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The Ever-Changing Face of Grief

"Grief changes shape, but it never ends." ~Keanu Reeves

When my 2022 became the year that kept on dishing out the blows, someone told me that the sadness I carried from the start of that year, when I lost my father that January, would never really go away. It would, instead, somehow, become easier to carry. As those of you who follow this blog know, I subsequently lost both my beloved dogs and closed my precious brainchild of a business to relocate to another area of the country--all in 2022.

Rohan & Zoey

It was a lot of loss in very little time, and if there is one thing I've realized about myself in my several decades on this planet: I shelve my feelings for a later date. That year, instead of sorting out my sadness, I threw myself into preparing for a cross-country move, selling off assets of a heavily-COVID-affected business, settling two small school-aged children in a new school and home, and caring for my remaining, but terminally ill, dog. I threw everything but the kitchen sink at this dog, hoping to reverse her kidney disease and spare my family yet one more loss of a very loved one that year. She died anyway, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts that only a new young pup could fill in early 2023. I went whole hog into raising and training him--a new-to-me breed with a completely different personality and his own learning curve. And then, if puppyhood for the first time in 12 years wasn't enough of an accelerated math, I returned to the workforce in the challenging environment that is post-COVID public education. Why? Because I honestly don't know how to give myself the space and time to be sad and grieve the losses I've endured. Self-care? What's that when you're a working mom with a houseful of pets and a house none of the 4 owners in 22 years before us felt the need to maintain? Why NOT take on a 60-hour/week job on paltry pay while doing All The Other Things, just so you don't have to think about your Big, Fat Shitty Year? This is what I am wont to do. I have done this time and time again. In 2005, when I was still single and my dogs were indeed my whole life, I lost one to a dog attack in Boston, while out of town, right before moving to Chicago for culinary school. It was one of those surreal moments where you think you must be living someone else's life. "What? You said WHAT? My dog was attacked by another dog in my house sitter's care and KILLED? While I was out of town? Where am I? Who am I? What in the world is going on?" How do you leave home owning two dogs and return to only one? Regardless of the answers to those questions, I packed up my surviving dog and the remnants of a 2-bedroom condo and moved to Chicago exactly 6 weeks after his death, initiating a massive career change: from writer-editor in academic publishing to culinary school and eventually becoming a professional chef. Loss of dog in a very violent way and giving up a 12-year career be damned!

I did not spend 2023 thinking about what happened in 2022 and how it would affect me for the long haul. I just threw myself into a million other things and tried to forget about Train Wreck 2022. I did start seeing a fantastic grief counselor, though. And she is marvelous and very helpful. But taking a job with an organization known for force-feeding job training from a gushing firehose (our local school district) while adding a new puppy (a show dog, at that, who comes with a whole scene I know absolutely ZERO about), all while parenting two still-very-young humans = total insanity. But this is how I roll. I did it in 2005 with less cargo, and I'm doing it again with even more. I'm sure I'm not alone in this approach to grief and life after A Very Important Death or Deaths. We all do it: shove our feelings in a closet to make sure others know we're doing fine or maybe even to make ourselves believe we're fine. But eventually, it catches up with us, and that's what's happening to me, as I ask myself how much of everything I've taken on do I want to keep taking on?

I meet people now, who don't know about this Very Bad Year I had, and subsequently have interpersonal experiences with them, sometimes very negative, and I think, "Don't you know how much I'm hurting inside?" But then, how would they? Most of us don't tend to wear our big, big losses on our sleeves. People won't know unless we tell them. Our tendency is to slap a smile on and say, "I'm good. How are you?" But why is it so hard to say to the troublemakers: "You are too much for me right now because I'm still hurting from my tremendous losses!"? Because those losses still debilitate me, two years later, and sometimes, even the mere act of interacting with new people on a new level is equally debilitating.

I think it's because culture, especially American culture, puts a time limit on grief. Like, in X number of months or years, you should be over your broken heart. Especially with pets. Just because you get another one doesn't necessarily mean you're over losing the previous one. You might have gotten a new one for a whole host of reasons (for the kids, because a house is not a home without one, the timing was right to rescue one in need, or you just plain missed the lifestyle you led with a dog in the house). But you might still replay and rethink what you could have done to save the last one because that loss, the way it happened, and that it happened too soon will always, always, always be with you. Sure, it gets easier to carry with you, but it never goes away. It just continues along for the ride, but in a different shape, inserting itself into your psyche when you least expect it.

New pupper!

And then there's the loss of a person, someone as important and influential as a parent. Every single new thing you're doing, you can't share with that person. My dad will never see this house. He'll never meet this new puppy. My kids are growing up, and he's missing birthdays. I don't have his sage advice to propel me through hard, hard days at work. It's all the NOT HERE that overshadows the what's here. And I can't work through that with all the daily clutter I've taken on.

Therefore, I've decided to clean house of the things that I ran headlong into as a way to not deal with my grief. First to go has been my job in public education. It wasn't for me in so many ways, and it's taken a month and a half since my last day to decompress from that bad decision. I now have more time for kids and new pup, but I still haven't figured out the self-care part. I'm still doing a lot of things for others and not enough for myself.

What are those infamous things for myself I keep pining to do? More fiber art crafting, which has always been a stress reliever for me. Some travel, dinner out with friends I keep saying I'm going to get together with and never do, reading a book on the couch for a whole day, a pedicure, binge watching a new season of something lighthearted and fun. Heck, I would just like to redesign this website and relaunch this company in a new form, but even that is taking a backseat to the unnecessary responsibilities I took on to stop thinking about my sadness. If I don't prioritize my dreams and aspirations now, when, really, will they take front and center? Regardless, this year's grief does in fact have a new shape. It is a painful realization that these sad things happened TWO years ago and not "just last year." That time is inserting itself big and long between the last time I hugged my father, heard Rohan's bark, rubbed Zoey's belly, and locked the door of my spectacular kitchen classroom. And if I'm not careful, more time will compound between then and the next time I stop to process it all.

An empty Spoonfoolery

All of this is to say that someday, I hope there will be another incarnation of Spoonfoolery. That is "me time" stuff that I haven't allotted yet, and perhaps it is high time I do. Many of you are asking, and I'm grateful for the continued inquiries coming in at this site, or when you see me in person, or even via out-of-the-blue emails from former clients. I will prioritize this, because it's the ultimate form of self-care--to rebuild a dream from the ground up. I think I deserve a new and improved Spoonfoolery, and so do YOU!


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