Another long delay, another two weeks since I last published a blog and probably another late night on the cards as I try to write something meaningful.
Although I have been pretty busy life-wise, and getting back involved with things that I’ve been avoiding for a few months, I think there might be more to it than that. I’ve still got so much to say and so many stories to share, so it isn’t that I’ve run out of content.
Typical Heather style, I’ve spent time inwardly pondering and analysing, and trying to work out how I feel, what I am doing (or not doing) and most importantly, whether or not I can put my finger why.
Yesterday something hit me and a firm thought clicked into place. The thought is still there today so having applied the “sleep on it” rule I’m now running with it.
The trigger yesterday was completely unexpected, and completely innocent, but it took my breath away.
Bearing in mind I am looking through photos every day, sharing one of my “Remember a Day Every Day” memories and interacting with my new social media buddies (I’m up to day 97, and have 292 followers on Instagram now), Milly is still never ever far from my mind.
Yesterday morning we had a team meeting, via video conference, with some of our colleagues in India. Since we last met there have been some new joiners to the team, so we spent of the first part on the session doing a “get to know”. We follow a great format, derived from one of the company’s branded campaigns, that shares a series of snippets such as childhood ambition, proudest moment, favourite movie.. you get the gist. I did my own intro last year (a photo edition!) that unsurprisingly heavily featured my canine sidekick. Well yesterday it was someone else’s fondest memory that knocked me sideways… “the way my dog used to greet me when I used to reach home. As if I am the most fantastic person on this whole earth”. I confess I didn’t even hear the second sentence at the time (had to re-read it!) because just the word DOG took the wind out of me. My breath got caught and tears stung the back of my eyes, which didn’t go unnoticed to one colleague in the room even though I was sitting behind everyone else.
I tried my best to concentrate for the rest of the meeting, but I was relieved to get out of the room seek some quiet solace to gather my thoughts.
So hard to make sense of this, but I can’t really put my finger on exactly what the emotion is.. yes I feel sad. Sad that she isn’t here anymore. Sad that I won’t see her again in this life. Sad that she went so suddenly and so quickly. But “sad” doesn’t reduce you to tears in a team meeting…
What I feel is just INTENSE. Overpowering emotion that makes my throat constrict
Day to day I’m not feeling this way. Day to day I function normally, I am engaged, I am enjoying things, I am connected with people, I am caring for people. I’d go as far as to say I’m happy. I’m certainly not “unhappy”. But – quoting something I managed to pose to another colleague a few weeks ago – just because you are grieving it doesn’t mean you can’t be happy in a moment, and just because you are happy and ok in a moment it doesn’t mean you aren’t grieving and aren’t missing someone.
It’s now been over 5 months since that awful day, since my life changed forever.
I knew it was only a matter of time before I returned to some normal function. I knew I would become interested in things again, and find some focus for work and other things that have always been so important in my life alongside Milly. Being frank, losing her was a massive blow to my mental health. A huge wave that rocked the boat, threw me into feeling anxious and overwhelmed, demotivated and low. Sad – of course – but sad is a pretty simple emotion, and what I felt was so much more complex than that. Thankfully, for my sake and everyone else’s around me, I’ve ridden it out and managed to find a mostly even keel without totally letting anything disastrous happen whilst I’ve had my eye off the ball.
What I was also expecting, as well as feeling “normal” for more of the time and having less moments, was that the intensity of my emotion would lessen over time too.
Well – given yesterday’s incident – I think we can agree that that hasn’t happened yet.
The emotion hit me as brutally and as painfully as if it was still February.
My totally unqualified assessment of the situation is this:
Grief is a massive black cloud, and right at the centre is a huge rainstorm.
In the immediate aftermath, and in the early days of my grief, I was standing in the rain. I was soaked to the skin, and quite frankly couldn’t have cared less. I needed to be there. I needed to feel it. If someone asked me I told them that it was raining like I had never known. The intense rain clogged my thoughts, drowned my motivation, and made everything a bit of a struggle. But I needed to let it happen, to go through the process, and to feel whatever it was that I needed to feel.
Five months on I am no longer standing in the rain. I have good stuff around me, I have life and happy times ahead of me, and I am present again. The black cloud of grief is still there above me – it probably will never leave – but it isn’t negatively impacting my every day existence.
What I have now realised is that it is still raining torrentially in the centre of that cloud. I think the change in how I’ve been feeling over the past 6 weeks or so has tricked me into thinking it isn’t raining, or at least it isn’t raining as hard. But I’ve read that wrong. What has actually happened is just that I have stepped out of the centre of that cloud, and out of the rain.
I now know that the reason I’ve stayed dry is because I’ve been putting a huge amount of energy into staying out of the rain, but in reality I’m barely one step ahead and the rain can still catch me out at any moment, and when I least expect it to.
So to me, that explains why I got a metaphorical soaking yesterday.
Generally I like to understand and recognise things, so having drawn that conclusion yesterday I feel considerably better about crying at work (again).
Also – typically me – not satisfied with just that understanding, I’ve tried to work out why I haven’t done some other things and why I haven’t been blogging as much.
Scared of how strong my emotions still are and scared that if I take my focus away from staying busy, and staying “dry”, I’ll slip backwards.
Some of the things I want to do – such a writing to the specialist behavioural Vet and the RSPCA – I have delayed and delayed because doing that will feel very final and even though I have accepted Milly has gone, I still don’t like the feeling of finality of telling some more key people, and I’m scared of how I will feel afterwards.
I’m also scared because the blog is a big part of my journey, part of my grieving and my healing, but only one is progressing well…the blog… and the healing doesn’t seem to be going at the same pace. I’m scared that I will run out of blog before I’m ready to move forward in the world without it.
I’m scared of being judged – and I know I shouldn’t care but I do. I think there is a genuine expectation that I should be “ok” by now. And – on a pretty superficial level – I am ok! I am probably more than ok.. I’m eating well, training hard, doing better at work, making plans, smiling again. Other than desperately needing a haircut (really weird Milly related thing that I can’t seem to overcome) I look ok now too. For a lot of weeks my grief was written all over my face.
So when people ask me how I am doing I say “good” – because most people are asking on a superficial level.
But somehow some people warrant more explanation than that. So how do I explain that day to day I am basically fine, but under the surface I really am not fine, and currently have no idea when I will be? I guess that is what this blog post is going to do.. and anyone who reads it might hopefully understand why I can laugh and smile and enjoy a movie, but if you ask me if I’m going to get another dog now I have to try very hard to ward off an anxiety attack.
So. I think there is a large chunk of fear that is holding back my writing, on top of channelling the majority of my energy into essential life functions and being “ok”.
Not going to lie, I feel a little bit vulnerable putting that lot out there in print. But I promised to be honest, and that is honestly where I am at right now. Plus if articulating how I feel helps one other person on the planet know that they are not alone in their feelings of grief, then it is worth exposing those very personal innermost thoughts.
I only intended to write a quick paragraph on myself and my current state before launching into another Milly story (which I think is why most of you are reading along). Sorry about that.
As it is getting late in the day I will close out with just a little bit of Milly, with a promise that the next major instalment of our journey will follow shortly.
Despite all of her challenges and anxieties outside, Milly was absolutely perfect in the house.
She didn’t bark at the postman or the dustman or when the telephone rang. If there was a knock at the door she would rush to it but only because she wanted to say hello to whoever was knocking. She didn’t jump up at visitors (apart from putting her paws up on invitation to hug my dad). She didn’t lick or slobber. She didn’t climb all over you or your guests on the sofa. She didn’t actually “beg” in a badly behaved way. She didn’t raid the bin. She didn’t eat the chocolates off the Christmas tree. She knew where her bedtime biscuits were – open packet on the dressing table – but never once helped herself. She didn’t chew, she didn’t steal, she didn’t hide stuff. She didn’t bite your ankles when you were trying to leave the house, or attack the hoover on cleaning day.
She was literally perfectly behaved and I totally took it for granted.
Milly has set an incredibly high benchmark with her impeccably polite behaviour. Although it feels unthinkable right now, I know that I may have to go through a very steep learning curve when another dog comes to live in our home!
I can count on three fingers the naughty things that Milly has done.
There was one occasion when I was sitting at the computer desk, munching bourbon creams. Throwback to my childhood but I still eat bourbons by 1. splitting them open 2. eating the first half of biscuit 3. eating the cream 4. eating the second half of the biscuit. If am having more than one (always!) then I will split them all open, eat all the first halves, then eat all the cream inners etc. On this one particular afternoon I was having four, and had successfully completed steps 1 and 2, lining up the half biscuits on the desk ready for step 3, when Matt called me outside. Thinking nothing of it, I went outside to give him a hand.
I returned to the desk a few minutes later and it took me a moment to remember that I had been eating biscuits! Where were they? Had I eaten them all? I was sure I hadn’t….? And then I turned to look at this innocent little face looking back at me. There was nothing about her that looked guilty, and knowing how good she was, I didn’t believe she had taken them. But then I saw the tiny specks of biscuit crumbs stuck to her little whiskers, and the game was up! I couldn’t help but laugh to be honest. It was too late to reprimand her – I hadn’t caught her in the act – and I have to take some of the blame because it really was just a temptation too far. Had it been the other way round I’m pretty sure I would’ve stolen some unattended bourbon creams, especially if someone had already snapped off the boring bits.
The second incident in the memory bank involved half tuna sandwich. it belonged to Sophie and was on a plate on the coffee table. She stepped outside for 30 seconds to take something off me over the fence and Milly gobbled up the lonely sanger. It was SO unlike her, and so out of character, I think we just laughed at her cuteness.
The only act that we caught her in, and so told her off for, was on Boxing Day 2009. After a massive roast dinner we retired to the front room to lounge in front of the fire. I came out into the kitchen to find Milly standing over the remains of the chicken, filling her little boots. It had been on the kitchen side awaiting further carving, and again had obviously been a temptation too far. Telling her off consisted of one single word. BED. Delivered calmly and sternly, but at normal volume and with a single finger pointing to her bed. The half eaten chicken was disposed of and, ignoring Milly, we quietly returned to the living room. A short while later I came out to find Milly laying in the dining room outside Sophie’s (closed) bedroom door. She was laying in a puddle of weewees. My heart literally breaks remembering this. I felt AWFUL. I knew I hadn’t shouted and ranted, and had disciplined her firmly but fairly, but to think that she was so distressed by it that she had an accident actually hurts my bones 😦
Other than that one chicken issue, I can put my hand on my heart and say that Milly was never in trouble. Although sometimes cheeky (bourbons and that tuna sandwich!) she was never naughty and so never needed to be told off. She was only ever “shut out” if we had to have the through doors open to ferry things in and out. When people came in I always used to ask if they were ok with dogs but merely out of politeness so they weren’t shocked by her presence on the other side of the door. All she wanted was to gently greet you with a sniff and hope for a scratch behind the ears in return. Even people who “don’t like dogs” loved Milly, because she was so gentle and sweet natured. She was never excluded or kept away.
Milly was part of our family but she was the heart of our family, and I can safely say that she was loved and cherished every single one of the three thousand and twenty nine days that she was in our lives.
because Milly… xxx