On a walk the other day, a goose stretched its long neck and released a territorial “hisssssss” in my direction. Numb from sadness, I thought, “Jake, is that you?” Then I thought, “nah, that goose is too old to be Jake; Jake died too recently,” then I thought, “well, I don’t understand the mechanics of time and space and reincarnation, so maybe it’s him,” and finally I thought, “wow, grief is powerful.”
Jake loved Polaroid cameras and sometimes we would take Polaroids together. I took this image with him about 15 years ago and I keep it on my desk.
Grief is the feeling we experience when anticipating and/or after experiencing a significant loss. We lost my brother Jake recently. Anyone who has lost someone close to them has experienced the pain of grief in their own unique way. Physical manifestations of grief can look like:
-Physical pain (chest pain, headaches, muscular pain, feelings of heaviness in the limbs)
-Issues with sleep are very common and create an impact on many other areas of our lives
-Challenges with self-care, like eating, hygiene, social connection, etc.
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One thing that has been helpful for me during this time of loss is to look at the experience of grief across species. This serves as a reminder that not only is grief a fundamental part of being human, but it’s a core experience for many other creatures on earth. While grieving can make us feel very alone, it’s an experience that unifies us (even though in the throes of grief, we may not feel that way).
Geese exhibit behavior consistent with grief if they lose their life partners, such as isolation and weight loss. Dogs and cats experience symptoms like agitation, wailing, and lethargy after the loss of a loved one. Elephants have been witnessed burying their dead. The list goes on, but these are just a few examples of how our own grieving processes are reflected in the world around us.
A bird Jake saved.
The pain can feel impossible to process at times – the waves of grief in some ways inversely mirror the contractions of labor. Instead of slowly building, getting stronger and stronger until life emerges, grief is a blow – a wave so strong at first that it doesn’t even seem like a wave. Then there are glimpses of the space in between, and gradually the glimpses of “normal” life get larger.
Just like birth, the absence of your loved one leaves your world forever changed.
Everyone has their own timeline for grief, and the pain of missing your loved one never goes away, we just adapt. The pain, while difficult, is a reminder of the depth of your love.
Jake and his cat, Gato.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, author of Wildly Wise: Trusting the Nature Within provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.