“Blessed are those who mourn …” “Real love hurts; real love makes you totally vulnerable and open; real love will take you far beyond yourself; and therefore real love will devastate you,” (quoted from “The Wisdom Jesus,” Cynthia Bourgeault). Death is as much of a part of life as living, a very natural process that levels the playing field eventually. Western society as a whole is a pain-avoidant society; we do not like to talk about death in any form. Therefore, we tend to hang onto our pain for years, sometimes even passing it on generationally.
Before delving deeper into the subject of loss, we need to be sure to understand the true meaning of the two terms that are frequently used interchangeably: grieving and mourning, they are not the same thing. Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone we love dies (whether it be a human or pet). Grief can be looked upon as the container which holds all of our thoughts, feelings and images of the death experience. In Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s book, “Understanding Your Grief,” he explains “Grief is the internal meaning given to the experience of the loss.” There are some 10 trillion estimated cells in our body, each with a chemical memory bank storing the protein of pain. Ninety percent of our pain is stored or experienced in the body section.
On the other hand, mourning is when we take grief, the pain, and reverse the process, moving it from the inside to the outside, or the outward expression of the pain one feels inside. The process is crying, expressing one’s feelings and thoughts through art or music, journaling, talking about our feelings with someone who can support us without judgment — a good listener — and celebrating special anniversary dates that held meaning for the person (or pet) who died. This process has a physiological component to it as well — it is allowing the cells where the chemical memory is stored, to release the negative chemistry built up there. This is why we feel better after a good cry. When we experience these traumatic moments, it is good to drink lots of water to flush out the negative chemistry.
My first experience with “true love hurts” was when I was about six years old. I lived on a farm/ranch back in Kansas. I had a rat terrier dog I called Puppy. She and I were inseparable. We had the farm to roam on. We used to follow my dad when he was plowing the wheat lands. We used to catch mice that the plow would turn up. Also, we would find bird or cottontail nests and I would attempt to save the little ones. Puppy was quite old by the time I was six. One day, as we were following the plow, she fell over dead in the furrow. Death of other creatures had little meaning to me at the time, but this one did. I had to carry her back to the house and eventually bury her. Because of the special relationship we had built together throughout the years, we were friends, companions and she was a family member. I never felt such hurt, though I did not understand what the pain was all about other than losing my best friend, I would never see her alive again. Thank God my parents never shielded me from experiencing death, now I look back at its significance.
At this stage of my life, I didn’t understand all the physiological, theological or spiritual meaning of life and death. I’ve experienced many deaths since then, pets, family members, friends, attending deaths as a chaplain for Visiting Nurse Association, and working as a volunteer grief chaplain at the Detention Center. It’s only been more recently — the past 15 years — that I understood what some call the great mystery, the last journey, the final frontier. Yet this is the door opening to another special life eternal for human and pets alike. We’ll miss the physical presence of our loved ones and, if we mourn properly, we’ll be in touch with our loved ones through the great veil of spirituality.
Yes, mourning is indeed a brutal form of emptiness. It is in this emptiness, if we remain open to the experience, we discover that a mysterious “something” does indeed reach back to comfort us. If we don’t mourn properly, we will never touch directly the substance of divine compassion. The ice must melt before life can flow again. Puppy, this is our story. Thank you for being in my life. I still think of you 69 years later! “… For they will be comforted” The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).
F. Neil Folks, Moffat Co. Law Enforcement Chaplaincy