The following was originally posted by PW blogger Kelly Cawcutt, MD, to her personal blog site, paragonfire.com.
It has been 8 days, yet my heart still aches. I still find myself unexpectedly tearful and lost in the past. My daughter continues to ask me if Griffin, our miniature pinscher, is coming home.
Griffin was the epitome of a “fur baby.” Shortly after getting married, Michael and I brought a tiny, 2 pound puppy home. Despite his small size, those pawprints on our heart were mammoth. Over the last 14 years, he has figuratively, and literally, been at my side. Through medical school, residency, 2 fellowships, my first faculty position, a miscarriage and two complicated pregnancies, multiple new homes and all of the unmentioned trials and tribulations of life. My husband referred to him as my emotional barometer. If I was sick or unwell, sad, frustrated or anything but happy, Griffin knew. He would position himself physically against me and lay patiently, waiting for the storm to pass. Sometimes, Griffin felt the wind of the storm even before I did. He just knew.
That is only part of the reason his loss cuts so deeply.
We knew our days of playing fetch, going for family walks with him and his ever loving excitement of carrots and watermelon were limited. He had heart failure and in reality, any day could have been his last.
We expected a quiet loss. A death that slipped silently through the shadows of the night, only to be noticed with the dawn. We were not prepared for the traumatic tragedy. Nor for our children to bear witness to his death in a way that has left them grappling with the permanence of death, ethics, faith, grief and the forgiveness that surrounds such events.
The death of Griffin has brought profound grief to our hearts and home. However, an unexpected lesson in gratitude has changed us all.
The morning after his death, we sent our children back to school and daycare. We felt the distractions of the day would be far better than perseverating on the loss at home. Within an hour, there was an email from his school counselor. One recommendation struck me: each time you feel sad, allow yourself to be sad for 10 seconds. Then think of a happy memory.
Happy memories in the face of grief brought a fleeting moment of joy, then seemed to deepen the sadness. However, the idea of counteracting one emotion with another continually rolled through my mind. There was something there.
Then, I tried something else. Grief, then gratitude. I listed every reason I was grateful for the 14 years of life shared with Griffin. For the lessons our entire family learned about responsibility, unconditional love, kindness, and now loss. Intentional gratitude changes grief. It lessens the sting. It takes the sadness of loss, recognizes it and allows it to exist, yet it fades in the face of gratitude. It seems we cannot fully feel both, grief and gratitude, at the same time.
Now, I realize to many of you, the loss of a dog seems trivial in the face of many perceived greater losses. I empathize with you, but I hope you carry this idea with you.
Gratitude is powerful.
In the face of grief, anger or disappointment, I challenge you to allow yourself to feel that emotion. Then, take the same situation evoking that emotion and say “ I am grateful for…”
Today, as I opened the box containing the memorial stone for Griffin, I felt the wave of grief roll over me again. The loss of my little barometer who would know just how I felt at that moment, and would be there with never-ending love and patience. And then I was overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for teaching me yet another life lesson with his loss – Gratitude is a powerful ally. Some days, we all need an ally.