The word “should” is….tricky. I “should” workout 5 times a week. I “should” spend less time on my phone. I “should” be doing more. I “should” be feeling different than the way I am right now.
Most, if not every time I use the word should, it is coming from a place of fear or uncertainty. All of my “I should” statements are either based on unrealistic expectations of myself or stem from what I think those around me/society deems acceptable, normal, desirable, etc. I do my best to avoid using the word because I would much rather make statements that come from a place within myself. One that honors my truest desires and expresses my most authentic being. Feeling like my grief “should” look a certain way by no means aligns with my personal values or worldview. And yet, here I am, still having a hard time giving myself permission to say without any shame or hesitation that I grieve my hedgehog Barnabee and my dog Tessa more than I grieve my human family members who have passed away… Saying that, for whatever reason, feels embarrassing and just...wrong.
I do my best to avoid using the word because I would much rather make statements that come from a place within myself.
Grieving by Way of Empathy
My hedgehog Barnabee passed away just this past May. A few weeks later my grandpa, Papa, passed. A few short weeks after that, we had to put down our family dog, Tessa. Before this year, I had experienced the death of our dog Deke, my uncle Johnny, and my other grandpa, Moon.
When my uncle Johnny passed, it was unexpected. He died of a heart attack while snorkeling on vacation with my aunt. I love my uncle Johnny, but I didn’t have a close or personal relationship with him. I really only saw him a few times a year at family gatherings…all of our interactions were lighthearted and silly. My grieving for him really came from a place of empathy for my cousins and my aunt. My cousins are around my age and I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose my dad so young.
My grandpa Moon had dementia for a long time before he passed, so by the time I was old enough to have more in depth conversations with him, he was no longer able. I still have funny memories of him though. One time at our family Christmas party I was standing with my aunt Lori and Moon straight up asked me why my boobs weren’t as big as hers! I told him “This is just the way my body is” and he goes “Oh I’m sorry, I still love you anyways.” (“Thanks Moon, I really appreciate that”). I remember my aunt trying several times to change the subject from our boobs to literally anything else, but he always found his way back to the subject. We couldn’t NOT laugh. Later on, Moon wasn’t able to hold any conversation (even about boobs), he only spoke gibberish.
I know my grandma Shirley, my dad, and his siblings grieved the Moon they knew a lot before his passing. I really know who Moon was through my closeness with Shirley and my dad and by going through old pictures (which I LOVE). He was a pediatrician, a goofball, an animal lover, a golfer, a world traveler, a poet, and I am extremely grateful that I got to witness the love he and my grandma share. A lot of my grieving for Moon, like with my uncle Johnny, came from a place of empathy for my dad and Shirley. I love them both more than I can express and I know that they both share a deep connection with Moon.
By the time Papa passed this June, he had been sick and bed ridden for over a year. My grandma, Nellie, was his caretaker and her whole life was consumed by caring for him. Papa and I did not have much of a relationship. He and Nellie lived in Louisiana for most of my life so I would only see him once or twice a year. He mostly just smoked and watched tv…just kind of a negative grumpy dude. Although, I will say he could play the piano like it was nobody’s business! I really did enjoy watching the way his fingers moved on the keys with a little slide back motion...it was second nature to him.
My perspective on Papa is mostly shaped by conversations I’ve had about him with my mom and Nellie. He and Nellie lost a child when she was only 8 years old (my mom was 6 at the time). I know that he was never the same after that. It sounds so terrible to say it, but I don’t know that I grieve Papa much at all. I really just think about Nellie and mom. Although their relationship was nothing close to “perfect,” Papa’s death has hit Nellie really hard and that is what gets me the most.
Saying Goodbye to My Baby Barnabee
When Barnabee got sick, it really scared me. It happened suddenly and I had never seen him like that before. I went out of town for two days and when I got back home, my friend who was caring for Barnabee said he hadn’t eaten at all since I had left. I also noticed he hadn’t used the restroom or played on his wheel either which obviously wasn't normal. Before I left, he had been acting totally fine. When I got him out of his bed I could tell his skin had a greenish tint to it…It’s difficult to think about and write about for me still. The image of him in my head is too vivid and just really hurts my heart because he was so visibly unwell.
The next morning before taking him to the vet he was just sitting facing a corner of his cage he didn’t usually sit in. When he did get up to move, I saw him struggling to walk up the ramp in his cage that he ran across every day. I gave him some food and water outside his cage and just held him and pet his sweet face for a while. It was clear he had very little energy. After an exam and bloodwork at the vet, they told me that we could try several treatments, but there was a very slim chance he would make it back to health. He was clearly suffering and there was really no option for me but to put him down. Because of COVID I was unable to go into the vet with Barnabee initially, but after the decision was made they let me have some time with him to say goodbye.
He was still limp from the anestesia and I could tell by his eyes that he wasn’t really there. I sat with him in my hands by my chest for a long time and stayed in the room when she gave him the shot. It was and still is so hard to think about my baby like that…
I chose to do a home burial because I didn’t have the money for cremation. After leaving the vet I went to my friend Sam’s house. I can never thank Sam enough for being there for me. We went in her backyard and she dug the hole. I wanted to help her, but my whole body felt weak and I was breaking into tears every other moment….Even though it was one of the hardest days of my life, I just wanted to lean into all that was happening. I wanted to really be there and know for myself just how much this had to be a part of life too. I didn’t try blocking out any pain or any beauty that day… It was hot out, Sam was in her blue dress, I could feel my heartbeat through my whole body, my hands felt almost numb, Barnabee was wrapped in his favorite t-shirt in my lap, birds were still singing. It hurt so much to look at Barnabee’s body. He was contorted from the shots and looked nothing like himself. I miss him all the time.
Even though it was one of the hardest days of my life, I just wanted to lean into all that was happening. I wanted to really be there and know for myself just how much this had to be a part of life too.
I am forever grateful for Sam for so many reasons, but I am especially grateful to have a friend who is willing to be fully present and vulnerable with me in any given moment. Sam doesn’t shy away from life’s magic or difficulties and I don’t know what I would have done without her that day. Barnabee was my first baby who was solely mine and he was the sweetest and strangest creature. I feel lucky that I got to care for him as long as I did…he did for me what pets do for a lot of us: he always brought me into the present moment.
Saying Goodbye to Our Baby Wheneh
Tessie (or as my sisters and I call her, Wheneh..she honestly had like 50 nicknames) was a part of our family for more than half my life. She was a sweet and sassy baby and she made me laugh all the time. She knew when she was gettin into something she wasn’t supposed to and would look you straight in the face then run off as she committed her crimes too! She always wanted to be laying close by…she didn’t care if you were on the toilet, she wanted to be there (lol). I always loved coming home to her because she would get all excited and shake her body around in the cutest way. Tessie lived a beautiful long life. She loved and was loved by all!
Saying bye to Tess was difficult for the both of us, but after going through it with Barnabee, I was more able to comfort my mom.
When my mom knew it was finally her time, Tess had had cancer for about a year. My mom had decided she was going to take Tessie to the vet on her own, but I wanted to come home to say bye to Tessa first. The morning of her appointment, my mom’s car got a flat so I ended up driving us. I really do believe that there is no such thing as coincidence and I know that it was meant to be that I got to be there for my mom that day. Tessa was all of our babies, but mostly she was my mom’s baby. Saying bye to Tess was difficult for the both of us, but after going through it with Barnabee, I was more able to comfort my mom. She and I are both really grateful that she didn’t have to do that alone.
Allowing Myself to Be and Feel Exactly What I Am, and Giving Others a Space to Do the Same
I think about Barnabee and Tessa all the time. My love for and connection to them is just as real and valid as the love I share with my human friends and family. I know not everyone will understand how losing a pet can be just as painful as losing a family member or a dear friend, and that is ok. Not everyone gets the opportunity to share a special bond with an animal and I feel so unbelievably lucky to have had that experience with both Barnabee and Tessa. They show up in my dreams all the time and even leave me little signs here and there to comfort me. I will no longer allow myself to think I “should” grieve or miss them any less than I do.
At this point in my life, I really would just like to remove the phrase “I should” from my vocabulary all together! I prefer an “I am” or an “I will,” or even an “I want.” And every word following those statements will come from a place that is truly me, wherever I am at, in any given moment. When my words and actions reflect my untainted, deep rooted, inner self, they are so much more powerful, meaningful, and fulfilling. They acknowledge and honor my experience and allow me to know all that this life is.
I never thought that I would work in the death-care industry, but I am so thankful to be here at Eterneva and to have the opportunity to give others the space to fully embrace and express all that they are going through and to know that it doesn’t have to look or feel any certain way. That they can honor their loved ones and themselves by being exactly who they are, whatever that may be.
There is no one way to do anything, especially grieve.
There is no one way to do anything, especially grieve. Everyone’s life and experiences with loss look different…and ya know what? THEY SHOULD. So I guess that’s the only time that word is ok…