Grief is not a disorder, nor a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. Earl Grollman
So it has been a few weeks since I last emailed or did my Podcast, and I am wondering how you are.
I had hoped to communicate sooner, but life has its way of taking a few twist and turns and testing my methodology about handling and embracing our emotions, that I talk about.
You see my 16-year-old Labrador Ginty passed away a few months ago and, up until recently, I never really fully made the time or had the time to grieve properly.
I had committed to hosting the ‘Ultimate Emotional Health Summit’ and I was focused on all the work that went with that. So, whilst I continued in preparation for that awesome event, I convinced myself I was ‘doing okay’.
Prior to Ginty’s passing, I had long since recognised her decline with a heavy heart and great sadness.
I had spent several months in what I now understand to be called ‘anticipation grief’.
Anticipation grief is the anticipation of the pain, the passing and the loss of something. In other words, you begin the grieving process in advance of the actual loss.
Ginty was not ‘just a dog’ or a four-legged beast that some may refer to her as.
She was like my third child.
She was a walking furball of pure love, adoration and support.
For those who have never had a dog, it may be hard to understand the bond that develops.
Just because Ginty was a completely different living being and covered in fur, did not differentiate or separate her presence, soul and spirit from that of other humans.
I hadn’t really appreciated it myself until she passed.
Researchers have presented evidence to suggest that humans and dogs have been trusted companions for over 15,000 years, after discovering their remains and fossils lying together deep in ancient grounds.
It is believed that dogs have helped to shape the lives of millions of humans over the years as much as we humans have influenced dogs.
Prior to Ginty’s passing, I tried to adopt this very sensible and philosophical attitude.
I kept focused on reminding myself to give thanks and remember the gratitude for having had her in my life at all — and for so long.
In all honesty, I hadn’t fully appreciated how noticeable her presence was until she passed, and, I do admit that perhaps I took our relationship for granted.
But, my goodness do I appreciate now what I had with her. She was an incredible companion.
My story started with Ginty when I bumped into one of her chocolate Labrador relatives on a country walk up the Pentlands Hills, many moons ago.
My son Sebastian was two years old at the time and full of tremendous energy and joy and early embers of an abundance of testosterone pulsating through him.
As we stood talking to the dog owner, I had noticed how this old chocolate Labrador sat there patiently and politely. Her big smile beamed at us, and she eluded this welcoming radiant energy.
Then my son attempted to climb aboard her back like a horse!
Yet this beautiful, kind natured chocolate Labrador just sat there smiling and letting Seb attempt to mount her without a fuss.
As I watched this event unfold, I was surprised at seeing my son and this stranger’s dog bond so quickly and in this way.
So I asked the dog owner which dog breeder he had purchased her from and as soon as I arrived home, I called the breeder.
And so my journey and relationship with Ginty began.
We had to wait a few months for Ginty to be born, but it was easy to choose her from the pack of other pups because of her boundless open energy that greeted us on our first introduction.
I was smitten!
Totally in love.
Growing up at home, we had several different breeds of rescue dogs.
One that I remember most fondly was a Collie/Labrador, a Heinz 57 variety crossbreed dog rescued by the RSPCA and then my Mum from an abusive household. Her previous disgusting owners had tied fireworks to her tail and kept her locked up alone in a cold, damp garage.
I was very young, but the protectiveness and love that she brought to the home still stick in my mind.
So, Ginty was eight weeks old when we picked her up to come home, and Sebastian was beyond excited to have a new furry playmate.
It was like having double-trouble in the house those first six months as they would both mischievously bound and race around the back garden. They adored each other and became firm friends within a short time.
It is funny looking back because I had not appreciated what was happening to Ginty and me during those early years.
I had wholeheartedly and happily embraced the idea of having a dog for my son to grow up and play with, but it would turn out to be the best addition for me too.
Over the months and years, our bond would become even more special.
Many times Ginty would bang and bash her head against my bedroom door, to try to get to see me if I had been crying or upset (which used to be a lot during the darkest days of my battle with endometriosis and other illnesses).
Frequently, she would leap out of her beloved bed and run over to stand or sit at my favoured left-hand side, indicating to my ex-partner that yet again, he had gone too far.
Ginty blocked my exit from the front door regularly to ensure that she accompanied me, and I did not go outside alone or upset.
I don’t exaggerate when I refer to her as my third child; I poured 16 years of time, love, direction and training into her.
So, Ginty’s passing has left a massive void and space.
Her love had helped me open up my heart that was, for decades, carefully protected behind metal bars.
Her bright eyes were always filled with adoration and love for me and were generously given to any human she encountered in our home or on a walk.
You could leave the apartment for 5 minutes, and the greeting you received on your return was like you had been away for months.
I remember the time she made eye contact with a lady on a bus. Ginty had somehow sensed this lady, amongst a full busload of people, had recently lost her own dog. Ginty eagerly pulled on her lead to reach this lady and was of great comfort to her as she smiled through her tears.
On park walks, Ginty would even ignore other dogs in preference for a friendly pat and the attention of the human owner.
I had not quite appreciated what a big part of my life and heart Ginty was until now.
She went everywhere with me, and my children would joke at what a Velcro dog she was and how she was my shadow.
Now, when I sit at the table or on the sofa, I still find myself reaching down to my left-hand side to stroke her, and she is not there.
I walk into my kitchen and see the void, the gigantic space that she and her bed used to dominate by the radiator. The temporary oil painting on an easel that I have placed there still cannot fill that lack of energy.
Amusingly, I now have to pick up my food droppings on the floor. Ginty in the past, at the smallest incitement of food, would have it gobbled up in seconds, without hesitating to chew, or indeed taste whatever had been hoovered up into her mouth.
I spoke with a breeder after her passing, and she said that the majority of Labradors pass away at 10–12 years old, so we have an extra incredible four to six years more than most.
Even more, these past few years have been tumultuous and challenging at times for us as a family, so she was a badly needed companion and comforter, and I am eternally grateful for her.
Near the end, she had many accidents and struggled to get up and sometimes even walk. Yet, I even miss the caring and cleaning up after her and of course going for our daily walk, which, to be honest, was more of a snail’s pace-stroll, stop and a very long sniff!
Even to the end, Ginty was as stubborn as a mule at times, and her personality and enigmatic spirit stayed unaffected by her cell degeneration.
Despite her pain, Ginty’s energetic, baton-like tail even found the strength to wag and show her love to the vet and nurse — and of course me — as we said goodbye.
Although Ginty may be gone in the physical sense, her delightful spirit is still strong, and she will always live on in our memory.
Her pedigree name was Darling Rosebud, and she will forever be implanted in my heart as the darling beauty that she was.
It may be natural if you have reservations about the love that can exist between a human and dog — I get it, I used to have them too — but I had never known love like this; and certainly not from a dog.
Ginty taught me something quite profound.
She taught me to learn how to open up my heart to love again in a whole new way.
She taught me to let love in.
She taught me ‘safe love’ that knew no bounds, and she was the most loyal of breathing beings.
It was hard to acknowledge the reality of such love or even accept it sometimes, but when the realisation hit home that she was close to passing, her presence hit me hardest.
Even now, a small part of me still does not want to acknowledge her passing fully.
It still feels a little too raw.
And I think about her often.
Hence why I think I have been struggling to write or record my Podcast about this particular event in my life.
I still have her ashes carefully stored in a beautiful wooden box, waiting to be spread on the Pentland Hills. The Pentland Hills which are a beautiful big sprawling area of impressive countryside on the edges of Edinburgh where she loved to run and have her maddies.
It seems that life has come full circle as it was the same Pentland Hills where I met her relative over 16 years ago, and my deep love of Labradors began.
Although, part of me can’t quite fully say goodbye and bring myself to spread her ashes just yet.
When the fateful day of her passing arrived, it was awful.
It ripped apart my heart, and I was with her, holding her until she had her last breathe.
Previously, I had tried so very, very hard to prepare myself for that fateful day. As stoic as I felt I wanted to be the tears rolled down my face and soaked through to my facemask, and my heart felt twisted, torn in two and gauged open.
I knew that I had to acknowledge the hard reality that she was gone, and I understood it was the best outcome for her since she had become so ill. Still, it didn’t stop the internal conflict inside.
I could feel all the parts of me with their thoughts, feelings and beliefs of what I ‘should’ do and I ‘should’ think and I ‘should’ feel.
I soaked the pages of my journal with ink and tears.
I journaled through my pain, my loss, my grief.
I journaled and questioned the whys, whys, whys.
It was all I knew to do.
Former me would have busied and numbed myself, so I didn’t have to think and feel the pain.
But I can’t do that anymore.
I don’t want to do that anymore.
It only ends up hurting and harming my body physically and emotionally.
I knew from all that I had learned so far on this journey that it was best ‘to feel the feelings’.
Nevertheless, it was and still is, of course, the most challenging part.
It was super scary to ‘feel those unpleasant feelings’!
What if they overwhelmed me?
What if they swallowed me up from the inside out?
What if I couldn’t cope with them?
So I did my best to ‘just notice’ what was happening.
Like grey storm clouds in the sky, I tried as hard as I could to observe them, watch them and notice them move and pass because (as I reminded myself) all feelings and emotions are transitory if we just embrace them. They WILL pass!
Then began a deeper layer of grief.
I had tried to protect myself from the grief and grieving process.
My old protective tendencies had crept back in, and I was trying to control rather than let go.
So for a few weeks, I kept busy and interviewed the Summit Speakers and was actively involved with all the coordination that was needed to make the Summit a success. All these activities were welcomed distractions from the emotional pain.
I attempted to fool myself that I was indeed processing and feeling the feelings, yet in hindsight, I recognised that there were some old default tendencies that had crept in.
Hence why I have been quieter than usual.
When I realised this, I had to parent myself to stop and grieve properly.
I had to allow myself and my parts, the time and space to breathe and go through all the states and stages us humans need to do, especially when we have experienced a loss of any kind; be it a dog, person, job, relationship etc.
That was the hardest decision and action to take.
To really listen.
To fully feel.
And then be okay with that.
The Perfectionist Part in me was not happy and it fixated on all the emails, posts and podcasts and work and my mission that needed my attention.
But the newer parts knew that for me to function fully and effectively, I had to slow down for a while.
Then something wonderful happened!
I did NOT get eaten up alive by the emotions!
I did NOT get overwhelmed!
I was able to cope with the waves as they came, ebbed and flowed.
The emotions came in their droves, over and over and circled around but lesser each time.
It is common knowledge that there are several stages of grief.
Some say it is five, others seven and a few say it is twelve.
Generally, here are the main five stages of grief are:
And I am still working my way through them all.
Then there came a gift…
I was speaking to a lady at some traffic lights by a road crossing a few weeks after Ginty passed and I asked about her own engaging and excitable dog.
She shared with me that her dog was only a few months old, and she brought great joy to her since she had lost her previous dog six years earlier.
She recalled to me how the pain from the loss of her dog had meant that she vowed to herself not to get a dog again, so she would never have to re-experience that grief.
However, she shared that a few years later, she felt she was ready to let another furry four-legged love ball back into her life.
That was when it struck me.
That’s when the gift revealed itself.
Former me/Past me would have been the same as her and deprived myself of a dog’s love for years.
Just like now, the pain would have been overwhelming, but in the past, I would not have journaled or ‘felt the feelings’, so they would have stayed in their original intensity and not been naturally processed through.
I have learned that for me to experience life fully and healthily, I have to keep my feelings and emotions fluid, like a river that twists and turns, and flows over stones.
I had tried in the past to control them or ‘dam’ them up.
I tried to stop the river of emotions by damming up the river.
Yet that water becomes stagnant and stale, and over time it backs up.
New me knows I have to keep the feelings and emotions moving.
So, as much as the intensity of emotions and feelings have felt uncomfortable at times, it has also been cleansing.
It has also allowed me to remember the good times and the joy Ginty brought.
So the stages of grief continued, and after my conversation with the woman at the traffic lights, I decided I was ready to welcome a bright, furry bundle of beautiful energy into my life.
I didn’t want to deprive myself of the delight, laughter and pleasure of another dog for the next six years, nor did I want to stay stuck in the pain of loss.
Serendipity or not, I was lucky that an opportunity came up to own another chocolate Labrador.
It did, however, mean travelling all the way down south to England in a 17-hour round trip to meet the pups and make a choice, but it was something I was very much prepared to do.
Then, only a few weeks later, ahead of the 2nd Covid Lockdown, I went back down to collect my little pup called ‘Poppy’.
So the gift of grief has meant that I have let light and love back into my heart and life a lot earlier than former me would have allowed.
As I write this, Poppy is lying on her back, wagging her tail with her pink rounded belly skyward and her eyes sparkling with mischievous joy.
And then there was a second gift that brought with it another important surprise.
By welcoming Poppy into my home it also allowed me to grieve Ginty more deeply and more completely, which was a pleasant surprise and which I recognise, maybe an ongoing process for some time.
And, I can do so, interspersed with chocolate Labrador ‘Poppy’ love, and mourn more profound long term memories along with the new joyful laughter.
The message I am trying to convey is to keep ‘feeling your feelings’, no matter how uncomfortable or painful you may think it is, you will be surprised for it leads to greater joy in the long-run.
I have stayed with the roller coaster of emotions for these past few weeks. It has not been easy, and although there never would have been the right time, the timing was not ideal as I had to keep focused on preparing and hosting the Ultimate Emotional Health Summit.
The Ultimate Emotional Health Summit was an inordinate amount of work and preparation.
Still, the title was apt considering what was going on for me.
Ultimate Emotional Health.
What did that mean for me?
Staying with and processing my feelings, and I hope you will learn from my mistakes and take that leap of faith in your own ability to embrace your all and any emotions.
What does that mean for you?
Trust that you can handle whatever comes up if you feel the feelings and trust the process.
To your health!