We recently lost our family dog from illness. He was old but his death was unexpected and sudden. I was not ready. It seemed as though he was OK one day, and then it was time for him to go. We had him for almost 14 years, and he was truly a part of the family. His sudden death got me thinking about illness and loss on a bigger level. When a loved one gets sick or dies, the mix of emotions can be overwhelming and scary—especially when things happen unexpectedly. We no longer feel in control of our environment, which can cause anxiety and stress.
How You Might Feel When Illness or Loss Occurs
- Anxious because of the uncertainty
- Frustrated about loss of control
- Anger because the loss or illness takes precedence over your life/schedule
- Selfish for wanting things the way they were
- Guilt or shame because of your feelings
- Scared about the future
- Pain and sorrow for the life lost
- Alone in your grief
Avoiding The Pain
When my dog first showed signs of illness and things were not looking hopeful I had trouble sitting with that pain. I found things to do that took me out of my head. I went to the store; I cleaned and straightened—anything to distract myself from the overwhelming, uncomfortable mix of feelings. Although I knew my dog was not getting better, it was hard to accept that he would die.
Lean In To Your Emotions
As I was working so hard to avoid the uncomfortable, I realized that the feelings were not going anywhere and that maybe I would feel better if I paid mindful attention to them. As crazy as that sounds, research has shown that leaning in to our emotions or feelings can actually relieve some of the anxiety and stress that they generate.
Let Go And Be In The Moment
You can find many ways to get in touch with how you are feeling. I like to sit in a quiet place and meditate on the feelings that arise. With meditation, you can acknowledge the difficult emotions without holding on to them or allowing them to define you. Meditation allowed me to acknowledge my mix of emotions and process the fact that our dog’s time was over.
Some Other Ways To Be With Your Feelings
- Ground yourself with mindfulness. If your thoughts are going a mile a minute, you can practice grounding techniques to bring you back to the here and now.
- Connect with others about your experience. Talk about what you’re going through with family, friends, support groups, counseling
- Practice self-compassion. Grief and loss can bring up a lot of stuff, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Read more about self-compassion HERE.
- Acknowledge the Struggle. Reminding yourself that, “We all struggle, I am struggling right now, and illness and loss are really hard,” can help you feel less isolated.
Remember, feelings aren’t good or bad, and they don’t define who we are. They're just feelings.
What If You Can’t Get In Touch With Your Feelings?
For some people, identifying or getting in touch with your feelings is very hard to do. Being numb, or being disconnected from your feelings is not uncommon, especially if you have experienced trauma or childhood emotional neglect (CEN). If you have a lot of trouble naming your feelings you might need assistance to access, name and experience them. If you would like help with this process please contact me.