The hollow empty feeling in the middle of the chest, the lump in the throat and of course the occasional gasping sobs. These are the signs of grief that I counsel other people about day-in and day-out. And to confess the truth, I had probably become habituated and numbed over the years so that I don’t feel terrible pain when I work with others. Perhaps it’s like the medical examiner who can perform an autopsy with one hand while eating his lunch with the other. But it’s interesting that I can still feel ripped apart and laid open when conditions are right. That’s how I felt 4 days ago when I held my little dog while putting him down.
My strong feelings show how much I made this little animal my child. It’s apparent to me that my emotions are rooted in some pretty powerful dynamics: Helen and I struggled in vain to have our own biological child many years ago. Our two children (both adopted by me) are now grown. I think I have relished Helen’s nurturing of “our baby boy” and I think little Danny was a surrogate for some powerful needs we both still feel. I know that rubbing Danny’s bare belly, feeling him snuggle into me at night and feeling his muzzle on my neck all somehow nurtured my own small self parts that resonated to his joy. It’s interesting how we make our own virtual worlds of meaning. This little animal was smaller than a Thanksgiving turkey yet I projected so much meaning into him by nuturing and protecting him. His death devastated me.
It’s four days later and the pain has declined significantly. I remind myself about what he was and what he wasn’t. He was my cute little affectionate dog but I made him my child. He really wasn’t a child but I made him into one in my mind.
I find myself wanting even more physical contact with Helen as my need for touch and warmth redirects. Helen and I share our memories, our sadness. Someday we’ll get a new puppy but not now. We don’t want to deny the loss and leave splinters of dissociated pain in our minds. We’re both coming more into the present. The empty hole in the chest and the lump in the throat have gone away. Life continues. Bryce (1/31/2010)