Being sad is exhausting…
One month ago, I left my kitchen door open so my cats could go in and out, as I usually do in the evening. What I forgot to do was keep an eye on our 10 month old pup, Milo. I could have put him in his crate, but I hated putting him in there and usually, I just made sure he was with us until the cats had their time and we closed the door again. I was emotionally overwhelmed that night by a lot of things going on for me, and a lot of tugs on me from friends and family members. I wasn’t on my game as I usually am. The result was that a hour later, we found our dog’s body by the side of the road; he’d been hit by a vehicle.
So this month has been extremely difficult. I have been dealing with a lot of heavy guilt, on top of generally missing my happy little buddy. I have had to watch Todd’s sadness at missing his companion, and knowing that it was my fault we are both experiencing this loss.
Things have been rocky with Todd and me for a while, but we had been in a really good reconnecting phase. This experience with Milo could have gone one of two ways:
- Destruction: Todd could blame me for Milo’s death and could let resentment and anger build up to punish me for my mistake. He could turn to his unhealthy emotional coping mechanisms which would drive us further apart. I could wrap myself up in the guilt of causing Milo’s death and allow myself to fall into a deep, dangerous depression – something I have been inclined to do in the past.
- Connection: We could grieve together and encourage each other to understand that it was a terrible mistake. He could decide not to punish me and I could decide not to punish myself. We could choose healthy coping strategies. We could choose to honor Milo’s time with us, and all the joy he brought to us, by thinking about all the things we could have done better and then do the work to be better.
Thankfully, we have been able to move forward through this painful loss with connection. We have been digging deep into all the emotions and thoughts that this has brought to the surface. We are healing ourselves and with each other. It easily could have gone the other way. The choice to connect rather than destruct was exactly that; a choice.
I also wrote an open letter to the driver of the vehicle, which I posted on social media and which got hundreds of lovely, heartfelt responses. When Todd went back to the site the following day, he saw that Milo’s body had been moved off the road and there were hand prints in the dirt next to where he had found the body. This showed us that the person who hit him had felt responsible. They stopped, moved his body, and even leaned over him in a position of care. We knew then that if Milo had any last moments, he was not alone, and that was a big comfort to us.
So we hoped to reach the driver in some way and let them know that we didn’t blame them. It was a dark night and Milo is a black dog. He likely ran quickly into the highway chasing a rabbit. There is no way the driver could have seen him. Interestingly, it was much easier for me to forgive the driver than it has been to forgive myself for leaving the door open. That’s the work I have to do.
As I keep being challenged by life, what I continue to see is that health and happiness really does start with a conscious decision to be healthy and happy. It’s not as “simple” as that but it is absolutely the first critical step. We certainly let ourselves morn and that first week was nearly constant crying and talking. But as we cried and talked, we continued to steer ourselves, and each other, to the side of connection.
Two days ago, we brought his ashes home. We cried. We held him. We thanked him for showing us what pure light and love is. We thanked him for making us laugh. We thanked him for teaching us joy. He was purely good; never aggressive, loved people and other animals, and only barked at the vacuum cleaner. I miss him deeply and I’m honored that we had him, even for a short time.
I used to believe that everything happens for a reason. That line of thinking, however, assumes that Milo was destined to die that night and that it happened for a reason that I have to try to decipher. I don’t think that’s true anymore. What I think now is that terrible things often happen for no reason; it’s just a mistake. But we can choose to derive meaning from the results of what has happened. We can also choose to not let these things affect us at all.
Todd and I have chosen to let Milo’s passing affect us in some very profound and healthy ways. It hasn’t been easy at all and it’s taken me longer to write this than usual because I’ve cried through the whole thing. But that sweet puppy gave us unconditional love and joy, so we will continue to keep his spirit alive by modeling that same unconditional love and joy for ourselves and for each other. It’s a choice and it feels much better than the alternative.