Empathy

When I wrote last week’s blog post Rainbow Bridge  I never expected in a million years the response that it received. It wasn’t just me hubby had people coming up to him in work, telling him that they couldn’t read it without shedding a tear or that it said what they felt but had never been able to express it. I had followers on Instagram contacting me about their recent losses and long ago losses too. On Facebook it was the same, with many people contacting me or leaving a comment. . It was emotionally hard as I am very empathetic, so when people start to get tearful when they are talking to me, it makes me cry too. But when I wrote the post I was half expecting it to stir up a lot of emotions because I had been in such a mess as I wrote it. I have to be honest I never did a final check on the post to look for errors, mainly because I found it so upsetting to read, it was real and raw. I haven’t even gone back to look at it now to refresh my memory before writing this one. I just can’t do it, I have already been in tears today twice over the dogs. It is always just bubbling away under the surface for me at the moment, although to look at me or to see any of my social media posts you would never know.

I am so touched that something I have written has moved so many people. I thank each and everyone of you who commented or messaged me. It was very hard last Thursday as I had no idea how it would be received. I had no clue if people would think I was wallowing, being self indulgent or a drama queen. That people would think that I should pull myself together and get on with the rest of my life. I promise you I am not self indulgent, wallowing or being a drama queen. I just write about life and my experiences. I try to give a voice to those feelings that we push down and don’t let anyone else see. I take a chance that people won’t reject me or ridicule me because I try to talk about things that many would rather brush under the carpet. Although there have been several articles regarding the death of a pet in National newspapers it is still treated with some degree of disbelief by those who have never had an animal / pet in their lives. 

The whole point of my post was for you – whoever you are, know that it is ok to feel whatever you are feeling, to express your grief ( and it is your’s and no one else’s) anyway that you like. That these feelings are totally normal. You are not weird, you aren’t wallowing in your grief, you aren’t an attention seeker and you are certainly not being a drama queen. You are hurting and it will take time to process all that emotion. Hell I am only 8 months on and there are days where I can barely keep it together. Days where all I do is cry. Days when I feel guilty when I know rationally I have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. I just wanted you to know you aren’t going mad, I honestly thought at times I was losing it. All of those feelings, even the uncontrollable rage that even surprises you when you roar, is totally normal. It is the beast called grief and it doesn’t have to be something that you go through alone.

As I touched on in my blog post even when you have suffered from a significant bereavement such as a partner / child / sibling / parent / friend, people who haven’t been through that kind of grief can’t begin to imagine the enormity of the feelings of loss and pain. They may see you red faced, tear stained and see your grief but that is soon forgotten because it has no direct impact on their lives. The next time they see you, taking the kids to school, going to work, getting the shopping – all things you have to do despite the pain and grief they assume you are “better”. They don’t understand that grief goes on forever. They seem to think that grief has a timeline and by a certain amount of time say 6-12 months maybe sooner if they are real dicks, you “should” be “over” it. How do you explain that there is no getting over it? You are just getting through each day the best you can. There will be good days, bad days and the worst kind of days.  Life will probably never be the same again. But there will never be or has there ever been for anyone who is grieving a time when they are over it. Getting Over It has to be the most grotesque phrase ever. Followed by Time is a great healer. There is no healing from grief, you carry that pain forever.

I had people contacting me about dogs they had lost thirty years ago during their childhood that they still mourned for.  Others told me about their recent losses that they just couldn’t process or that in the proceeding days before my blog post it had hit them, after thinking that they could keep going and carry on as normal. I was quite honest when I spoke to them and told them Jay and I have very little memory of January and February this year.

 We know we got Dembe, we know he was tiny but ask us to recall anything significant like where we took him on his first walk. What the date of his first walk was, his first bark, his first growl all the stuff we would normally remember and we draw a blank. It’s not because we didn’t care about it, purely our brains were overloaded processing what had happened when we lost Frankie and Mollie within 7 days of each other. I am so glad that I started the Dembe Diaries blog and his diary that I base the blog on, so that in years to come I can look back and see all those things in black and white that my brain was unable to absorb at the time.

 I do remember Jay barely spoke in the first 4-5 days after it happened. It was quite stressful as I went into list mode, trying to control everything because my anxiety spiked. His anxiety spiked because I was making so many demands on him all the time and obviously he needed to have some control in his life too. It was very difficult trying to get him motivated to help me sort the house out ready for Dembe’s arrival. Especially as we couldn’t stand being in the house as it was just full of reminders of how empty it was. We did cry together and we did talk about our babies, all of our babies. But the pain and grief was hard because although it has happened to both of you (or all of you) it is also an individual thing that no one can make better or take away from you. People grieve in different ways. Just because Jay wasn’t breaking down in tears every 5 minutes like I was didn’t mean he wasn’t hurting or struggling to cope. You only had to take a look at him, ashen faced, tired and so very quiet, grief and pain was written all over him. For a few days I was worried that he was going to drop down dead from a heart attack or stroke he looked so ill.  

Grief is weird one minute you can feel like you are doing ok and the next minute it feels like the world is imploding. There is no rhyme or reason to it, you are carried on its current and it takes you wherever it pleases. There is no control of it, it controls you initially, even denying you sleep when it wants to. Both Jay and I suffered from terrible insomnia in the 7 days after Mollie and Frankies passing. We would find ourselves downstairs in the middle of the night watching crap on the TV whilst eating chocolate biscuits and drinking sugary tea in the hope we would just pass out from a sugar overdose. I remember one day within about 20 minutes of each other we both left the electric shower on, when we left the bathroom, returning to it a few minutes later, neither of us could work out why we had left it running. We had no recollection of leaving the bathroom.  Life really was being lived on autopilot, all we could do was keep putting one foot in front of the other and get through another day.

I want to tell you that things do get better, the grief becomes less overwhelming.  I feel like I am finally starting to live life again instead of just simply going through the motions. I am not saying that in 8 months you will also be feeling better, it could be less time it could be substantially more time. But there will come a time when you let a breathe out and know that you are starting to be you again.

Up until about a week ago the last time I listened to music and enjoyed it was 29th December 2018. That was the day that Frankie passed away and I had been listening to my Sinead O’connor LP. I didn’t play any music for a couple of weeks. After that time had passed, I tried but I found the noise too much and overwhelming. I had no emotional connection to the music. I would rather be in silence or have the TV on low in the background.  For the last two weeks I have played music non-stop. I have sung at the top of my voice and quite possibly scared the neighbours. I have found the joy in music again. I haven’t played my Sinead O’Connor LP, I think that one will take some time. I may not play it again for several years, I’m not setting myself a target, I will let it happen, I won’t force it. One day I will sing something from the album and it will be like an ear worm that won’t die until I play it. At the moment anything from that LP makes me sad.

We have also started planning things for the future. We have booked  a short break in the UK next year and we will be taking Dembe with us. It is very exciting. This will be the first time since 2006 that Jay and I have had any sort of holiday. It is only 3 nights away but it will do us all some good just to get out of the house and away from the day to day. I am nervous as hell as I have become a real homebody since becoming ill. Other than stays in hospital I haven’t been away from the house in 13 years. It is hilarious to me that I am getting a bit anxious thinking about it when Jay and I have travelled to Sri Lanka, USA (Florida), Antigua, Paris, Menorca and various places all over the UK for weddings / christenings. I know that we can do it, it is just my world has been so very small over the last 13 odd years.

So please be kind to yourself, wherever you are in your journey with grief. Everyone does grief differently, there is no one size fits all. What works for you may not work for anyone else.  Remember living life does not mean that you have forgotten those who are no longer with us. At some point things will get easier, you will reach a new normal. It is not a journey you have to do alone. If more of us start talking about grief and how it affects us we will educate those who have never experienced it and maybe create a little more empathy. The world could really do with more empathy at the moment.

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Thank you

With Jamie’s guest blog post last week In Sickness & In Health it brought me back to thinking about a post I wrote in May 2014 and reblogged in March 2015 called Weathering The Storm. It was good to see Jay’s perspective of things from the side of being a carer, husband and breadwinner because I do feel a tremendous amount of guilt about the way my illness has not only impacted my life but of his also.

It was lovely getting feedback from people who see us in the real world and from those who only know us through the internet. Not that I want or need outside validation to know that I have a wonderful relationship with my husband, as quite frankly I find it incredibly hard to accept compliments or to “see” what others see in us. To find out your relationship is an inspiration to others is obviously very nice but it also feels quite strange. I have never seen either of us as any kind of role model. It is a really weird situation to explain without sounding like an ungrateful twat and that couldn’t be any further from the truth. I am truly grateful (as is Jay) for everyone who took the time to leave comments on Facebook and on the blog post. We were both very moved by the things people wrote, so we want to say thank you for that.

 

The thing is Jay and I don’t think we are anything special, we just work. We are very similar in our outlook and sense of humour. We both mean the world to each other. Neither can imagine life without the other, when I think of family he and the dogs are it. When something good or bad happens he is the one I want to tell first but to me that is how any relationship should be. I suppose it seems strange because I know we aren’t one of those couples that are constantly doing PDA’s (public displays of affection), we never have. We are by nature quite private people, which is hilarious when you think about it in connection with my blog. However like any blogger or anyone on social media there are things that you don’t share because you still want a level of privacy and to have something that is yours and yours alone.

 

 

I wrote a lot about the guilt I felt due to getting sick back in 2014’s Weathering The Storm, things have changed a bit, I still feel pangs of guilt but not on the level I used to. I know that I didn’t do anything to cause my predicament or to deserve getting sick. It is just one of those things that happens. I did feel very guilty last year due to the amount of stress that Jay was under due to my CSF Leak and the amount of time he had to take off work at short notice. I worry about the impact it has on his career and his standing amongst his colleagues yet they were the ones who took the time to praise him for his blog post. That meant a great deal to both of us and reassured me that at least in his work world, he isn’t thought any less of due to me.

 

I am lucky I have a partner who will stand by me through thick and thin. I know he loves me, he tells me everyday and I tell him the same. We had so many plans before all this happened and it’s only in the last few years we have been making plans for our future again. Until a few years ago I could see no future and no point in planning anything long-term. He has taught me that plans can always change no matter what the situation but it always important to have plans, dreams, aspirations rather than always being focused on the here and now. Even when things were really dreadful last year and I was confined to bed for much of it (due to a spontaneous CSF Leak) we would talk about going on holiday, about fundraising for a new wheelchair etc. Even if those things seemed nothing more than a flight of fancy at the time, they are what kept us both going.

 

I think a lot of the strength of our relationship comes from the fact we have shared hopes and dreams. We aren’t working against each other but together for common shared goals. A relationship is the biggest feat of teamwork you will ever take part in. We work together because we want to be together come what may. And whilst we have both had utterly crass and insensitive things said to us over the years, as in “leave / walk away, this isn’t what you signed up for” or “If you were my wife I’d leave you”, we haven’t taken it personally. Rather we have felt a deep sympathy for the partners of those who have said those horrible things. Wondering if they knew that they were once accident or illness away from having the love of their life abandon them. It never crossed Jay’s mind to leave and if the shoe had been on the other foot, it would have never crossed mine either. When we took our vows we meant them, they weren’t said with our fingers crossed behind our backs in case anything ever changed. We aren’t like that and can’t understand people who are. I really do think those sort of people are in the minority, well I hope they are.

 

So from both Jay and I we just wanted to say thank you, to everyone who read the blog post and to those of you who took the time to leave a  comment. We read every single one and they all meant a great deal to us. Jay has promised that he will write another piece in the future, again the subject matter will be entirely down to him.

 

Thank you from us both and of course the dogs.