I’ve written about grief a lot over the years. I’ve experienced a lot of it. I don’t think that’s unusual or particularly remarkable, but when people ask me how many people I have seen die I don’t know the answer unless I count. I cannot count the number of animal friends that have died over the years of my life. In the last 5 years alone the number is 15 – and is only definable as that is how long we have lived here.
I was working on my grief webinar for FDSA today and it got me thinking. The first death I can recall was a goldfish, likely named Goldie, while we lived with my grandparents. Then came my gerbil TJ (short for terrific gerbil – I was a terrible speller right from the get-go). I was devastated TJ wouldn’t wake up. That same year our kitten Coke was killed and a pattern of loss became apparent. A great grandmother (“weren’t you lucky to know her dear” pat pat on my head) then a grandfather … (“I am so sorry – he died while you were at camp” my poor Mum got to tell me) Right around that time I witnessed my first human death. A pedestrian was caught between two cars and sliced in half. The image of his mouth half open, eyes wide and blank still sticks in my mind.
Just a few years later I sat with my grandmother as she died. She was quite resigned to her destiny and leaned hard into her faith to face the unknown. That year was a hard year. My first dog died, alone and away from her family after a life of love. We lost our family farm, my parent’s marriage dissolved and I realized grief is not always wrapped in the trappings of death, community support and mourning. Sometimes grief is private, tragic and devastating. Sometimes it is a part of life. I learned young that for me at least grief was going to present different faces each time I experienced it.
I was in my mid twenties when my youngest aunt and my other grandfather died. Both cancer. Less than 24 hours apart. I was with them both through their last weeks and at death. Attending a 34 year’s old funeral (and doing a reading in a PACKED church – the same church that she had been wed at just a few years previously) and a 84 year old’s service in a tiny crematorium in the cemetery on the same day drove home some truths I have never forgotten. People behave strangely in the face of grief. Comments can be shocking, people process grief differently.
That experience started an interest in the science of grief. I explored frameworks to explain it. I continue to seize every opportunity to learn about grief I am offered. I have heard some lousy, and some wonderful, lectures. I have read books that have been useful and others with nothing worth repeating. I have spoken to many dozens of youth and animal lovers about their experiences with death and grief. I share what I know about grief in part to combat the stigma and shame we in this modern world place on death and dying. By understanding grief we can be stronger, more graceful and more prepared.
We won’t grieve less, we won’t change our heartache but we will understand the range of feelings and emotions that get caught in grief. This knowledge helps us realize that we too can, and will, navigate them.
I hope you can join me in my webinar. (spoiler alert – I’ll nearly surely tear up as I share other examples and stories) To enroll CLICK HERE .. click on link to register then select Andrea Harrison under listed webinars.