Grief and Loss

Very recently I lost a very dear friend. His name was Willy. He was a horse.

His death came suddenly one bitterly cold winter evening. An examination determined that he was suffering from a condition fairly common to horses; a condition that is incredibly painful and very often fatal.  There was nothing that could be done for him except to end his suffering. Surrounded by friends who loved him, there was barely enough time to say goodbye, and he was gone. 

I was stunned. Shocked. Overwhelmed with sadness and such a profound sense of loss I could barely breathe. In the days and weeks that followed I was rocked with moments and hours of everything from disbelief, rage and profound sadness. Some days I could calmly accept that he was gone and others the mere mention of his name would reduce me to tears at the most inconvenient times and places.  Classic phases of grief I would tell myself.  But grief takes time and I was suffering, and I so longed to ease or end my suffering. How could I not? Grief is horrifically painful.

I am not a stranger to grief. Both personally and professionally I have grappled with the pain of loss over and over again. Each loss brings new suffering and a unique journey to find peace.  But how do we find it?

Time and patience are amazing healers in many cases, but they don’t ease the suffering in the initial aftermath of the loss of a loved one. Friends and family can make a huge difference. In my case cards, letters, text messages, flowers, personal condolences and hugs from those around me immediately following his death were an amazing gift. What compassion I received. I’ll never forget it. I was not alone.

But eventually the cards and letters stopped, as they should. The pain for me was not over, but as with everything, life goes on. Fortunately I am not alone. Friends and family are still there if I reach out. But I also have another source of solace, and that is in my own self-compassion. It is a gift I can and do give myself.

Self-compassion is readily available to all of us, if we allow ourselves to give and receive it. It is simply the conscious effort to hold the experience of suffering with kindness and gentleness, with the intention that it may ease the suffering. With self-compassion there is no self-criticism, no judgement. There is only acceptance for whatever we are feeling wherever/whenever we are feeling it. It is perfectly natural. And like every other human being, all of us really do deserve to feel better.

In order to use this precious gift, however, we must first simply acknowledge our suffering. Take note of our pain. Where do we feel it our bodies? How does it feel? Be curious. Pay attention. Mine felt like a crushing weight on my chest and an ache in the pit of my stomach. Even the muscles in my arms and shoulders ached. And my head ached, pulsing with a constant flow of memories and even regrets.

Then we must learn to not turn away from it, not to distract ourselves or find something to keep ourselves busy. Not to ignore it. That is not so easy. It is my basic go-to coping strategy to keep busy. I really struggled with this. But we must simply feel.  Allow. Tolerate. Breathe with it…. again and again. It will ease. It does ease.

Self-compassion also means comforting ourselves—self-soothing if you will. That means softening that critical voice we may hear inside ourselves. It means offering words of kindness and support instead- just as we might if comforting a friend. “Of course you are suffering. Anyone would be. You lost your friend. What do you need right now?” Maybe we need to wrap ourselves in a warm embrace, or hold our own hand, or place our hands over our hearts, letting the warmth of our own touch provide comfort. It’s amazing how much a small gesture like this can provide.

 If we can accept that this grief, this suffering is just another part of the human experience, one that will not defeat us, we can survive. And perhaps we can also find that silver lining. In my case, I was able to see that the deep pain I felt was because I had loved Willy so much and because of the incredibly deep bond that we shared. I wouldn’t have missed that for anything in the world. It is said that we cannot truly know happiness without also knowing suffering. And I was and am truly happy in the company of my friend and with his memories.

Very recently I lost a very dear friend. His name was Willy. He was an amazing horse! He was big and strong, had a great sense of humour, and loved me unconditionally. He carried me everywhere I wanted to go…. in more ways than one. He taught me so much, about horses and riding, about life, and most importantly about me. And he truly brought out the best that was in me. Thank you Willy!

I must add that it still hurts. I will always love and miss him. But I am okay.

Trudy Kergon

About Trudy Kergon

Trudy has been a practicing Registered Clinical Social Worker in Thunder Bay since 1988. "I am always inspired by human resiliency and the capacity we all have to grow and to thrive despite personal suffering and adversity." View full bio.