JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Grief and Gratitude

Posted by on Aug 13, 2013

Grief and Gratitude

 

NY Times Article “The Trauma of Being Alive”
Grief and Gratitude
This wonderfully written article reminds me of one of the classes I remember the most from graduate school called “Grief & Loss”. It was required, which I am grateful for because it was one of the most impactful, important courses I took. My professor was incredible; deeply insightful and so willing to “go there” that she created this safe and powerful place to learn, talk, and experience. She was of those teachers that truly taught, much more committed to our learning than to any agenda she might have had. And I suspect this was a difficult course to teach.
Grief is such a tough subject and no one wants to talk about this monster that lives beneath all of our beds. Reading this article reminds me how dynamic grief can be. When I work with patients, I talk about grief like you are sitting on a bench next to it (grief)…you have to “be” with it, sit with it, be overwhelmed by it, sometimes connect and feel it, sometimes you get to ignore it, but it’s always there. Grief is a balancer in some ways as being elated all the time is just not realistic. And while it’s terrible to experience, if you can look for it, there is always that little part of grief which validates the love for the thing you lost, which then brings comfort.
Awareness of your grief process is important and helpful. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, “Death and Dying” is mentioned in the article and it is one of, if not the most important writings on grief around. Many people are not surprised by the denial or depression part of the grief process, but what takes most people completely by surprise is anger. And everyone in a grief process will experience anger, trust me. It is one of the most conflicting parts of the process…becoming angry with whatever you loved and lost. It never makes sense but at the same time, it signals progress in the process so just be on the look out for it and don’t read too much into it.
Which leads me to talk about preparation for grief. This is something we avoid like the plague in our culture. I can’t tell you how many people I know that refuse to write a will because they think that will make them die. No one gets out of here alive, right? So why do we pretend like we will? I suspect it is because we know the incalculable pain that loss can bring. Preparing for grief and loss is unnerving at first but having worked on this personally, it actually brings some relief. My hobby is horseback riding and I have horses, and like other “pets”, we tend to out live our animals. And when you have a handful of them, losing them is inevitable. My love for my animals is deep, surprisingly deep for me and I didn’t understand the true depth of it until I lost my first horse. I felt similarly to when I lost my grandmother, devastated and like my heart had been ripped out. I was fully unprepared for his death even though he was sick for long enough to know that he wasn’t go to be around much longer. It took me two years to really cycle all the way through losing him. Two years, for my horse. That blew me away. Now, when I look at my horses or cats, I think about how grateful I am for having them and try to soak up as much of the experience as I can and enjoy the moment’s with them. This practice of presence has spilled over onto my human relationships, something much more difficult to contemplate preparing for. As my parents age, I must begin to prepare. And as the sadness and pain step up to greet me, I have a new tool of preparation and gratitude to lean on, restoring that peacefulness that grief disrupts.

7 Comments

  1. I “broke” my back this past March when a horse flipped on me without warning. Since he was having abit of trouble, had the client step off and let me sit on him. He was having trouble moving off my leg, so I broke down the exercise to a very simple and soft flexion of his jaw/nose 3″ to the left, 3″ to the right, and 3″ back to the left and over he went. Don’t know if he was an actor or if perhaps he had a TMJ issue. I climbed all the way up twn his eyes, but there was no self preservation effort on his part. Meanwhile… on landing L4 totally burst – 1 week in the hospital, 3 weeks in Rehab and this 51 yr old who has ridden since I was 4 yoa, may be permanently out of the riding business. Still loving my horses and teaching … but the grief has been immense. About a week out of rehab, I went to my GP and told him I needed my meds adjusted. With RA and polymyositis, I am a long term steroid user and therefore have to also take “personality drugs.” It has helped me to not cry all the time and to get back into the swing of life. I get tons of comments about how brave and strong and how I am doing so well and I appreciate them. But the grief is still there. I am hanging on to a slim possibility that perhaps in 2 years when I have built enough bone and everything has fused, I might be able to sit on a horse again. Self taught to Prix St. George with my own home grown special boy (now 19), I am living for that moment. Hard… making my lip quiver and tearing up… still grieving for what I have lost even as I persevere my love and my passion for horses and teaching. Thanks for listening.

  2. I stumbled upon this late tonight (9/29/13) and it brought tears. You know why. Proud of you and thanks.
    LFS, PhD

    • I never thought my Grief & Loss professor would ever find and read this blog! What a tribute…in both directions. Thanks for all of the things you taught me, especially those things not found in a text book. It’s an honor to make you proud 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing. I have a 29 year old Arabian who has been struggling to survive these last 3 months. I have raise him from a foal. I did not know I would have all the feelings you describe in addition to feeling guilty for loving and animal so much. I was grieving the possible loss and while it seems I may have the honor of his companionship for a while longer grief is just under the surface. I have gratitude for seeing him more comfortible and the time we do have. We have had a wonder lifetime together and I have a hard time knowing at some point when I look outside my window he will not be there. It makes tears stream down my eyes.

    • Hi Vicki,
      Thank YOU for sharing. Grief is tough, no other way around it. I wish there were a magic potion to make it easier, but until I find that, struggle we must. One of my horses has been quite ill recently so I, too, have found myself bouncing between tears streaming down my face and forcing myself to connect to the gratitude of having him in my life. While the pain is real and lasting, so is the bliss…the smell of his mane as he leans into me when we are together, his nicker every time I walk past his stall, his gallop to the gate when I come to fetch him for play time, and the dirt under my finger nails that lasts for days sometimes.
      Take lots of pictures, tell him how much he means to you, and continue to bounce back and forth…for the forth will take over…eventually.
      Best, Dr. Jenny

  4. Speechless again. The blogs are beautiful.

  5. Thank you so much for your article. We met several years ago when I attended a clinic you held at the Spriser’s farm in Virginia. I still use techniques you taught us in order to gain confidence with my riding. It was wonderful and I look forward to the next time I can join a clinic of yours.

    To the point….up until January 4th of this year, I had 4 horses and a mini on my farm. The three mares were quite old being 30, 29, and 25. They all had age related maladies that had gotten much worse over the past year. The 29 and 25 year old were horses belonging to a friend of 20 years duration. The 30 year old was my first horse who I had, had for 21 years. My friend had become busier, busier over the 12 years I cared for her mares and so very rarely came to see them. I cared for them as my own. Long story short they were quite ill, (with 3 feet of snow coming at the end of the week) I called for the vet to come on a Monday when my daughter could be with me for them to be put down. I discussed this with my friend the previous Friday. She agreed that if the vet agreed, the horses would be put down. Otherwise, she was very upset on the phone…..couldn’t talk about it with me. She said she certainly couldn’t be there. I arranged to have one hole dug on my property for my mare. My husband and I had always said she would be the only horse buried on the property. I had, had to put down another horse the previous Spring due to cancer. A disposal company had come to take him away. My friend was well aware of this. Well, my daughter and I were there for all three horses to be put down. The result is my friend of 20 years is no longer speaking to me. She wrote me an e-mail shortly after they were all put down saying that I should put together all her horses things for her to pick up as her horses were obviously “in my way”. I was devastated. I replied that I could not go through everything just yet and can barely go out to the barn to take care of my gelding and mini. Not only was I grieving from my loss…..of all the mares but she is angry with me. Only a month ago I got another e-mail telling me how “incredibly upset” she was that I did not bury all the horses together and I should have arranged for her horses to be cremated. Obviously, she is angry……but why me? I cared for those horses every day for 12 years and she thinks they were in my way? I don’t know what to do with it all…..so I have just let it be. Her daughter, my daughter’s best friend and rider of one of the mares thanked me for all I had done for her horses over the years and gave me a spa day pass. Quite a different reaction.

    So you can see how grief can take people in different directions.

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