Tragedy struck my world exactly one week ago in the home that I share with my boyfriend, his children, and my daughter, and I was forced to surrender my beloved rescue pup Damsel.
[Please know that I was a foster fail and the rescue is a no-kill nonprofit. Damsel is not in any danger of being put down.]
The grief was overwhelming. I knew that if Damsel didn’t go, we’d have to leave. My dilemma was great – I couldn’t leave, but I couldn’t leave her, either. I struggled with what to do. I love my boyfriend dearly, but I made a promise to take the good with the bad when I adopted Damsel.
The idea of failing her and not honoring my word was heart-wrenching.
It was a terrible situation where no one was at fault. But, given what had happened, she was too great a risk to keep in our home. After I calmed down enough to process everything that had happened, with great dread I knew what I had to do.
The next day I surrendered her to the rescue in care of Bark University (an amazing training and boarding place for pups). My daughter and I just held onto each other and cried when we handed over the leash. It was one of the most agonizing things I’ve ever had to do. Watching Damsel resist with all of her might when they pulled her inside was the last straw.
I wanted to die.
Grief and despair
The grief and despair I felt were intense. I wasn’t even interested in feeling better because my guilt for failing Damsel and for everything else about the situation led me to believe that I deserved every brutal thought that I was hurling onto myself. It was suffocating.
After getting into a huge fight with my boyfriend (a rarity), things imploded. I kept having one intrusive thought after another about exiting the world. I had hit a new bottom – something that I hadn’t experienced in over two decades. What was happening?!
Despite this, I came to the awareness that I could and would feel better eventually. And deep down, I knew that the world was truly a better place with me in it. I knew that I was struggling with intense grief, which had let get the better of me.
By now it was dark. I lied down under a tree and stared up into its canopy. I checked Instagram briefly and found a post from a light-worker friend about gratitude.
I have been to hell and back during various stages in my life (who hasn’t?), and ever since 1996 (you can read more about that here), I have generally been pretty decent when it comes to coping with stress. I have an overflowing toolbox that includes meditating, spending time in nature, journaling, hanging out with close girlfriends, changing my focus, and relying on a mentor for guidance. It also includes practicing gratitude.
I made the decision to change my focus by feeling grateful for what I had, as feelings of genuine gratitude cannot coexist with feelings of despair.
I began by feeling intensely grateful for my boyfriend, my family, my daughter. I felt grateful for living a three-minute walk away from an incredibly beautiful lagoon, with the love of my life. I felt the cool summer breeze licking my face and felt grateful for that.
I then focused on that which had caused me the greatest grief – surrendering Damsel – but this time, I focused not on what I lost but on all the beautiful things that this sweet pup brought into my world. I was grateful for my time with her, even though it was cut far too short. I felt especially grateful that she now had the opportunity to find a furever home that was better suited to her. I prayed with my whole heart that she finds this as soon as possible.
I lied under the tree for a bit longer and watched the bats flit around in search of mosquitoes. And then I returned home.
The truth is that I don’t know if my 15-minute gratitude practice was enough to stamp out my grief and despair for good. My grief has lessened, but it would have lessened on its own. There is a saying “this, too, shall pass” for good reason. All things are subject to this phenomenon.
What I do know is that I felt okay for the first time in days, despite my grief and despair, despite my conflicts with my boyfriend. As I walked home after my gratitude practice, I knew I’d be okay…and I was grateful that I had the ability to turn my state around.
I still feel pain whenever I see Damsel’s picture. In honor of her, I’ve created a Go Fund Me page to help offset the rescue’s costs in getting her the training she needs and boarding her while they locate a new foster. If you’d like to donate to “Damsel’s 2nd Chance” you will be helping to set her up for success. You’ll also help to heal my heart. Thank you for considering.