Friday, May 29, 2009

Doggie Dentistry

In Alan Wolfelt's "Mourner's Bill of Rights" he tells the mourner that they have the right to have "grief bursts." In my job I use Wolfelt's "Bill of Rights" often to comfort and give permission to the bereaved individuals I speak with but it has been awhile since I have used them for myself. As I am sure you can guess, that changed last week.

We have an 8 year old beagle Copper or "poor Copper" as we affectionately refer to him. We got Copper as a puppy from the SPCA to be a companion to our Jack Russell terrier (Quincey). Quincey was not adjusting well to Rhys entering our lives. If Quincey did not shape up we were going to have to find him a new home. He had been our first "baby" and after 6 years it was heartbreaking to think of adopting him out but his attitude with Rhys was undeniable. The vet told us that Jack Russell's were better as pairs or with other dogs of a similar size and so that is why in our infinite wisdom we got Copper.
Unfortunately the addition of Copper did not improve Quincey's demeanor and he was adopted by Landy's brother and sister in law. It was at that time that Copper got the name "Poor Copper" because it seemed that he could never live up to the legacy that Quincey had left for him.

Poor Copper is a great dog, it is obvious that he loves the boys, he is easy going and patient but he is also a glutton, adventurer, stubborn as a mule and smelly. We love Poor Copper but he will most likely be our last dog for a long time.
Last week I took Poor Copper to the vet for his annual check up. It had been a hectic week, problems with our daycare, a teething 17 month old, a husband working late, I was blissfully unaware of how run down I was. So with Kinley in the pack on my back, Ash holding my hand and Poor Copper on the leash we waited in the veterinary version of a patient room for the vet tech to come in and see us. When the tech came in she told us that her name was Julia and she was sweet, maybe 22 and cooing at Kinley and talking to Ash. We lifted Poor Copper on the table (all 50 pounds of him) and she started her exam asking questions about his diet, his routine and when she got to his mouth I mentioned to her that he had very stinky breath (probably from eating his own poo). She lifted his gums and I could see that they were bright red.

"Oh, he has some loose teeth here and by the looks of it an abscess."
What I heard in my tired state (which was never actually said) was "Copper needs to be put down due to a horrific case of gingivitis," and I began to sob uncontrollably.

"Oh, its okay, this is not uncommon for a dog his age," Julia looked so sympathetic and all I could do was nod my head as tears continued to stream down my face like a leaky faucet.

"It is nothing you did, we can get him in for some dentistry, clean up these teeth, remove a few and he will be just fine," poor Julia didn't know what to say and she thought that this uncontrollable burst of emotion was just because of Poor Copper's gum disease. The vet came in right at that moment to me still unable to speak, trying to suck my gasps back into my body and making an awful flump,flump,gah sound.

"She is very upset that Copper will need to have some teeth pulled, but I explained to her that it would only take a simple one day procedure and he would be as good as new." Poor Julia, maybe it was best to just let them think that was the reason for this grief burst. Not the fact that I had not celebrated my son's anniversary the way that I had wanted, that I had been juggling work, school, motherhood, supporting families through their own grief and all on an average 6 hours sleep.
The vet just patted my hand.

"Well Copper, I bet that even with loose teeth you will eat this dog treat!" The vet handed Poor Copper a Dentabone and Poor Copper made quick work of it and at that point all I could do was smile through the few remaining tears that trickled out of my leaky eyes.

I loaded the kids and the dog back into the van and as I sat in the driver's seat I became aware that I had really needed that grief burst, to release all the pent up energy, all the stress, the sadness so I could have a better day. Thank goodness for doggie dentistry!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Anniversary Anxiety

May 3rd.

That is the day, 7 years ago, that Flynn was born and died.

Some Background Here:

Flynn, our second son was born at 9:30pm to a room of doctors, nurses and family, they wanted to send us to McMaster, they thought we had more time, we wanted to hold him for what little time we had.

He was 17 weeks too early and in our city without neo-natal intervention he lived in our arms for a mere hour and a half, dying at 11:05pm.

Every anniversary is different and sometimes there are rituals or traditions that are born out of the memorializing of those important dates.

On Flynn's anniversary I do not work, I do something for me that day. I always take blue orchids out to the cemetary and spend a little time meditating around the past year without him.

With the passing of every year the anniversary has actually caused me more stress. Trying to fit in a day to myself or a trip to the cemetary has become more difficult to work into an increasingly busy schedule. Last year I did not make it out at all and that did not sit well with me so this year I felt that is was necessary to return to my tradition. Of course his anniversary fell on a Sunday that quickly became full of important and almost immovable obligations.

Saturday at 6pm I realized that I did not have the blue orchids for the following day at the cemetary and the only place that I would be able to get them now would be at the grocery florist down the road.

When I got to the store I was relieved to see floral displays with the blue orchids sprinkled throughout but when I asked the girl behind the counter for 6 stems (one to represent each member of our family) my heart sank to hear that there were none left. I begged the girl to allow me to take them out of the arrangements but she could not do that (understandable really). I asked to call the other store further up the road, they did not have any either. I began to feel panicked, this was the most important part of my ritual! Finally I settled on buying a very overpriced arrangement that had 6 stems of the blue orchid in it, it was the best I could do on short notice, but not before I got teary with the girl behind the counter and confided that they were for my dead son at the cemetary, she looked like she heard that every day.

The next morning I had to be at an event for my work, a Walk to Remember, fitting really and I planned to take the whole family to the cemetary after. Landy had not been to the cemetary since the first anniversary. I know that is his way of coping and that we grieve differently but sometimes I wonder what his grief looks like and if he swallows it or embraces it. The event was nice but it ran later than anticipated and before I knew it, there was no way to make it to the cemetary and on to our next commitment.

I could take a separate vehicle and drive 25 minutes out of my way by myself or I could wait and do it on May 4th with Ash (my 4 year old) and Kinley (my 17 month old) with me. Neither seemed an appealing option.

Then something happened, a friend offered to go out with me on May 4th so that I did not have to go alone.

When your child dies before most people meet them, it is hard for that child to have an identity in your life and especially with friends and family. It meant a lot to have her offer to come out to the cemetary.

We went out first thing in the morning, Tonya beside me, Ash and Kinley and Tonya's baby Sadie in the back. Ash is a very chatty child and the 25 minute drive was full of questions:

"Momma, we are going to see Flynn, right?"

"We are going to the cemetary where Flynn is buried actually."


"Because that is how I choose to remember him on his birthday"

"Are we going to dig him up?"

"Um, no honey" (Tonya looked pale and slightly traumatized at this point)

"Then why did we bury him?"

"Well that is what we do when someone dies, when their body stops working and it cannot work anymore."


When we got to the cemetary I asked Ash if he wanted to come out to the stone with me, he had never been to the cemetary before and I thought this may be a good opportunity.

When we got to the stone I read him the inscription:

Flynn, May 3, 2002

"If only for a moment we were blessed to share our love."

"Is he under us right now?"

"Well his body was buried here a long time ago and now we come here to remember him"

"Well I don't think he would like that you are standing on top of him right now."

hmmmm. Fair enough. I kissed my hand and touched the stone, I asked Ash if he wanted to do the same.


And that was it. All the worry about the day, the preparation, the anxiety and in five minutes I had an insightful conversation with my 4 year old about his big brother and introduced him to a ritual to remember him. It may not have been the idealized representation of the perfect way to memorialize Flynn's anniversary but it was a real way in this current life to remember him.

Why Now?

It may seem sad, stuck, depressing or even a desperate cry for attention that I have decided to begin blogging about grief now. My journey with grief began 15 years ago when a great friend died and continued with the death of my son 7 years ago and my grandmother 2 years ago. There has been grief before and inbetween these significant losses, grief is more than the emotional response to death, it is the response to the loss of something/someone loved, needed or necessary.

In all honesty it is because I am not stuck that I can write about grief now. I hope that talking about death, dying and the transformation that occurs while grieving, will encourage further conversation and normalize the experience for others. I don't think I could have written about grief before now, at least not from a perspective that was insightful, provactive or earnest. My grief has grown with me from pity and despair, surrender and coping, to healing and learning.

When this journey began to evolve into one of healing I was not sure that I was allowed to feel changed, complete or improved by the experience. In having those feelings I feared that I was dishonouring the memory of the people that had died. It has taken years to realize the love and respect it shows their memory. The fact that I have learned and I have grown and continue to do so from their life and death.

When I say that I am going to write about grief, this is not an account of the past, although there may be snippets, this is an account of the day to day. I walk with grief everyday, the unseen companion and it is how I encounter it in "normal" daily interactions, parenting, marriage, friendships and work.

The way that we grieve is unique and this blog is not meant to be a field guide on how to grieve. This is my journey but I hope it can help others as they cope with their journey and hopefully I can write about it in a way that is relatable, funny and real.

I don't want to give the impression that there will not be sadness in this blog from time to time, grief comes in waves and every wave carries with it a different memory and a different emotion. This blog is about my life as a healthy griever.