Grief’s Hidden Gifts

Portrait of CaseyI have some sad news to share.  Last month Casey, my muse, my mascot, my writing partner and four-legged best friend for 13 years, left the physical plane.  She had a massive seizure, most likely a complication from a tumor that was close to her brain.

The doctors were able to stabilize her so that we could sit with her and say good-bye.  David, the girls and I encircled her and spent some time stroking her, talking to her, telling stories about all the joy and sweetness she added to our lives.  At one point, my wise girl must have caught a look on my face and she said, through her tears, “It’s OK to cry, Mommy.”  So I did.

If you’ve been reading this blog over the past few years, you know that my practice is to work with the full spectrum of emotions, and to realize the healing and empowering benefits of feeling and expressing them.  It’s my practice because it doesn’t come naturally to me.  I would rather avoid pain and conflict and I just want everything to be OK.  So I need to mindfully practice feeling my emotions fully, and expressing them in healthy ways.

blurred people2In her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown says “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”  And I know this to be true.

We numb ourselves with food and alcohol and busy-ness… but when we constantly distract ourselves from our feelings, we pinch ourselves off from being fully alive.  So here’s what happened when I let myself experience the fullness of my sadness the night I said good-bye to Casey.

We got home from the animal hospital late.  Not wanting anyone to be alone, David and I each slept with one of the girls.  Lying on my daughter’s trundle mattress, I was so very tired.  I would get close to falling asleep, but as I started to let go, a tidal wave of grief would surge through me.  This happened several times, wave after wave each time I almost drifted off to sleep.

Each time, remembering my practice, I allowed the waves to wash over me, and I felt that sadness fully.  It was a real, physical grief in my whole body that made my skin and my insides hurt.  But I stayed with it.  I felt it all, as if absorbing the wave-water into my body.

After some time, fully feeling the sadness felt more like there was a thick force field around my body, and I was pushing through it. Staying with it and pushing through it, feeling it completely, and then, to my amazement and pure relief, I would get “through” that thick field, to the other side, where all the joy and all the love of Casey still was.  And you’d better believe I let myself feel that fully. It was, and is, still there.  If I hadn’t allowed myself to push through that path though the depth of my sadness, I would not have known that joy was there on the other side.  The pure emotions of happiness at seeing her cute spotty face, the bliss of feeling her soft chin resting across my leg, the love that she always expressed through her eyes and her enthusiastic “aroo’s”… were all there… are all still here when I feel for them.


So over the past few weeks, my practice has been to let the sadness knock me to my knees, like when I looked under the bed for my slippers and saw the water bowl that I had slid out of sight that first night.  Like when I came home from my errands and for the first time was greeted with empty silence.  And when I would recall the events of that night, and the sight the tears on the cheeks of my husband and the girls.  I let myself have my sadness, and I let myself sob.

And when I was ready, I also let myself open the hidden gift inside the pain, to feel the sweetness of it.  I felt the relief of letting the sadness move through me.  Then I could also feel how our loss was deepening the connection among the four of us, causing us to grow together in love.  I could recall and feel again the tenderness and compassion from the doctors, and the outpouring of kindness and support from our friends and larger family.  Letting myself fully feel these blessings, I found my heart was more full than empty.

Fully feeling sadness and pain did not make it magically go away, but it did open me to my own inner strength, and to the beautiful feelings that are enfolded within the hard ones.

Casey and Me

The morning after Casey died, the girls and I went for a walk by the stream where Casey loved to walk.  We asked Casey’s spirit, which we felt so strongly, to give us some signs to help us know that she was there.  In the mud we saw paw prints.  Walking in the creek photo by shannon mayhewFloating in the air we saw white fuzzy dog-fur-looking dandelion seeds.  And the next day, a doe moved into our back yard and helped herself to a buffet of weeds!

Earth Angel Doe

For us this was a sign that Casey sent an “earth angel” to watch over us.  After a few days of visiting and weeding, the doe lay down on the hill behind our house and sat there all day.  Then, she disappeared for a while.  Just a few days ago, a doe came right up to our house in our front yard, with a buck, and their two fawns following closely behind.  Was this mama our doe?  Our messenger from Casey, showing us with her spotted babies that Nature is constantly being renewed?  That life offers us magic when we look for it, comfort when we are open to it, and joy when we are committed to being fully alive?  We like to think so.

dappled fawn

The intensity of grief has softened, and we are at peace.  I am missing Casey for sure, but not suffering.  Feeling sad when the sadness hits. Receiving the joy that comes with reminiscing, funny stories and pictures.  Welcoming the love that flows naturally when I embrace it all.  Practicing presence.

With love from my open, healing heart,