Sharing the lessons along the way…

Posts tagged ‘grief’

Maybe I do

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I have been without a canine companion for nearly two full months since Ruby died.  I have lost count of the number of people who have sent me posts of a dog in need of re-homing, the number of texts to take a dog, foster, and the number of times I have been asked, “Have you gotten another dog yet?”

Ruby was my back up dog for Duke and I did not have a backup dog for Ruby because I did not imagine I would need one for many years.  Her death was sudden and traumatic.  While I could not imagine a life without a dog exactly, I knew I was in no way ready for another.

My friends and I talked at great length about how we do not know me without a dog because for the last 16 years, I have had one or two.  My brother said I could not be me without one.

I made a conscious decision not to rush into another because emotionally, losing three dogs in three years was a lot.  I went on the hope method that I had learned how to stay grounded without the need of an external grounding source, which for me was always a dog or two.  My dogs taught me how to do this over the years, and I felt somewhat confident in the lessons I had learned from them.

Still, I was not sure.  I wasn’t sure if I would feel lonely without one.  I was not sure that I wouldn’t lose my mind or otherwise lose my sense of mission and purpose.

Two months in, I have not lost my mind or otherwise lost my sense of mission and purpose.  I still do not feel lonely.  I do miss having a living, breathing, always loving being under foot, but have watched others’ dogs and getting my dog fixes often.

I figured I would be trying to find ways to avoid coming home to an empty house, but as it has turned out, I still like my place.  It is still the refuge and the Zen space I created for my dogs and I.  While I have the freedom to do other things, and sometimes choose to do them, I am often simply choosing to come home after work.

It is not uncomfortable.  I do not feel like I am missing anything in my life.  I do plan to add another dog into my life next year.  I honestly never thought I would be ok under these circumstances.

Since I seem to be, I will go with that.


Letting Go Goes Deeper

Run Free Sweet Girl

Run Free Sweet Girl

It is certainly not my first post on letting go, nor do I suspect it will be my last post on the subject.  The last few weeks, the universe has honed my ability to do so more quickly.

I am no stranger to traumatic experiences, nor am I trauma’s biggest fan despite the familiarity.  What I have learned about trauma is that no matter how quickly you pick up the leftover pieces and continue moving forward, the imprint physiologically remains far longer.

Loss and trauma are strange bedfellows, I have also learned.  Not all losses are traumatic, but most trauma involves a loss of something/someone.

With the vicarious trauma professionally, and from simply watching the news about the various tragedies happening world-wide, experiencing a personal trauma in addition, has created a variety of interesting visceral responses.

Nearly 2 ½ weeks ago, I unexpectedly lost my third dog in three years.  The first two were inevitable as they were seniors, but the third was only five years old, and we experienced a painful final 72 hours of her life together.  She was very vocal about her pain and suffering, and no amount of medication was easing that for her.  I chose not to prolong her suffering.

While I chose to let her go, the experience of her suffering remains both in my heart and in my mind.

I went back to work the following week, and while apparently numb, I found myself extra sensitive to suffering of all kinds.  In my semi-conscious waking state for the first week, I saw her eyes and felt her pressing her painful self into me attempting to ease her pain.  The second week was a bit more interesting in my sleeping state.

Nearly every soul connection I have had in the last decade came flooding back in my dreams.  The gist I could gather when I would awaken was the theme of letting go on a different level.  Interestingly enough, Duke was not among them because he was in my dreams the week before all this happened with Ruby.  It was his death anniversary, which is the last time I posted a blog.

Because it is my nature to look for the lesson and potential growth opportunity in everything, I cannot help but to think more about these losses and the residual effects they may be having on my ability to move forward in my life.  Perhaps that was Ruby’s ultimate lesson for me in our relatively short time together.

Grieving, letting go and healing trauma happens as a process.  It appears to be happening on a global scale, and not just in my personal and professional life, so I have to believe that continuing to move forward while being open to the process itself, will promote that healing process.


Shoutout to Dorkville, USA

I am one of the most blessed people for having so many wonderful humans in my world.  While we all have our quirks and issues as we make our ways on our journey, I love that we seem to see the strengths in each other much of the time.

One such human recently completed a tribute to “my boys” because he seemed to “get” the unshakeable bond I had with each of them (and both of them at the same time).  Even though he is a University of Kentucky basketball fan and I am a Duke University basketball fan, we have been peaceful neighbors in Dorkville.  Yes, it can be done.

Another wonderful human reminded me today that nothing stays the same in this life, so we end eras and start eras just as we start brand new days, weeks and years.  None of them the same as the one before and each bringing with it challenges and triumphs. Don’t buy into the idea that change is scary.  Buy into the fact that it simply is what it is and we move through it with love.

The era that spanned 14 years with “my boys” has ended.  And in the same week I realized that I had moved a bit forward from the losses (like for real), his tribute was ready to share with me.

Enjoy it and be sure to send him his props as he is quite talented!


Incidentally, I clearly thought yesterday was the 16th, so here is to another Day 16 of


The Spiral

Having already shared my recurrence of depression in my latest blogs and how the irrational thought patterns can spiral out of control in an otherwise rational human being, I feel the need to share the following with you as well.

Last Tuesday, I attended a memorial service for a 33-year-old woman who had committed suicide. 

I had only met her once, but know her mother to be one of the most genuinely loving humans I have had the privilege of calling my friend.

Before, during and after the tribute to this young woman’s life, it was apparent how much she had touched the lives of everyone who knew her in the room.  The love for her filled the church, while the confusion, sadness, and guilt could be heard in their sobs.

Feeling the depths of their pain, I could also feel the level of pain and desperation she too must have been feeling before her death. 

Being trapped in the spiral of darkness that is depression renders one unable to recognize the love and support that is very often right beside us in our journey through this life.

I was fortunate that my more recent experience with the depressed mindset did not spiral into the depths that her did.  It well could have, and has in the past before my illness began. 

In fact, I first had suicidal thoughts before I ever hit puberty.  By the time I hit my teen years, I found the thoughts more disturbing. 

I did not want to die and did not understand why I would have such unwanted thoughts.

I did not know about depression when I was diagnosed with it.  It honestly was not until graduate school for clinical psychology that I learned that not everyone has suicidal thoughts. 

I thought it was normal and was shocked to learn otherwise.

Of course, these are not thoughts that are usually shared in casual conversation or even with your closest friends for most people. 

That may be part of the reason these thoughts tend to spiral out of control.  I only got so far as to plan it once and immediately sought help to reverse the spiral. 

Suicidal thoughts were disturbing to me and I wanted the help to make them stop.

At the memorial service last week, I wished desperately for her friends and family to know what I know about how blind depression can make a person to light. 

The darkness does not (and will not ever) make much sense to someone who has not experienced it because there is nothing about the depressive mindset that is rational or sensible. 

Please take some time today or this week to check in with your friends and family that may be struggling or even if they do not appear to be. 

Let them know you are thinking about them.  Create a safe space where they can share what is really going on with them. 

If you are the one struggling (and trying to not look like you are), please take that risk to reach out.

Expose these irrational thoughts for what they really are so that you can get the help you need to get out of the darkness.  There really is plenty of light for all of us!

**You may not know that sharing some of these things in this and recent blogs is a bit farther out of my comfort zone that I had originally intended when bringing up the subject a few weeks ago.  With the loss of my friend’s daughter so close to those blogs, I decided that I had nothing to lose by doing so.



Cycle of Grieving

A few years after the onset of my primary lateral sclerosis, I set off on a quest to know and to understand how others deal with being diagnosed with a chronic, progressive illness.

While I am not sure why or what exactly I was looking for, what I did find certainly changed my perspective.

I began my research because I was helping to plan a Women’s Retreat here in the Tampa Bay area for a Spastic Paraplegia Foundation event.

There were common issues throughout the research and most of them had to do with how we perceive our lives and ourselves, which I found quite validating. Not only does our entire perception change, but also our perception of the world around us changes.

For many, including me in the early years, this was a lot to adjust to, and often depression and anxiety became a part of the symptoms requiring treatment in addition to the illness.

What I found most notably was that everyone goes through some version of a grieving process. This was mentioned in most of the literature I found.

The grief process included our sense of usefulness, our body image, our sexuality, our self-worth, our old roles at work, in relationships, and the lists went on with much the same themes.

While I certainly did experience most of the stages of grief early in the progression of my illness, I found that I kept having to repeat the process with each new symptom or with each new symptom that was being better managed.

With progressive illnesses, once you get used to a certain functioning level, it changes, so it seemed to me grieving was cyclical, instead of a simple stage process documented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross so eloquently in her book and by many others since her in their research.

Her stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Does that mean you do it once and your done?

That certainly didn’t seem to be the case when grieving the death of my mother, nor did it seem to be many of the folks I knew with chronic illness, nor my experience with this illness.

This sort of cycle also occurs a bit less pronounced as we grow older and is a very natural process. I am not sure why we are so hard on ourselves about it when we need to experience it.

I lost a lot in the first couple of years of my illness. I lost my ability to work, I lost my housing, I lost my dogs for 9 months, I lost my independence, my ability to drive and much more.

I had to redefine who Tawny was outside of my jobs. I was no longer a therapist who worked with the homeless. I wasn’t sure what my role would be with illness and limitations in the mix.

In fact, I didn’t feel like I had much to offer at all anymore. I had a choice whether or not to sink into the darkness I was feeling.

Some days I chose to sink and other days, I chose to figure out a way to move forward into this new version of my life and myself.

The Women’s Retreat took place in 2006, and I had just re-learned to stand and could take some steps on land from months of water therapy. I was able to stand and give the workshops I had signed myself up to give, although I can hardly remember what I talked about now.

What I remember about that time frame is that I was having as much difficulty adjusting to standing up to do things as I had adjusting to doing things from a seated position. I kept bumping my head, actually.

I had been doing things in a seated position for more than three years at that point and had gotten quite good at it. Believe it or not, I had to do some grieving at that juncture as well.

I didn’t expect to have to do any grieving at that point, instead I thought I should just be relishing in the accomplishment that no one thought was possible. I did that too, and I don’t believe the grieving process takes away from a state of gratitude.

For me during that time, I needed to wrap my brain around being ambulatory and then wrap it around being even more functionally ambulatory with the implant of the baclofen pump in early 2007.

I wasn’t so much sad about being out of the wheelchair, as I was simply unsure how to proceed with the new reality.

I proceeded to create an entirely different life because I could. While that sounds good, I also created a one that involved very little of what had been included in my previous one. That included the people.

I would acknowledge my pump and my illness when I had to, but more often, I proceeded to behave as if neither existed.

I knew on some level that I was on borrowed time, so to speak, and that the pump wouldn’t be this effective and the illness would eventually progress, so I decided to live as large as I could.

When I got my dog Duke certified as a therapy dog in 2010 and decided to volunteer back at the Homeless Emergency Project (where I lived for six months in 2004, when I couldn’t work enough hours to keep my house) was when I realized my avoidance of people who knew me then.

I didn’t know I was denying anything until that point, but certainly had some feelings to work through after we started volunteering there, which interestingly enough only two months before the accident jarred my pump out of place.

I am going through yet another cycle of grieving now that is taking me back through some of the issues I have faced before. I believe that with each cycle through, we deal with issues at a different level.

Perhaps this is a deeper level or just a different level that we weren’t able to handle before.

While my shared changes here are pretty dramatic, we all experience changes. We all grapple with them periodically and wonder where to go from here with them.

Perhaps understanding that with both negative and positive changes, we will experience some type of grief process can help to take some of the pressure off to help us through those periods of adjustment.

Perhaps thinking of grief differently can help us to re-evaluate our old beliefs about how we cope with change. How many of us think we should be done already dealing with whatever issues we might be facing?

When everything changes…

My primary care physician asked me at the end of January how things were going since the last surgery alleviated a large portion of my pain.  I was as surprised as he was by my response and subsequent emotional reaction.

Through tears, I said, “Ya know, you can’t be absent from your life for nearly a year and anything be the same when you rejoin it.  Just about everything is different.”

And boy is it different on so many levels.  That is not to say that different is all bad, but I was so trapped in pain and symptoms for what seemed like so long that I am just now becoming aware of it all being so very different. 

I should note that I am also aware of the growth and the positives that came from and are still coming from it, and have shared some of that in previous blogs.

However, I also feel the need to share more of the more recent processing of the feelings as I am genuinely struggling to adjust to the many changes.  I honestly feel like I am just waking up from a deep sleep or something.

If I go back to when the problems with the first pump began in July of 2010, which is where my mind goes in comparisons, then my life looks very different.  In so many ways, my world sort of stopped or the pause button was pushed at that time.

As I tried to hit play and restart my life after the first surgery in September of 2010, it really was then put on hold with the surgeries in March 2011 when I lost a pump and got a new one. 

My energy for much of the months following this was spent trying to manage my symptoms, manage pain and get doctors to hear me that something was very wrong.  What energy I had left was spent trying to remain sane.

Since October, I have continued to expend energy seeing different doctors to see if the remaining nerve issues and pain are potentially resolvable.  This was the follow up tearful conversation with my primary care doctor since it seems they may not be.

While I am walking, working and driving, the ongoing nerve issues and pain are quite limiting.  I am still testing what my activity limits are.  These issues and pain are not related to my illness—the pump is doing its job, but apparently at quite a cost.

I am finding the process of figuring out what I can and cannot do is particularly frustrating since I had none of these issues with the first pump when it was implanted in 2007.  After the more recent doctor visits and having to face those realities, I also became more aware of the rest of the changes in my world.

Nothing seemed to happen gradually from my perspective because all of the sudden I had some energy to notice.  Perhaps I noticed some before now, but the past year is quite a blur and I honestly do not remember much.

In any case, WOW, things have sure changed!  Of course, changes continue, as that is the nature of living this life. 

I am still struggling to catch up with the changes from the past year and each time I start to feel somewhat grounded, something else happens to knock me off balance.  For examples, one of my dogs nearly died at the end of November and my dad had a close call in December.

But I digress…  Neale Donald Walsh wrote a whole book on change titled “When Everything Changes, Change Everything” that I read in 2009.  (I totally recommend the book whether you are experiencing major changes or not because the whole gist is changing your perception of the changes.) 

I had some awareness of change as the year 2011 moved on seemingly without me because I took the opportunity to make some positive lifestyle changes since everything else had changed. 

Honestly, many of these were the only things I felt I had much control over.  I stopped smoking, drinking caffeine, eating bacon and various other unhealthy things.  I planted a garden and learned to enjoy cooking. 

I remember how much I love to hang out with my aging dogs at home as much as I enjoy socializing with friends and family.  I have different interests, different taste buds and a different idea about what makes something a good time.  Have I mentioned how different things seem to be?

I am doing my very best to adapt and embrace all of the changes.  I am hopeful that I am beyond the initial shock of realizing much of it.  It seems I am finding myself grieving what was my life since I seem to be struggling to find a strong foothold in my new and different one. 

I tried to just keep moving forward and skip this step, but it seems that is not what is necessary for my process.  I also was trying to skip the part of sharing the emotional struggle part of this process, but apparently, that is also necessary. 

Sharing the struggle is part of sharing what I learn along the way and that is really why I started this blog.  It is what I do.  That is actually something that has not changed!

Kitt O'Malley

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