Have you ever noticed a person who doesn’t seem to be acting appropriately after a life-changing event? People sometimes act out of character after being dealt a devastating blow. Many were incredulous when a father who had lost his child during the Sandy Hook shooting was laughing as he approached the podium for a news conference, only to turn serious and mournful in appearance when he started speaking. The conspiracy theorists claimed it was proof he was an actor and the whole event was faked. The truth is that his behavior is indeed bizarre, but also not abnormal for the situation. We have no idea all of the emotions that man was experiencing at the moment. His life was turned upside down by a death that was senseless.
I am reminded of episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show in which one of their coworkers at the TV station, Chuckles the Clown, passed away in a bizarre accident. At the funeral something made Mary laugh and she couldn’t hold it back. The more she tried, the more she laughed. Although some were mortified, it may have been a fitting response for a man whose career was to make people laugh. This was a good portrayal of grief that may seem unusual, even unseemly, but is not inappropriate. There is nothing normal about the death of someone you love, losing your job, losing your home, or any catastrophic event. These are disruptions to the framework of your life that you use everyday to define normal. For that reason it is quite common for a person to act in ways that others might determine to be improper for the environment. Those concerned should allow the grieving person to express it in whatever way they want, within reason. People who are hurting truly don’t know how to act and may go through a variety of emotions, some of which may seem strange.
It is okay to express your grief through tears, anger, laughter or even solitude. Of course their are inappropriate ways to grieve including self-medication and risky behavior. These will not heal, but take you away from peace and normalcy you seek. Some people will not understand your expressions of grief. Some will criticize you. It is good to have people in your life who will watch over you but just let you express yourself, unless you are endangering yourself or others. They can be family members who are more removed from the severity of the loss, or friends, or support groups. Feel free to contact me with concerns about your own grief or that of someone you know at email@example.com.
They are right there waiting for you when you get up in the morning or when you get home from work. They are excited to see you regardless of how you feel or how others feel about you. They are capable of giving you unconditional affection. It doesn’t matter how bad your day has been, they are glad to be with you. They may exercise with us, play with us, cuddle with us. We even take pictures with them (above is my family picture with our dog, George, in 2010). They definitely amuse us. The amount of funny pet videos is endless on TV and the web. Pets also care about us. I have seen my own pets approach my children when they are upset, obviously concerned. If you don’t think pets can grieve when they are separated from a human friend, search the internet, the stories and videos are numerous and compelling. Books and movies about pets often involve the loss of the pet as a part of the story. Such stories as Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Marley and Me, and The Incredible Journey are just a few. These are quite popular because people identify with them and it validates the love and grief they have felt for pets.
Our pets have distinct personalities and the way their dispositions match up with our own determines the depth of affection, just like human relations. You likely have had pets that you felt closer to than others. Just like with other people, the closer you are to a pet determines the depth of your grief. I have known some people for whom it is so difficult, they simply don’t ever get another pet for fear of going through it again. Certainly to immediately go out and get another pet is not going to erase the pain of losing a cherished friend. The grief is just as real as losing a human loved one. Below I have included a couple of links that are very helpful in traveling the through the grief of losing a pet.
Just as in grieving over a lost human friend, sometimes losing an animal friend may cause you to have trouble returning to life as it was before you lost them. How can you? They are no longer there. Life without them can be difficult at first. You may need to talk to someone who understands that your grief is legitimate and can help you find a new life without your friend. Don’t bury the hurt, express it, and get help if you need it.
Coping with Pet Loss
Humane Society: Coping with the Death of Your Pet
Recently the loss of music legends Glenn Frey, David Bowie, and Maurice White made many of us feel melancholy. Fans of Celine Dion may have grieved for her when she lost both her husband and her brother within a few days. People sometimes ask me if it is normal for us to grieve when someone that we don’t even know dies. Are we just overly obsessed fans? Sometimes callous remarks are made that people who grieve over celebrities should “get a life”. We didn’t really know them, right? Of course we don’t know them, but we do have a connection to them. When John F. Kennedy passed away, a whole nation grieved. Very few of them ever met the president. People all over the world grieved for the loss of Princess Diana.
Music holds a unique and powerful place in most of our lives. You hear “Take It Easy” or “Lying Eyes” by the Eagles and it takes you right back to childhood summers at the local swimming pool. “Modern Love” comes on the radio, and reminds you of watching David Bowie on MTV with your friends in college. Maybe you saw Earth, Wind, and Fire on tour just a few years ago and sat listening, as I did, and reminisced about an old love with whom you used to dance to “That’s The Way of The World”. The artists who created these songs wrote the soundtrack to our life events. It’s is no wonder that it’s sad to hear of their passing. It reminds us of our own mortality and, if nothing else, that we are getting older. When Glenn Frey passed away I heard radio personalities both local and national admit it bummed them out a little. I had seen The Eagles live just six months prior to the news of his death and it took the wind out of my sails for a bit. It is normal and healthy to grieve when you lose a part of your life history. It only becomes a concern if you were already in a debilitating state of grief and this takes you farther down.
People who are in a foggy pattern of grief don’t need much to take them deeper. Often a person deep in grief will feel like bad news is just piling on, even if the events are years apart. The truth is that losses such as that of a favorite musician are happening to everyone. It feels like life is just dealing you blow after blow. People often say, “What next?” in anticipation. There is no doubt something else is going to happen. Both good news and bad comes every day. It just feels personal and more severe because you are already hurting. If these kinds of things are causing you grief that you can’t shake, don’t ignore it. Talk to someone that understands and can help you. Often you just need to express your grief to someone who is not judgmental and can help guide you through it. If you are grieving and seek help, there are a variety of options. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for suggestions.
Photo used by permission, Flickr Creative Commons, by jeaneeem