Perspectives on Grief and Chasing Rainbows

It’s been exactly two weeks to the day since our family said goodbye to our dear friend Rocky. Today would have been his 17th birthday.

When we lose someone we love and are in the thick of grief, it seems normal to want the pain to go away so we can just feel better. We generally want to resume our “normal” routine and just get on with our lives. I’ve witnessed a definite sense of impatience, both in myself and in others, along with the desire for these unpleasant feelings to pass as quickly as possible. But as I continue to process the grief of losing my first (fur) baby, consummate lap dog, and sidekick extraordinaire, I have to question whether I’m doing myself any favours with the ‘suck it up and get over it quick’ approach.

I’m pretty new to this whole grief thing, relatively speaking anyway. Sure, I’ve lost grandparents and other relatives, and most definitely faced sadness as a result of loss, but somehow this time with my dog feels different. It is a profoundly deep sense of sadness and loss unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced before.

Maybe it’s because Rocky was much more than just a dog or family pet. In his latter years, he was the doppelganger of Falkor, the luckdragon from The Neverending Story. He was a fierce protector of babies and our home. He was a sensitive, caring companion; a gentle and kind, loyal and loving little dog. He had the most beautiful calm, soothing presence. He was a small dog with a great, big personality. Rocky was not only smart but also very wise, which forms the basis of my belief that he was basically an old soul wrapped up in a little fur coat.

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Our souls, Rocky’s and mine, only saw the absloute best in each other. There’s no question in my mind that he was gifted to me by the universe. He chose me to be his momma, and I believe our souls had a contract to help facilitate each other’s growth in this lifetime. Most importantly, I know he loved me without question or condition, and I, in turn, loved him with everything I had.

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

Jamie Anderson

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I’ve learned how unhealthy it is to suppress emotion, rather than allow it to flow through us and be processed as it is intended, by its very nature. I’m sensitive at the best of times, but lately I’ve found myself crying more often than not. Although the bouts of sadness are becoming less frequent as time marches on, I continue to allow my tears to flow whenever the need washes over me. In the first few days after Rocky passed, I was angry and irritable. I experienced extreme fatigue, headaches, food aversion, and mild nausea for almost a full week. Apparently, these are all common physical side effects associated with grieving. Huh, who knew?

Yup, this grief thing is definitely tricky, and not at all what I expected. But I’ve essentially placed myself right in the epicenter of an emotional storm and readied myself to ride it out for as long as it takes. It’s nowhere near the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done, but I do believe there’s value in staying the course—standing fully in my grief, unguarded and unprotected, and feeling my way through it, even in the face of the wind and unrelenting rain.

Over the last month of his life, I talked with a number of friends who offered their perspectives, as I struggled to come to terms with being responsible for making the final decision about when it would be ‘his time’. I recall a conversation in which one friend offered that, although Rocky had been part of our lives for close to 17 years and I certainly needed him for various reasons during that time, perhaps I had evolved to the point where I no longer required his wisdom and companionship via his continued physical presence. We also talked about our perspectives around what happens to a soul when the physical body can no longer be sustained.

Interestingly, Rocky appeared to my husband in his dream the very night after we said goodbye. He was licking my husband’s bald head, as he so often did during his time with us, and spoke with real words and a human voice. Rocky clearly told my husband that he was alright, and that he supports our family getting another dog when we we’re ready.

This put my mind at ease a bit. I was relieved to have some confirmation that Rocky was now without pain and seemingly at peace, but at the same time I was disheartened that I hadn’t received a sign or message from Rocky directly, myself. That was until a few days later when I began to notice a pattern—something just slightly out of the ordinary and with enough repetition to actually take note.

You guys, I am fully aware that you may not believe what I’m about to say. In fact, you may even think I’m a stark raving lunatic, but that’s okay. I’m not sure whether I am clairsentient, or if I’m just a heartsick fool whose feeling lost and desperately searching for meaning after the recent passing of her dog, but either way, I believe Rocky (or the energy of his spirit) has been presenting itself to me.

Why do I think this, you ask? Because I keep seeing rainbows—like everywhere, all over my house. Well, I suppose they’re not technically rainbows, but rather bands of colour and dispersions of light similar to the effect of a prism. But it hasn’t been just once or twice—it’s been pretty much daily for the past 10 days or so.

This is the part I find incredibly fascinating: when I was creating my vision board at the end of December 2019, which coincidentally was around the same time that Rocky’s health took a serious downturn, I came across the word “rainbow” written in script font and filled in with pretty colours. I was perplexed, and even struggled to justify to myself why I would need to have this on my vision board, but I did. It didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. I even tried to remove it from among the collage of other words and images in an attempt to save space, but something inside me wouldn’t allow it, and literally insisted that it must be included. And without any further explanation or argument, I just decided to leave it.

rainbow

Now, my vision board lives in my office (which I have been hard-core avoiding lately, by the way), but I had to go in there the other day to grab something. That’s when I caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye and did a complete double take. It was at that exact moment that everything clicked and I made the “rainbow connection.” I started to sob uncontrollably, except they were tears of joy in having my suspicion confirmed that Rocky’s spirit and energy are present with me still. It’s like he’s been saying “hi” to me in the sweetest way possible, and my heart swelled at the realization of our soul’s continued connection.

As more days have passed and I finally found the courage to pick up Rocky’s ashes to ensure he’s with us on his birthday and forever after, I’ve noticed a slight shift in my perspective. While there’s no mistaking that I’m still sad, I am also making the effort to intentionally reflect on the good times and to focus on all the love for him that will always live in my heart.

I’m still crying quite a bit, although not nearly as much as in the first few days after he passed. The logical, rational part of my brain knows that storms don’t last forever—not even the emotional ones. And I know the sun will eventually come out and shine down on me again.

With this simple thought I remember, yet again, how people, situations, and yes—even animals—have the ability to crack us wide open. But it in being open to the experiences, the feelings and the lessons, allowing it all and being vulnerable through the process…this is where we realize our own capacity for growth and change.

In his life Rocky taught me about unconditional love, giving me the chance to experience the deepest and most pure form of love I’ve ever known. Through his death, I am now learning how to see the beauty in my pain, as has been shown to me in the eternal nature of his spirit, his enduring love, and of course in every rainbow I will see until the end of time.

Happy Birthday in heaven, Rocky dog!

You may also want to check out the blog I wrote a couple years ago about the many lessons Rocky taught me during his lifetime: old dog // new tricks.

A beautiful day to be alive

Friday was my 37th birthday.

I awoke to showers of affection and gifts from my husband and children. Obviously, they were far more excited about the day than I.  (Once you’ve passed your milestone birthdays like 16=driver’s license and 18=legal drinking age in my province, what’s one more year, right?) But I really do love their enthusiasm.

So, I opened my birthday gifts they were so excited to give me. I finally got the foam roller I’ve been asking for, and that I hope will ease my sore muscles after long runs and strenuous workouts. (Score.) I got a 10-class pass to Sculpt Barre. (Shaky, yet amazingly toned legs, here I come!) And, last but certainly not least, I got a beautiful, shiny, new Macbook Air! (We hit it off instantly and I just know we’re going to be the best of friends.)

It was an absolutely gorgeous late summer day, throughout which I was lucky to receive numerous calls, texts, Facebook posts, and tweets with well wishes from friends and loved ones. I even got to spend some time visiting with my parents, grandma, aunts, uncles, and many other relatives.

The paradox of my birthday this year is that I spent much of the day at a funeral. My big, fat extended family of mixed-European descent gathered to celebrate the life of a wonderful woman who will be dearly missed by all who knew her and whose lives she touched. It was a beautiful service befitting the kind and generous woman in whose honour it was held.

As I sat listening to the priest relay several stories about how she chose to live her life, I realized something very important. We don’t always get what we want in life. I’m fairly certain this is so we will appreciate the gifts we are given. Life isn’t always happy; for it is through the bitter times that we learn to appreciate the sweetest moments.

While attending a funeral wasn’t my first choice of how to spend my birthday, in retrospect I’m actually kind of glad it worked out that way. It gave me some much-needed perspective. The sharp contrast of celebrating the day of my birth set against the backdrop of honouring the passing of another person’s life gave me the most unique opportunity to appreciate the natural order that is beyond our control. All at once, the strange mystery and beauty of the circle of life made sense, and the intensity of the emotions that accompanied my revelation left me momentarily breathless.

The experience reminded me that I must be grateful for all of life’s moments; both the bitter and the sweet. It shifted my perspective from one of “do I really have to do this TODAY?” to “I am blessed beyond measure, and it’s always a beautiful day to be alive.”

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