Week 35: Grief While Pregnant

Just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die. You gotta get up and try, try, try.
— "Try" by Pink
 Photo by Michelle Popp Photography

Photo by Michelle Popp Photography

I remember after hearing the news (the definitive diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumor/cancer in my 8 year old dog), feeling a wave of reality wash over me in an instant. The reality being an awareness of what the next few days and weeks had in store. I had already done extensive research, because waiting around for a week for a final diagnosis was absolutely maddening in and of itself. Realizing all this, I remember telling people I felt like I was dying. And, until someone receives news that puts them in a similarly helpless state, I don’t know a better way to describe the feeling. I still feel that burn, the sensation of “dying” that I described in that moment. I don’t know that I have felt it again since. It's a feeling I never want to feel again, but unfortunately, I am sure I will. 

What you aren’t prepared for after the initial shock is the silent times, which is worse, and I’m sure it’s where things like long-term depression and other issues grow. The initial mourning is guttural. I miss those moments. The cries that are uncontrollable. That come in your sleep and end with a feeling of temporary relief. I had about three of these: once the night my dog passed when I was woken up by the heaviest, involuntary cry; second, when I came home and started smelling her toys; and third, earlier today, when I realized walking down my stairs that I felt angry without her in my life and realized there was no going back.

When a pet passes, it may be tempting to downplay the grief. After all, it’s not like you lost a member of your family or a best friend. Except...you kind of did.
— Amy Capetta, Self Magazine (see link below)

What has replaced those sensations is just a dulled sadness that comes briefly throughout the day, sometimes I feel tears, others just a wave of nausea after realizing its true. There are still moments my brain tries to get me to second guess the reality. Like, no that didn’t happen yet, you just were imagining it did, you're just preparing yourself for what is coming later, but there she is…no just kidding. I don’t have moments where I “see” her (which I've heard can play tricks on people after losing a loved one)…but definitely catch myself thinking, “Oh, we’re going to be out late tonight, what about the dog?” or "Do I need to fill the water bowl?" It’s so brief of a fleeting thought but enough to remind me that my life is being re-written and I haven’t quite caught up to this new change just yet. All around our house, my car, my work, even our zip code, are reminders of her. Toys, treats, dog food, medications, blankets, dog beds, dog hair, where we'd walk her, and on and on. I can't bring myself to get rid of it, or even put it away, but seeing it doesn't help with the second guessing. 

To make matters worse, the vet hospital left me a voicemail yesterday. "Hello, this is Suzy from the Vet Hospital calling to let you know that Delilah is ready to be picked up..." For the briefest of seconds, I thought to myself, "Oh, she's okay." and then just as quickly, realized she was just talking about my dog's remains. The receptionist probably meant well, but I instantly hated her. So much so that I glared my meanest bitch face at the girls at the front desk when I arrived at the hospital, even though I have no idea if any of them were the culprit.  

Alongside the quiet there is calculation. Calculated thoughts occupy the silence. I keep feeling myself go over every minuscule detail from the last year. Wondering where there was a misstep. Going back to last week, thinking through what my last few days would have been like had I decided to wait it out a bit longer. Did I act too impulsively deciding to put her to sleep the next day. Could I have let her go a little longer? Would I feel better, more relieved, satisfied now if I did? Going back to last year, when I had our gardener use Round-Up in our yard to get rid of weeds. Did that give my dog her cancer? Going back to two weeks ago, was it too hard on her to have her stay with me at work all day and overnight? Did it stress her and make her sick? Going back to last month, should I have not traveled out of state and left her?  

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The quiet leads to calculated thoughts which creates doubt, which turns to regret, which morphs into anger, and before you know it, you're in the bathroom of your work swallowing tears every hour (between pee breaks, because, oh yeah, you're also third trimester pregnant). 

I have to keep reminding myself these are natural thoughts. That it will take time. To not ignore them, to let them occupy me, feel these feelings fully versus trying to ignore them. Grief is a step, right. There's the initial shock, denial, then grief, anger maybe, and then somewhere later on comes acceptance? 

My mind is fighting accepting this as a reality. I don't think I will ever be okay that my dog, the sweetest soul, and my little soul mate, had to go through that. I don't think I'll ever be okay with the fact that she didn't get to grow old with my child. I don't think I'll ever be okay with the fact that I had to be the one to decide when she would die. So the word "acceptance" then is a little confusing. There's little that I can accept except the fact that she's gone. 

I've heard people say it gets easier with time. Strangely, that has not been a comforting message.

The most comforting thing I've heard since she's passed is from a friend who shared that she still cries to this day about a pet she loved from childhood. I don't want there to come a time when I don't miss her to the point of tears. Because even though most of the time I can feel grateful to have known her and had her in my life, I also know that my world would be much happier now with her in it.  

Further Reading

Losing a Pet Is Devastating and It’s OK to Not Feel Mentally Well for a While