Grief is a Natural Process
Honouring Our Beloved Kona
by Cathy Nickel
Grief is a process that is unique to everyone. Culturally, our world deals with grief in many different ways. Some people will gather together and wail. Members of my Irish heritage in the past would hold a Wake or party for the deceased, often with the body present. Upon looking through a German family album I noted various photos of loved ones in their caskets. In Japan, altars in the family homes are common with daily offerings made to the deceased and photos of the dead nearby.
Members of the same family will deal with grief differently. Some will work harder than others to avoid thinking about their loss. Some will cry and not be able to eat. Others will eat and not want to be left alone and each of these expressions is within the norm. When my mother died in 1985 I actually laughed at the funeral, even giggled, as my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, slipped on the ice and almost fell into the open grave site. It was quite the contrast seeing others so sad and crying and my acting quite cheerful. Fortunately, I have studied grief and know these are all within the parameters. My grief initially was relief at no more suffering for my mother. The next year the tears came as I planned my wedding and realized my mother would not be there at that joyful time in my life. This was still my grief, it was just delayed, which is also quite a natural grief process.
I work with many people who are grieving and assist them through this process. My own experiences with grief have been helpful in working with others. In cases of death by trauma, the symptoms of grief can be more extreme, as the brain tries to make sense of a non-natural death. Ground-breaking work by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has shown us that grief is a natural process. Her model is a blueprint; but we now know that there are individual differences in going through this grieving process.
Grief is not limited to death; it can be any loss. For example, the loss of a farm, a divorce, or even a friendship. I liken grief to the waves of the ocean—some days it is calm, other days the waves are high and unexpected. On a trip to Mexico a year ago the ocean surprised us and almost took our oldest child. Grief at times is like that—strong, unexpected, and painful. Others say time heals. I have found that grief can still be strong after a number of years. Others say grief is like an onion, you work through layers. You may have worked through some strong emotions only to find more layers later.
Some triggers to grief are: seasons, holidays, foods, songs, locations, seeing a look-alike, and seeing someone that has what you lost. Once I wrote a cheque for groceries and felt awful afterward. It took me a few hours to make the connection that in writing the date on the cheque my subconscious had realized it was the anniversary of the death of a loved one.
Some people try to numb their pain with alcohol or drugs. This is only a temporary solution as the grief is still underlying, to be processed. Most people have friends that will support them through this process. Some friends do not know how to help. Especially in the case of a suicide. Many will not know how to approach the loved ones, and avoidance of the death can be hard. This may be a time where a professional may be of help. Sometimes support groups can also help. Many of us will grieve in our own style and way. The person with outright tears may be more obvious, others will grieve without tears.
What motivated me to write about grief is the recent death of our family dog, Kona, a yellow Lab of 13-1/2 years. She was our first child, so to speak, after infertility. Our first-born human child joined us within the year. Our second child was born 3 years later so both daughters always knew Kona as a brother and best friend. Last year our neighbour’s one year old rode Kona (with adult support) like a big horse as my own children had done at that age. Friends that feared other dogs trusted Kona and often remarked on what a wonderful dog he was. He was a bird-hunting companion and so loved by my husband that on one trip when Kona went through the ice he risked his own life to save him.
Kona died November 27, 2008. All of us dealt with and are dealing with this differently. We have the knowledge that he had lived a good life (94-ish in people years). The loss was still great. We are fortunate that last summer we adopted a new pup named Duke and though he probably made Kona’s last year more exciting, it likely wore on the old boy. Duke would often pounce in fun attack when this probably took a toll on Kona’s hips. Duke’s noise, the jingling of his collar, and his looking so much like a younger Kona is a comfort. Unconditional love of pets may have some of us feeling more loss for a pet than the loss of a conditionally loving human.
As I speak of the help of a new pup in our healing I am compelled to remind readers that when a person loses a loved one caution is needed in trying to move too soon into a new relationship, as human relationships are more complex than our relationships with pets.
Cathy Nickel, BA (Adv) Psychology, is a counsellor, consultant, and Reiki Master, with 23 years experience as an individual, family, and group counsellor, a group facilitator, lecturer, and trainer. She is trained in Advanced Reality Therapy and The Canadian Counselling Association has approved her use of Reiki within her counselling practice. She also teaches Usui Reiki. Cathy lives and works in Saskatoon. To contact her call (306) 230-0547 or 931-2543, and also see the Directory of Services ad under Counselling and Therapies on page 28 of the 15.2 July/August
issue of the WHOLifE Journal.