bit, you know about Ginnie. The most loving, precious kitty in this world (except for yours, maybe. Isn’t it crazy how they find their way into our hearts?)

In Ginnie’s four years of life, I can only count a handful of times that I haven’t woken up in the morning with her asleep on my chest or curled up at my feet. It’s how we roll. So I sat up right away to look for her, and saw her curled up in her bed with a glassy look in her sweet eyes.

Ginnie went into kidney failure last summer, but was nursed back to health by her incredibly caring vet clinic and her crazy, neurotic, Ginnie-obsessed mommy. In any case, I know the look in her eyes when her kidney values are wonky. So I scooped her right up put her in her carrier (despite her little pink nose nudging me in protest) and called to let the vet know I was coming.

Let me pause here, because I bet you know where this is going. But this is NOT a “how-to” post about surviving grief.

Why? Because friend, I have no idea how to do that. I can tell you how I’ve managed to get out of bed in the last couple weeks and I can also tell you about when I haven’t managed it at all. There is no how-to when it comes to loss, I think there’s only grief, and connection, and giving and receiving as much love as you can stand.

(It is also about consuming more carbs than you have in the past five years. This I have learned.)

So when I woke up without Ginnie, I knew that she was sick, but I was used to that. We had a routine for this. I had no idea I was going to lose her just two days later.

But it happened. And I’m sure many of you can relate. I didn’t grow up with pets, so I had no idea how much this kind of loss can hurt.

I got the dreaded phone call while I was sitting at my desk at school. There was nothing they could do, one of her kidneys had stopped functioning all together. She was sick and not going to get better. I stumbled my way out of my classroom and stood in the hallway and sobbed while her kindly vet apologized to me over and over again.

How do pets manage to make us love them so much? I have no idea. But more people than I can count told me losing their animal was one of the worst days of their life, and it was certainly one of the worst days of mine.

It’s not that it hurts worse than losing a family member or a friend. Losing a pet is it’s own kind of grief entirely.

Ginnie was my baby, my sweet little friend, my frisky pal on any day of the week. She was not the family cat, she was mine that I had adopted in college. She was only four, so I had counted on many more years with her bunny soft fur practically suffocating me in the middle of the night as she inched closer to my face with hers. This little girl had no sense of personal space.

I will spare the details because I hate writing about them and I’m sure you hate reading about them, but I said goodbye and it was terrible, miserable, and one of the worst moments of my entire life. By the time I sob-drove my way to the mister’s house, my eyes were so swollen from crying that I could hardly see anymore.

Then, two days later, my sister went into labor.

She and I are very close, so I was there for the delivery while our parents took care of her daughter, my 4 year old niece. I had hardly slept at all when my brother-in-law called and I dragged myself to the hospital at 4am to be there for my sister.

A short 7 hours later, Danyal William made his way into the world. All was well. I held him in my arms and watched him figure out how to use his tiny tongue.

In the span of two short days I lost my baby, and gained another.

Life, right? It really is something else.

I also had a wedding to attend that night, so you better believe I felt like I had lived ten years in one weekend.

Anyway, my heart was bursting with joy and love for tiny Danyal in all his perfection, and aching for Ginnie to bat my cheek with her paw, trying to wake me up to play with her just one more time.

It is insane that grief and joy can coexist, but they can, and I think that’s the reason I’m writing this.

I’m trying to process how I can miss a baby and love a baby so hard, and all at the same time. To be honest, that’s been the biggest challenge of being a twenty-something as well. Figuring out how to balance being both afraid and deeply hopeful about my future. I’m still figuring it out, but here a few things that I have learned along the way.

1. Losing an animal is way harder than I thought it would be.

And there are others out there who understand. Reach out to them and let them be sad with you. I feel terrible for all the times that I wasn’t sympathetic enough about a person who had just lost their baby.

2. You need all the carbs you can get your hands on.

Or sugar, or whatever. My point is, you need to lean into the things that are comforting to you.

3. Loss of any kind is incredibly complex.

I’ve learned that when you lose someone or something, you have to immediately figure out how to do life in their absence. For example I mentioned before that Ginnie slept with me every night. I have had the hardest time sleeping lately because it was such a tangible part of my routine. I also had to cope with feeling like I was walking into an empty house when I got home from work at night.

When you lose a friend, family, or something else entirely (I know someone who is coping with insane grief after having their childhood vacation cabin burn down last year), you aren’t just coping with the grief of their loss, you’re figuring out how to deal with all the holes their absence has now left in your life. I wish I had been prepared for that.

4. Look for the miracle.

Sometimes it’s something huge and obvious, like the birth of the world’s most precious 6 lb, 13 oz baby. Sometimes it’s something simpler, like the unexpected help you’ll receive when you’re hurting. I just believe the miracles are there. And feeling deep love, gratitude and grief all at the same time will be draining, but I think you need it all to survive. You need all the love you can get.

One more time, for all those whose loss I didn’t take seriously when your furry baby died, I’m really sorry. I didn’t know how much it hurt.

It’s been a wild and emotional few weeks, but the blog will be back beginning today. I’m deeply grateful for each of you reading this. Ginnie would have wanted to snuggle every one of you.

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