Saturday 6 June 2020

Anticipatory grief

Yesterday I learned a new term: anticipatory grief. It refers to a feeling of grief occurring before an impending loss. I am deeply grieving my dog. And he is still here.

In a way this form of grief gives us the gift of time. We are able to really soak Ace in before he is gone forever. We can say sorry, I love you, goodbye. In another way it is agonising. It means facing a reality that I desperately don't want to face, that we are on an inevitable, unexpected journey to a destination without him. 

Yesterday I saw a wonderful homeopathic, herbalist vet, Tim Couzens. This man smiled from his eyes. He greeted us in shorts and a t-shirt. Everything about his practice felt comforting. There was hope in his demeanour, and in his rows of tinctures, herbs and natural medicines. I had waited 8 long days to meet this gentle man. He shares with me a belief in supporting root cause, in natural medicine, in holding an animal with dignity and love. And he couldn't tell me what I wanted to hear. 

He listened to my description of my larger than life, beautiful dog, before calmly telling me that from looking at his scan results, Ace's condition is severe. His heart is so enlarged that it no longer resembles a heart. My boy's body is working hard, and he could experience a fatal heart attack at any moment. Tim recommended supplements which I I am already giving - hawthorn, dandelion, COQ10, plus CBD oil and L-carnitine. He hopes to see us again in two weeks. I understand the inference of that sentence. 

The natural supplements feel right and good for my dog and for the way we live. They are supportive of the heart muscle, as opposed to the pharmaceutical drugs which are symptom-addressing. I believe in the power of the body to heal. I believe in plant based medicine to support that. I also believe that most diseases are borne of toxicity or deficiency, and that we need to eliminate toxins, and re-nutrify if we are to heal. The conventional medicines are potent, and needed to regulate Ace's heartbeat and remove water from his lungs. My dog is teaching me about being open to new ideas, about combining allopathic and natural medicines. He is teaching me about an integrative approach, which for so long I've quietly rejected.

Just before meeting Tim we saw a wonderful therapist, Lisa Gorrie, who works with 'Applied Zoopharmacognosy'. This is the practice of supporting your pet to self-medicate and heal themselves through scent, plant based medicines and nutrients. Working this way, you never force or hide medications and supplements, you simply offer them, trusting that your pet will choose what they need. It's the ultimate lesson in relinquishing control and it takes the pet-owner relationship to a new level. My boy loved it! He chose antivirals and antibacterials and immediately got his appetite back. He knows what he needs, and if I'm mindful he will show me how best to support him, even if that is in dying. 

And so to dying. For many years I have felt solid in my beliefs about life and death. And yet here I find myself, emotional, desperate and bewildered at the impending loss of my dog. My dog. It feels outrageous to be so deeply attached to an animal when I have experienced the loss of friends and family. It occurs to me that grief-pain comes from the inability to let go, from the desperate refusal to accept and support the natural process of dying. The one kindness I seem able to give myself at the moment, amongst too much coffee and not enough sleep, is really owning all of the feelings. Allowing the crazy thoughts of how we can hold on to him, or a piece of him. The mental bargaining, the clinging and pleading with him not to go. The irrational, ugly thoughts. The anxiety about having to miss my dog every day for the rest of my life. The melodrama and the emotional flatline. 

Denial is one of my favourite places to be at the moment. In denial I can feel optimistic. As Sophie Sabbage says in her brilliant Ted Talk about grief, denial is not grief, denial is denial. Anger is not grief, anger is anger. The stages of grief are not linear or compartmentalised. They all have a place and a purpose. 

We are still out foraging. This morning I found Ace drinking comfrey water in the garden. It's rich in potassium, magnesium and B vitamins - all good for the heart, all depleted by his medicines. He knows. He hasn't forgotten to trust his instincts. We went on a long, gentle walk over the downs looking for comfrey and finding wild roses, anti-inflammatory and supportive of the heart and circulation. 

I also feel inspired to finally cable our wifi, something which has been on my to-do list for a long time, never completed. Wifi is well known to negatively interrupt the vibration of pets, and children, who are much more sensitive to it's frequency disruption than adults (although it absolutely affects us too!) The heart is an electrical organ, it makes sense that it would impact heart rate and circulation. 

There is so much to learn. And so much to love.