DoveLewis Technician Training Specialist Jessica Waters-Miller, CVT, shares her expeirence with grief, and the journey to finding resilience.
I remember thinking a few months ago, when I was in the darkest times of my grief, that I would not have considered myself resilient over the past year-year and a half. I felt guilty about not being a more resilient person and taking longer to accomplish simple tasks. I was struggling to keep myself focused and composed, both at work and at home.
In early October of 2020, I had to say goodbye to my soul mate dog, Josie. Losing Josie has been one of the most challenging things I have experienced. I have known grief before, but I now understand how completely crushing it is to lose your heart dog (or cat).
For me, the denial, shock, and zombie-like state of my mind lasted a few months. As many of you know, grief can be very lonely and alienating, and I kept thinking she would be home or that this was not real. I was angry with myself for not doing more or for not doing things differently; angry with myself for not being able to think more clearly and know the things that I thought I should have known. I began to doubt myself at times and whether I would be able to continue my career in veterinary medicine, as I would often go home distraught. I spent so much time and energy trying not to think about her, being upset, fighting racing thoughts, and feeling guilty for not being able to just put on a face or leave it at the door. And I felt ashamed of how I was feeling. While I was fortunate enough to have been able to bring Josie to work with me for the last seven years, her constant presence in the hospital also means she was associated with every aspect of the hospital for me.
When I finally started recognizing and allowing myself to feel the pain and anguish, it was exhausting and depleting, and I knew I needed to reach out to someone. So, I reached out to Debrah Lee, LCSW our Veterinary Wellbeing Director; talking to someone who understands what I was going through and who assured me that the struggles I was experiencing were normal, helped get me out of my own head. She gave me the tools that I needed to start navigating and handle this grief. First was taking some time to allow myself to really feel everything. She offered many options others have tried but also told me that it was okay if some did not work for me. Things such as designating time every day to allow myself to think and feel, this way the feelings I was experiencing might not sneak up on me as much. At first, this did not work much for me but as time has gone on, I am able to control my thoughts a little more. Trying to be kind to myself was the hardest part. Allowing myself to recognize that this was a new life I had to learn to navigate, was helpful. Sometimes it was the way she phrased things that helped me swallow what I was feeling and going through. She offered ideas on how some people keep mementos in a particular place, that way you pull them out when you are ready to look at them. I wanted to keep Josie present around me and did that by corralling her items into one place in our living room. Finding a random item in a cabinet was too much for me. Hearing a few times that everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time, helped me relax a little. A few months ago, I started speaking to other individuals who were also grieving. It felt good to be able to be there for others and to help someone else not feel so lonely. I started to regain some energy and become more productive.
Almost a year later, I am slowly starting to feel like I am not a total zombie. A few weeks ago, I found myself wanting to hold a patient similar to Josie as they passed, and I cried for them and their owner but also for Josie. I cherished that moment and the ability to help make them comfortable. Allowing myself to embrace what made me feel vulnerable was therapeutic in a strange way.
I am still taking it day by day. I think resiliency can take time to build. I accept that there will be days that I am unable to put my finger on why I am thinking and missing her more, and I am still learning to accept that. Every day I am working on becoming more resilient.