How to Cope when Grief Knocks you on your Ass
I sit outside tonight in the summer solstice heat, under a New Mexico sunset.
The wind chimes tinkle like laughter and you can hear the faint humming of crickets as the wind whips itself through the eerie, quiet desert plane.
Tomorrow, I will release the ashes of my beloved pet of 14 years onto the Hoopi Indian land of Ram Das Puri. This is a place I have visited for the past six years, to practice yoga with 2000 others. It is a place of healing, of mystery, of magic. Zoey was magic and that’s why I come to spread her ashes on this native land, this medicine earth.
In Greek, “Zoey” means “life”. I didn’t know that when I named her, but it is indeed the most fitting name for her. She helped show me how to live. She was part White Labrador and part Chow, with a purple tongue. She was deeply intelligent and loving. The Chow part of her manifested in a hardcore gangsta side. Indeed she was a paradox. Zoey had a secret life I knew nothing about. During the day, she would stay with my dear friend and landlord Bruce. They would take daily trips to the post office and run errands. She was in a music video and posed for an album cover,this was the way she rolled.
Zoey would hang in our backyard for pool parties thrown by Bruce and his partner, Tom. She would come into the house in the late summertime evenings, soaking wet and pooped after a day of being the life of the party. Zoey had a tremendous lust for being, for living, for loving. She had depth and compassion. Friends and family tell countless stories about Zoey, her loving personality and her fierce protective nature. She was magical. She may have been part unicorn. At about 12 years old, she began to lose her sight and developed arthritis in her hips. Though she was in pain, she still rallied and played all day. She loved, and I mean LOVED, walks, hikes, and riding in cars. She even jumped over Bruce and Tom’s 8-foot walls to chase coyotes. Multiple times.
One night, at about 2:00am, Zoey let out a howl that I had never heard from her before. It was a wail, a moan. An hour later, the same thing happened. I laid by her side that night and the energy of the room became very still. It all became very simple. There was so much peace. All the petty worries I had been holding onto- they didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but that moment, the love, the blessing of being alive. I held her in that space and felt her spirit say, “I’m ready to go.”
The next morning in the shower, I started beating myself up. I spoke to Zoey, saying, “I’m sorry I wasn’t a better mom! I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job of caring for you.” I felt her spirit say to me, “There is nothing loving about beating yourself up. The only thing I need you to do is to stop hurting yourself.” I knew what she meant immediately. I had been hurting myself all my life with an addiction to food. There were the intense periods of binging, and then always the guilt, remorse and shame afterwards. A spiral I couldn’t seem to move through.
My boyfriend and I took Zoey to the vet the next morning and they confirmed what we had already known- she was ready. She had a large tumor that filled almost her entire chest cavity and would need to be put down immediately. We decided to put her down at the house. On our way home, I got the sense that she wanted to be with people she loved. Within an hour, a group of close friends and family gathered in our home and we had one last party with our party animal. We told stories, played music, laughed and cried. She passed peacefully at home, euthanized by a kind vet. My boyfriend, my best friend, and I were all by her side.
This evening in the desert, this sadness, this happiness, this confluence of love and breath and joy runs through me as I write these words to make sense of and take stock of what Zoey’s life meant to me. Several things come to mind:
1. Life is simple. Its not easy but it is simple. It asks of us to live it fully. Don’t waste the precious hours in the sickness of guilt and shame. Life asks us to rise up and be the gift and be the blessing itself.
2. Grief is meant to open us, to expand our hearts. Grief is inevitable. Instead of shrinking and growing afraid- let it open you, and become courageous.
3. Cry. More than cry -howl. Howl, howl for your love, for your life, and allow your heart to break. Allow it to break open because….
4. The wound is the place where the light enters you.
5. Zoey means life, and I choose to live a wild wide-awake life with fervor, with freedom, with abandon.
6. Zoey is still here now, untethered. She is completely broken open into life itself. And now, I see her in all the animals of the world. In the spirit inside of each animal she is here.
When your heart breaks, when grief knocks you on your ass, dear friend, please oh please have compassion for yourself.
Remember that you are gentle and you are brave. You are life itself- and the grief you feel, ultimately helps you to allow the gift of life to flow fully through your being. Grief cracks us open- so that we may love ourselves and in turn other more fully. With abandon. With freedom. With joy.
The answer is always and will forever be- more love.
Love to you Light Warriors,