Friday, January 28, 2011

Finding Freedom in Loss?

I recently had to surrender my five-month-old German Shepherd puppy.You see he had turned on our other, smaller puppy and attacked him viciously. Needless to say it was a difficult decision to come to, and a painful process involving several days.  Those of you who are animal lovers will understand. Others, please bear with us. In my pet owning history I have had three pure-bred GSDs (German Shepherd Dogs). Each one was a beautiful animal that I had to say good-bye to. It is its own particular grief. The first, was an abused and abandoned puppy that was left in our neighborhood in Marietta, GA. I met him, we became attached, and I took him into our home. I was unaware that he had a fatal disease called "parvo." In just three weeks time that sickness overtook him and I had to make the terrible decision to have him put down. What amazed me was how quickly I became attached to this little guy. I handled my loss. A couple of years later I was ready to purchase another pure-bred GSD. I did my research and found the most amazing female and named her Reagan. She was my dog and I was the big dog! Going through my divorce five years later I realized that I had to give her up. Once again, a difficult decision, but necessary. Fortunately there was a friend of the family with a lot of property that loved GSDs. I said my good-byes and handled my loss.
After this last experience I have decided that I have reached my limit of owning, training, loving and saying my good-byes to GSDs. But, just like every other loss that I have faced, this has become a time of learning and reflection for me. One of my discoveries about loss and grief is that the newest loss acts like a kind of sonar and sends a signal to my prior losses. That "ping" resounds off the past losses and returns with renewed strength. In my case my grief over losing my puppy called back all of the relational losses I experienced through my divorce of nearly ten years ago. It kind of reminds me of a phrase in the Bible in Psalm 42:7
     "Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
     All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me."
If I (we are) am not careful this can be overwhelming. Grief calls up past grief, does it not? Every one of us has experienced some kind of loss. And the more significant the loss, the more depth to the grief.
Okay, you say, this is all well and good Vinny, but how can you say that there is freedom in loss? The answer is that I simply posed the question. But I do believe that there is freedom when we handle the loss in a healthy manner...since grief is a fact of life. Early on in my education I learned from a wise woman named Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She identified five stages of grief that hold up pretty well many
decades later. They are:
1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression and
5. Acceptance.

Now, their order is interchangible and it is not written in stone that everyone will experience each one all the time. But they are an effective guideline for recognizing the need to move through your grief in a healthy manner. The trouble with human beings is that we do not always follow the proper order of things! That  ping of the sonar can recall, not only the memory, but the emotion as well. It did with me with my recent loss. The grief over my damaged relationships with my adult children came echoing back amplifying the lesser loss of my puppy. I recognized it, verbalized it (to my wife), and I am thereby able to keep it in perspective.
What also helps is the reality that all personal loss is not all bad! My first GSD was relieved from his misery. The second gained a huge piece of property to run on and after stressing over the placement of my puppy last week, my veterinarian found an older disabled gentleman who had been looking for a GSD for companionship and assistance.
In the greater losses I am still awaiting reconciliation and personally trusting God that He will make it happen.
So, we are still begging the question: Can there be freedom in loss? I believe the answer is yes. Freedom can come when we face the loss squarely, admitting its effect on us, express its depth to a trusted person, recognize the positive aspects of that particular loss and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our life is still worth living.
My challenge to you is to find the "freedom" in your losses.
Until next time, God bless you.

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