All our losses count by Rebecca Crichton, Seattle, Washington
There is a relatively unknown concept in the field of Grief I just discovered applies to me. It is called Disenfranchised Grief.
Disenfranchised Grief is when there is a loss – usually a death, but it could be another difficult event – and all the care, condolences and offers of help go to the ‘primary’ sufferer, who, of course, needs and deserves all the loving attention they get.
I thought of this earlier this week when I heard that my daughter had decided to put down Ginger, her beloved Chihuahua. At 15, Ginger had stayed relatively healthy and perky for most of her life. She had some heart issues and wasn’t seeing or hearing as well as she had, but she had earned Dowager status several years ago.
However, the past few months became increasingly challenging. She didn’t sleep well, had digestive troubles, and went into respiratory distress if she got cold or played too actively.
This past Monday, when Ginger was barely able to eat and couldn’t be comforted, Erika, a Hospice Social Worker, realized it was time to end her suffering.
The experience with the vet was kind, gentle, filled with love and grace. “She almost extended her paw to the tech,” Erika told me. “As if to say: ‘Let me out of here!’”
Erika posted her death on her Facebook account, complete with funny and loving photos of her sweet pet. She has gotten calls and notes, flowers and food from her many friends and co-workers who knew about Ginger either personally or professionally – she was a certified therapy dog who often comforted dying patients at Hospice House, curled up on laps of people who stroked her soft fur and felt her wordless sweetness.
Ginger lived with me for many months when Erika went to Morocco in the Peace Corps. She was the only animal I allowed to sleep in my bed where she was warm and cuddly and fun to wake up to. (Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I told myself that she didn’t shed in my bed.) She followed me around, always eager to curl up in my lap under some fleecy blanket.
If you’ve ever had a beloved animal companion die, you know how much they are in your minds, hearts and bodies. Our pets love us, accept us, amuse us and sustain us. Even when picking up after them – food, toys, poop, etc. – that is part of what we accept and do, mainly with gratitude to have them in our worlds.
I write this to claim my right to mourn my beloved grand pup’s death. I am experiencing Disenfranchised Grief, as I am not the one who seems to have lost the most.
As in all situations of loss, we need to acknowledge what we feel and share it with others, as uncomfortable as that can be.
We are all in this together, this life and death experience. All our losses count.