What My Dog Taught Me about Resiliency
Brandi was a good dog. Nope, Brandi wasn’t a good dog; she was a great dog. The kind of dog that would put her head on your lap when you were working at the computer. That would immediately snuggle up to you if you laid on the floor. That took any bit of food so gently from your hand you wondered if she even wanted it. That would meet you at the door with a stuffed toy in her mouth as if offering you a present. She was a sweetheart. No matter what, always a sweetheart.
At 12, a Golden Retriever is pretty old. And she’d been slowing down – getting up more slowly, slipping on the stairs. And recently, having bad seizures. Really bad seizures. Foaming at the mouth; loss of control of her bladder; stumbling and confusion for quite some time after. It was heartbreaking. Then she had two very close together. After that, she had jerky movements throughout the day. Her legs would collapse from under her. She seemed confused and scared. The vet thought it was probably a brain tumor. Brandi would look up at me with those big brown eyes that seemed to say, “Mom, make it stop.”
It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I had to take her to the vet and end her suffering. It’s awful enough to hold a beloved pet when they pass; it’s another thing to know you made the decision to end it. The worst moment was walking out the door of the vet’s without her. Knowing she’d never follow me again. The grief and guilt overwhelmed me.
So why am I telling you this sad story? Because you will have your own sad story. If you live and love anything on this planet, you may lose it someday. A loved one who passes, a home destroyed by flooding, a relationship you didn’t want to end. It’s just part of the deal. And I want to help you get through it. When I left the vet’s, I had to drive five hours for a speech the next morning. I had to pull it together just like you may have to. I didn’t have the luxury of curling up with a stuffed unicorn, I had commitments to honor. So here are some ideas for resiliency:
1.) Move. Work your plan. I had to gas up the car and get on the road. That helped me from going home and having a pity party. Keep doing what needs to be done – whatever that is. Even if it’s just brushing your teeth. Keep taking action.
2.) Remind yourself that guilt and regret are wasted emotions. I can feel guilty as much as I want, it’s not going to change anything. I know I did what I thought was best for Brandi, now I have to let it go. I can make myself sick over all the times I was upset with her or I can tell myself I can’t change that. I can do better going forward, but I can’t change the past. Learn from those emotions and then let them go. If you start feeling them again, remind yourself. These emotions don’t change anything – but your actions can.
3.) Distract yourself. I knew I had to pull it together and could not spend the 5-hour drive weeping. So, while driving, I listened to an audio book I was halfway through. It didn’t work 100%, but it helped. Don’t allow yourself the luxury of wallowing.
4.) Exercise mental discipline. The top cause of depression is rumination – pulling the scab off, replaying your pain over and over again. That’s what I was doing for a while – replaying Brandi’s last moments, having a good cry, feeling sorry for myself. No! Stop! Don’t think about the jerk who left you and replay all your most romantic times! When you find yourself doing this – toughen up! I told myself I would grieve later, that I had work to focus on, and I did. Mental discipline gets easier every time you exercise it. You have more control over what you think about than you realize. I’m not saying to never feel pain or grief. I’m saying there will be times when you must put them aside and focus. The American Psychological Association defines mental resiliency as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.” When the going gets tough, the mentally tough have techniques to keep going. Retreating into your pain is not an option. Your pain is not some sort of gift to the departed. Treat what you love well now when it really matters.
5.) Reach out. It was comforting to talk with my boyfriend and get reassurance that we made the right decision. And to talk about our beloved girl. When you’re ready, reach out to those who care about you. Our neighbors who knew Brandi (and have an older dog of their own) have been a huge comfort.
6.) Sleep. Luckily my speech wasn’t until later the following day. Once I got to sleep, I was able to sleep in. Pain is exhausting and it’s harder to control your emotions when you’re exhausted. Remember, feelings don’t change anything. I can feel as bad as I want, but that won’t bring Brandi back. But I can write this article and use her passing to help others. Isn’t that a better way to honor her? It’s my version of bringing you a stuffed toy.