Life in a tunnel revisited

Jake: Hey Cupcake! More catnip please and be sure to fill the food dish.

This is still a sad house after the loss of Mollie. I wrote this in 2015 after I lost Jake but I needed to remind myself that grief is a journey and not a sprint. Some of the references date back to fall of 2015 but I decided not to edit that. It is even more difficult during a pandemic.

Grief is a tunnel. The loss determines the length and diameter. The bond with the loss determines the speed that you travel.

The loss can be anything. It can be a person, a beloved pet, a marriage or the perfect job. Grieving is the recovery process.

Sometimes it’s short. I felt very sad when Robin Williams died because he was one of my favorite actors and a contemporary but since he wasn’t in my daily life, my sadness was short-lived. There was no impact to my daily routine.

Sometimes it’s not. When my Dad died at a young age, my mother was in the tunnel for two years. It was very scary because I was only 11 and feared she would leave me too.

No mojo – People say keep busy. That’s easier said than done. It’s hard to keep focus. Both my attention span and interest are very short. I was able to complete a project that was on the list all summer but the beloved husband was there to keep me going or I may have crapped out in the middle. I was not able to write.

Glazing – I’m perfectly fine one minute and then my eyes glaze over and I can’t hear a thing you are saying. I have no idea where I am but I’ll snap back. Hopefully I can pick up the conversation and won’t notice the odd look on your face. For once that saying is true – it’s not you, it’s me.

The litany of the losses – Mourning has a cumulative effect. When I mourn, I mourn collectively. I mourn the loss of summer. I remember the loss of my parents and the loss of my youth. Perhaps more than anything, death reminds us that we all have an expiration date and we mourn that too.

Keep the routine – Some folks like distractions. I have no patience for them. Many years ago, when I was married to my ex, his father died. His mother was not mentally capable (early dementia but fairly alert) of living by herself. She lived an hour or two away from her kids. I pulled the short straw and stayed with her for a month but I needed to get back to my life. None of her children could or would stay with her so she was moved to a lovely assisted living place. I remember her painful wails. “I want to go home!” Of course she did. She needed the comfort of home, the familiar and most of all, her friends who were now too far away. How cruel it was to rip her from that and put her in a sterile environment. I only understood that years later. At the time it was the “right” thing to do. After all, people had lives and no one had time.

I get “claustrophobic” when I’m somewhere. I call it that because I don’t know the clinical word. After a while I need to go home to the familiar. It’s calming.

I have a great friend who gave me the 90 minute rule. When invited out, 90 minutes is all she stays, then she goes home. It keeps activities pleasant and sets a good end time. Sometimes I don’t last 90 minutes.

Buck up Bunkie! – (No one said that to me because they wouldn’t have any teeth left.) Grieving is very personal. Everyone has their own rhythm and timeline. I worked with a man whose 20-something son died. He was back at work in a week and nothing was visible. Does that mean he was done mourning? I doubt it. He had private coping mechanisms. Very private. Some people can compartmentalize better than others. Doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.

What to do? – Just be there. Sometimes I want to talk about it and sometimes I don’t. You won’t be able to tell. I can’t tell. Don’t avoid mourning people because it’s too hard. They are more sensitive, needier. The feelings reside just under the skin. Even a sad story that is not related to them will send them into a pit.

In the end, you come out of the tunnel. One day you wake up and the cloud of gloom isn’t so heavy. The sun punches through a little bit at a time. Not all the time, but sometimes. It keeps getting better.

You start to worry that you’ll forget but don’t worry, you never forget. Humans are resilient but we don’t forget.

Author’s note: The only thing I would add is that the mind knows how painful loss is but the heart forgets the hurt so it’s always a shock.

78 thoughts on “Life in a tunnel revisited

  1. Big virtual hugs, Kate, Yes, everything is more difficult during a pandemic. Thank you for sharing a very realistic and heartfelt post. “The litany of losses” is something people do not often talk about. So true. Oh my goodness, on the 90 minute rule. I have been preparing for a virtual meeting this week and one of the concepts is ‘length of visits’ with short term company and long term company. Interesting on your last note. I get it.❤️

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  2. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I forgot that Jake passed the same year my father and my Mac did. Five years tomorrow my father died. Mac 3 weeks later. Now you are in that sad time again. I would think that the pandemic makes it worse. XOXO

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  3. Kate – I was not following your blog when you lost Jake. I can identify, not just losing my bird and he was euthanized like Mollie. That was a difficult decision in itself but he had a stroke and couldn’t even hop. I tried to stay strong going to the vet’s office. My neighbor/friend took me there – I didn’t trust myself to drive. I railed at her all the way there and back because she told me I needed another pet when Sugar died. I said “now look what you’ve done – I’ve got more heartache because I listened to you.” I got rid of everything that reminded me of Buddy but he was only a handful of feet away from me as I worked here at the kitchen table all day long and blogging at night. He was a companion pet and for a person who works form home and has no family members and friends scattered hither and yon, I felt more alone than I had in my life. I share your pain. As to my mom, she had some medical issues, but when we went to the E.R. that morning for extreme pain in her side, I figured it was a kidney stone – little did I know she would pass away twelve hours later from sepsis. Mom did not want a funeral – she was cremated and when I went to the funeral home to pick up the cremains, I was still in a state of shock. I’d liken it to when people pass away suddenly in a tragic accident – it is too surreal. Grief is different for everyone and there are no rules. The day after my mom’s death (early Sunday morning), my boss said “if you’re okay, will you still be able to do letter?”

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      • Thanks Kate yes, having other pets would have made it/make it easier. My friend who has raised Golden Retrievers for years says that she just accepts the death and for each dog she has a special place in her heart and has always welcomed more dogs into her life. She lives in a rural area so having many dogs is not a problem – she even took in some dogs when a fellow tracker became ill and could not handle taking care of them. My friend and others split up the dogs and cared for them the rest of their lives.

        When she was younger she was an avid tracker, both with her own dogs and judging. Actually many years ago she was the instructor for the Windsor, Ontario Police Department police dogs and worked with the dogs and their handlers to teach them tracking skills. But that is how she deals with a loss.

        As to your dad, that would have been a shock to your family. A fellow blogger lost his long-time companion that way – late 50s. He wrote me a note on one of my posts to tell me about it, (he was my first follower on WP so always was special to me), but Keith has not written another word on his blog since she died last April.

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  4. Everytime we bring another furry being into our homes we are setting ourselves up for heartbreak. It is only because they fill our hearts up with love while they are here that we decide that it’s worth the risk. Mollie and Jake added so much love to your home. Right now your heart is breaking, but the love continues on and will help you put it back together again.

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  5. You’re very right, Kate: grieving is very personal. A friend of mine once had a horrendous birth of two adorable, healthy twins. But my friend was in the ICU afterwards for two days. She survived fine thankfully, but was later unable to have any further children. So many people said the obvious to her: “But you have these two lovely babies.” That wasn’t the point because she was grieving that she couldn’t have more. I learned then not to try to give advice to those who are grieving. Just try to offer compassion.

    I like that 90 minute rule. I think I’ve done that too but just never formalized it in my head. 🙂 – Marty

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    • I learned that lesson too. You have to let people grieve even when it doesn’t make sense to you. The 90 minute rule has worked for me for over 5 years now although sometimes it’s also called the 60 minute rule!

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    • Ah, you missed Jake. My only boy cat. He called me cupcake all the time and treated me like a waitress. Loved that guy. He was diabetic for 9 years but graciously allowed me to test and inject him daily. One of a kind.

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  6. This is so well written, Kate. I didn’t follow you when you had Jake, so I hadn’t read it before. My heart sank when I read about the loss of your dad and your mom’s grief, and again when you talked about your ex-MIL. These are all very profound words about grief, and it’s a keeper.

    I know how hard it is to be on lock down and having a family member missing from your house. Every time you go to do your routine, or hear a certain noise they used to make, and then you remember they’re not there, it’s another punch in the gut.

    I’m going to save this writing for my own use when needed. Thank you for sharing it. Heartfelt hugs.

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  7. This is a lovely piece Kate. Today is the 24th anniversary of losing my Dad, but I still feel his loss. Mum has been gone just over two years now, and I miss her, but not like I miss my Dad because the circumstances were so very different.
    Grief is individual, which is why I can tear up thinking about either of my parents, regardless of the time lapsed since losing them.
    Thoughts are with you and I hope Morgan, Gracie and Sascha are adjusting.

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  8. Many many hugs. I don’t think it ever goes away. I think with time we figure out how to deal but there will be times when we cry for a person or pet. Just remember it’s ok. there is no one way to grieve. When my cats died most people I know sucked and when my Dad died people actually pissed me off more than anything. Just do whatever is best for you and don’t worry about what others think.

    Liked by 1 person

      • That’s just wrong. That gets me so angry. To be honest I wanna tell people who say that to go F themselves. We’re the ones in pain and they are being jerks. Many hugs.

        What I ended up doing was avoiding my friends for a long time . When I’m in a mood it’s better for me to be alone. I had a few friends I’d text that said the right things to tide me over. Just do whats best for you. Ignore them. I wish I could do more to help you. A pet and person even when they aren’t here will always be with us. So there’s nothing wrong with missing them for our whole lives. If you have a really bad day, if you can take a time out day for yourself just spoil yourself. Even if it’s eating a carton ice cream (except if you’re diabetic find a non sugar alt.) but you get what I’m trying to say.

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  9. Your writing about grief is poignant. The next time I’m grieving for someone, I’m going to read this post. I’ll know you are electronically holding my hand. I’m holding yours now. I pray for peace and comfort as you continue through the mourning period.

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  10. This is such an accurate portrayal of grief. I always think of grief as the hollow spaces where something or someone is supposed to be. A thing I am not doing. A conversation I am not having. Something I’m not sharing. The awareness of the Not is so painful. Like a void that is trying had to collapse my world into it.

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  11. It is a tunnel!

    On the days when I had to put pets down or get through a memorial service, I would take a deep breath and remind myself, “No way out but through. No way out but through.”

    I thought I chanted in my head, but sometimes I got funny looks so maybe not.

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  12. You’ve said it so well – I am familiar with the feeling but couldn’t really express it this well even though it’s in my heart and head. It’s been close to 30 years since I lost my Dad and I still find myself bursting into tears at odd moments when something reminds me of him. My Mom was “gone” before she was gone thanks to Alzheimers and her leaving was every bit as hard but different and effected me that way as well. It’s a very dark tunnel isn’t it – – and all we can hope for is that there is REALLY a light at the end of it. It just takes us a while to get there sometimes. Thanks for posting this……for you AND for us….. very heartworthy. Hugs.

    Pam

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    • I lost my Dad when I was a child but I have vivid memories of him and can burst into tears. My Mom was ill for a while but not long, maybe 6 months. As I saw her fading, it somehow made it a little easier but not a lot. I always wish she was still here to counsel me (so I could ignore it!).

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  13. Grief is not linear ~ it comes and goes
    Like the tides, it ebbs and flows
    Rolling and roiling to and fro
    It recedes, then circles back again
    To crash on our shores

    As you say, it’s a journey, not a sprint. Keep breathing.

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