Following up with my doctor, I was trying to explain my month or so sojourn through an unnamed virus and two bouts of pneumonia. "I wasn't surprised when I got sick," I said. "The day before it started I'd put my 14 year old dog down."
And it was the truth. I'd been stressed for weeks, trying to honor my promise to her not to keep her here too long but not being able to let go of a dog who greeted me with a smile every morning. Grief can hit us, body and soul, like a sledgehammer so I was completely unsurprised to wake up the next morning with a fever and sore throat.
"Yes," he said in response. "We tell ourselves not to be too upset about such things but we just can't help it."
I tell you God's honest truth: I had to fight with all the self control I posses not to go all Julia Sugerbaker on him. In no way did I expect myself not to be upset, nor did I want to have a stiff upper lip. During a visit last Christmas my sister-in-law innocently inquired about Oakley's health and I burst into tears right there over breakfast, so not being upset when I finally said goodbye really wasn't an option on the table.
Nor should it be.
Over and over again I see people shaming themselves for grieving. "I shouldn't be so upset," they tell me as if they, too, have had a doctor tell them such nonsense.
The simple fact is that we grieve when we lose something that's connected to our hearts, but much of American culture defines acceptable grief in a more narrow way. You grieve when a member of your family dies (but don't grieve for too long.)
Grief runs much wider (and wilder) and deeper than that.
We grieve the loss of close friends. They may have been closer than our own family but when we get to the funeral home, no one sticks us in the line to receive condolences. It's hard to find places to express such deep and powerful grief for the people who were woven deeply into the fabric of our days.
We grieve the loss of work that made us feel alive. We grieve the loss of homes in which we raised our families. Or houses in which we first felt at home in our own skins and freed to live our own lives.
We grieve the loss of marriages, especially when divorce unexpectedly comes around the corner fast and knocks our legs out from under us. We grieve the loss of identity and the security of the known.
We grieve the loss of what we once believed with such ease as we wander into the wilderness - a wilderness not of faithlessness but of the most faithful sort of questioning. We grieve when the congregation whose people we love no longer represents a God whom we can serve and we must leave beloved community in search of the gospel Word that calls us beloved.
And yes, we grieve when we say goodbye to our animal companions, whether their lives with us have been short or long.
If you've had a loss, let yourself be upset even if those around you would shame you for such feelings. Let yourself be sad or angry or numb or relieved, even if those feelings come all at once.
If people in your life have suffered losses that have meaning to them, do not presume to tell them what they must feel. Instead, create a space kind enough for them to tell you how they really feel. And if you cannot do that, a simple acknowledgement of their loss goes a long way. (I was deeply touched by the number of friends who took the time to send me a card when my dog died.)
Honoring our losses is the necessary first step in healing them.
Midlife brings with it both loss and opportunity, but much of the conversation about it focuses only on crisis. It can be a time of great growth and transformation. In the Good Life at Midlife, you can find support for that journey. If you're a woman in midlife (roughly age 45-65), join us in the Good Life at Midlife membership. You can find out more here.