What About Denial?

Dear Ones,

Spring feels like the wrong season to be thinking about death. No one wants to go there when life is putting on a gorgeous show! If we take a moment to reflect, though, we can accept that that without death there’s little room for new life.

And let’s face it, denial can be a useful tool – it allows us to allow in the harder parts of our reality in manageable bits. In my work with those who anticipate a loss or grieve one, I have seen the darker side of denial – and its consequences.

We can wish away what is happening to a dying loved one, but to refuse to acknowledge what is happening is to rob the loved one and one’s self of two important gifts: the first is a chance to focus on the quality of the life still to be be lived; the second is to say good-bye.

By a good-bye, I mean communicating – with words, gestures, acts of lovingkindness – all that is most important, and often unspoken – our sadness, our love, and our thanks. In a good farewell we forgive or ask for forgiveness; we make a few more memories and share those we’ve made; we acknowledge our gratitude for the love we’ve received; we say out loud, “I love you. I will miss you.”

When we embrace the reality of what is, we have energy to make the most of our time together, to make meaning of the story of our shared lives, and to rest in the completeness that a complete farewell brings. Then we receive the energy that insures our loving will outlive our loss.

Sending you light and love,

Rev. Eliza

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My dog, a Maltese/Yorkshire terrier mix, turns 11 this month, and it’s cliched but I can’t believe how fast and far we’ve travelled in that time. She’s considered a senior dog now, and I too count myself an elder. We’ve aged and learned together, this lovely soul and I.

The subject of mortality very much in the air as my mother is reaching the end of her life, and I am more and more given to appreciating each day as it unfolds. I now know – in ways I haven’t – how precious they are.
Time has a way of bending as we gain experiences, confounding in its layerings, crazy wrinkles, and speediness . Perhaps that’s why I realize I’ve been grieving in anticipation. Such grief is real, and I’m aware of it today more acutely than I have been, as I await the results of a lab test Maisie had taken two days ago.

Anticipatory grief. How many shapes and textures grief has, as I’ve learned from the folks who’ve come to me with important decisions to make about their animal companion’s illness, approaching death, and euthanasia. “What is best?” can be the hardest of questions, especially for another. There are complications, issues of quality of life, quantity of life, and resources. So many about resources, which we want to believe are infinite.

For example, some might be exhausted by the needs of an aging or ill beloved. They might worry that a pet is in pain, or suffering in some hard to name way. While it may be hard to discern, with some conversation and confidence, Most of us realize that the answer to what’s best lies within their relationship to their beloved animal. If asked, I share what I know about animals and dying; I encourage them to talk frankly to their vet; we talk honestly about resources – theirs and their animal companion’s – and how to creatively deploy them. And often we wonder together about which of the possible outcomes makes the most sense, now and in the future.

We need one another – we who love, those who love us, and the medical staffs who support us – more than ever when making these decisions. We need expertise, yes, AND we need space and time and a recognition of limits. We need to be challenged as to what the limits might be – they might be broader or lesser than we imagine. I can tell you from my own experience that denial, pride, ignorance or a combination of them can get in the way of gaining insight into what that elusive “best” might be. And sometimes, darn it, there might only be a best of not great options.

So I wait for a call from my vet, light a candle, and hope – but I try not to cling too hard to what may not be. Like all of life, there are more shades of grey than black and white. As in a beautiful, unsettling photograph, we must learn to appreciate the richness and the mystery offered us by all the shades of grey.

Peace,
Rev. Eliza

We find many ways to remember.

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