Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Observing Grief

Chris Newcomb, M.Div.

I heard a very sad story yesterday while discussing aftercare plans with one of our detox patients.  This individual lost three family members on the same day, at the same time, and it was a murder-suicide!  That’s right; the patient’s father decided he couldn’t live any longer.  Not wanting to leave his wife behind to mourn his death, he decided to kill her first.  His sibling, an adult with the brain of a child, was also murdered so that he wouldn’t be a, “burden to anyone” or so the father reasoned.  Then to conclude this horrid series of events, the father took his own life.  To top it all off, this took place on a major holiday last year that is usually a time for celebration, joy, and family bonding.  In all seriousness, no wonder our patient was using drugs!  

I can’t tell you how horrible I felt for this person.  In their grief, they decided to use drugs.  The pain was, understandably, felt like it was too much to bear even for a sober individual.  Grief had come in like a typhoon and the only way, they thought, out was to medicate the awful feelings they were experiencing with opiates. 
A little over 24 hours ago, I faced a very tough decision in my life.  My cat, Delilah, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing the past 16 years, had gotten sick over the weekend.  She was vomiting and staying secluded in one of the upstairs bedrooms of our house.  My wife and I thought perhaps it was a stomach bug and she would recover very quickly.  We were in for a surprise. 

On Monday, two days ago as of this writing, we took Delilah to the vet.  It turned out that she had chronic renal failure (i.e. kidney failure).  From a pain level perspective, our vet said that a score of 80-100 points indicated ‘severe pain’.  Delilah’s score was 180.  She was most likely experiencing, at best, profound nausea and, at worst, excruciating pain.  We had a decision to make. 

Our topic for this month is Step 6 from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  This step says that we “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”  Defects of character lead an alcoholic or drug addict to use their substance of choice.  For example, a person with the defect of character of rage might decide to shoot heroin instead of dealing with the intense feelings of anger that are so uncomfortable to experience. 

There is a litany of possible character defects such as jealousy, resentment, success, failure, or lust to name a few.  I would like to highlight in this article how grief can be a character defect.  While it may seem harsh to say, even something as powerful, and often appropriate, as the emotion of grief can be a character defect that can cause great harm in our lives or the lives of those we care about.

The vet told us that we could take Delilah home and try a few different treatments to improve her quality of living.  The success rate long-term was roughly 10%.  Not a good number.  If we could afford it, he advised we could even do a kidney transplant for her.  We couldn’t afford it. 

The only other option was to put her down.  I was horrified.  She had been my best “animal friend”, so to speak, for 16 years, through college, graduate school, and ten years of my working life.  I couldn’t imagine her dying.  Sure, I knew she was getting older but she never really had any health problems up to this point.

I was inundated with questions:  Is this the right choice?  Can I go through with it?  What if I’m wrong and she can be healed?  Can I live with this choice?  How will I deal with the pain if she dies?

My wife and I talked and cried and cried and talked.  We realized that we really only had one choice and that was to put her down unfortunately.  I leaned over to the cage and told her that I would do anything I could to save her but we just didn’t have the money.  I told her that I loved her and she would never be forgotten and was always in my heart.  She let out a small whimper cry and turned around looking away from us.  We both understood her to be saying, “Goodbye, I can’t take this anymore.”  It was hard to watch.  And, I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.  At 12:32pm on Monday, June 13, 2011 I made the awful choice to put my beloved cat Delilah to sleep.  Forever.  She now is buried in our backyard in between an azalea bush and a shed with impatiens flowers to mark the spot. 

Grief is never fun.  It is a deep, dark pain that blows through your soul.  It rips at the very edges of your sanity and turns your emotional center upside down.  I knew that the day would come when I would have to let Delilah go.  I had no idea how awful and difficult that would be.  I always hoped I would find her dead not that I would be the judge and jury setting up her execution.  While it was in spirit of an act of mercy, it surely didn’t feel that way. 

Now as time passes, I long to have her back.  I want to pet her.  I want to hear her purr.  I want to watch her play and chase toys around the house.  Those are now just memories.  So, what is there left for me to do now, you may ask?  Not let my grief become a character defect that hurts me or others.

So, why am I telling you this story?  There are two reasons.  First, writing this article is a way for me to honor my friendship with Delilah.  It is a way for me to acknowledge my pain without destroying myself.  I used to love to get drunk in high school.  I loved the feeling.  I could certainly use that feeling now, at least, over and against the angst I feel over my loss.  That would be a choice to use grief as a character defect.  I can’t make that choice today. 

Second, writing this article is a way for me to serve others by encouraging them to take stock of their relationships.   We never know how long the people, or pets, in our lives will be around.  Treasure them and spend time with them.  You’ll be glad you did when they’re gone.
My patient has a long road ahead.  It will take years of counseling, meetings, and tears for them to come to grips with not only the horrific events that happened to their relatives but also how they, for better or for worse, used their grief as a character defect and destroyed their life.  The good news is my patient decided to come to us for help to get their life back.  My patient has 100% support from The Coleman Institute!  

This month, please take a few moments to see what character defects you might have lurking in your life.  Be honest.  Take an honest inventory and see what they are, how they operate, and ask your higher power to shut them down by helping you choose safe and healthy alternative ways to deal with the pain life brings your way. 

Delilah was given her name because of a song, of the same name, by the rock band Queen.  I will end this article in her memory with a quote from that song for my furry, feline friend Delilah:
“Delilah, you're the apple of my eyes

Meow, Meow, Meow

Delilah - I love you”
(5/15/95 - 6/13/11) 

1 comment:

  1. im soo sorry for your loss chris. it was strange to read that story because i had a cat named beechnut, after the gum, and i got him the year before jen was born. i remember coming home from the hospital with jen and everyone running to see the baby and i had been away from beechnut for 5 days so i went running to see him. (sorry jen) but he went thru so many of my growing years and my move from new york to virgina. such big events in my life he was part of. he died when he was 16 also. i felt like i lost my best friend. i remember crying so bad and praying for the pain to go and a peace just came over me. i know some people think its silly cause its an animal, but they are family. remember delilah had a great life because of you. thats all we can do and you did good.