Pain and grieving. Loss and devastation. Been around those blocks a few times. And the second half of this last year, there it was…all up in my face. Once again anxious to teach me some serious lessons in letting go and the gritty path to reconnecting with my soul-fullness.
You’d think by now I’d totally have this down. Or at least I tell myself I should, I’ve worked really hard to kick those days of being a hot mess to the curb. I’ve worked hard to pick myself up off the floor one broken piece at a time. Like really hard.
But who am I kidding? Light seeking is an ongoing business and part of that is seeking clarity through the pain. Finding your way back to true joy even after your life crumbles.
When You Lose Something You Love So Deeply
2017 didn’t start off easy to begin with. I knew deep down inside that this may be the last year I was able to spend with my fur baby of 19 years. Let’s just say, her life was never easy. A brush with death 10 years earlier was just one of a few challenges she faced during her lifetime. But she was one tough kitty. Her, her sister, and I, went through our share of major life changes together, including moving 10 times. We have spent the most years together out of anyone in my life so far. Words can’t express how heart and soul deep my bond with these girls was.
So as I watched her health decline, as grateful as I was that, against all odds, we were able to share 19 years together, it didn’t make it any easier to say goodbye. I tried as much as possible to prepare myself by caring for her and respecting her aging process in the most special way I knew how and exchanging good energy, love and affection every chance we got. I was preparing for her to leave this life stocked up on love, gratitude and good vibes, with no regrets.
It’s the least I could do considering all the unconditional love she had given me.
Facing a Heart-Wrenching Decision
Still when that day came, the day I had to let her go, my heart was nothing short of devastated and totally broken. Especially since I had to make the ultimate decision for her. I’ve lost pets suddenly in tragic accidents and somehow thought this had to be less difficult. That’s when I learned the lesson that no matter how much you try to prepare for something like this you just can’t, and that it’s just not natural to have to make the call.
And even though I tried to make it as peaceful a transition as possible while cuddling her on my lap in our favorite spot with Bob Marley playing in the background as the vet put her down (I highly recommend in-home euthanasia, just google it, it is by far the least stressful and most sacred way to honor your companion’s passing), putting her to sleep is still an image that will stay with me forever. I know since it’s something I also had to do for her sister three years earlier.
There’s a quote “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened”. The loss of a pet can be just as painful as the loss of a relative. My girls were the most sweet, lovable, and spunky kitties ever. And this one, my talking tabby, she was my little soul mate. So loving. So sensitive. Ours was a soul bond. And working from home the last few years allowed us to share cuddle sessions galore. Spending most of our days together also made it that much harder to let her go.
When Loss Takes Pieces of You With It
Every morning when she heard me rustling in bed she would anxiously dart over to our spot on the sofa so she could cuddle on my lap while we tag teamed our morning ritual. And even though her joints were old and stiff she would still get up out of her bed to come greet me at the door with a loud and excited meow as if to say “I’m so happy you’re home mom.” And every night she would rush to snuggle up by my side where I would fall asleep to the sweet vibration of my little extra loud purr machine right next to my heart.
For weeks after, it was hard not to subconsciously fulfill our daily rituals, even going to different spots to feed her or reaching to pet her. It was hard to know what to do without my girl needing me anymore. For the three months we lived in that apartment after she was gone, it just felt empty and quiet. It took me a few months to process my anger, confusion, and even guilt over whether I’d made the right decision for her, and not yearn for her presence or shed a tear at the mention of her name.
I struggled hard trying to make peace with the fact that in her last moments she was thankful I made the decision that she needed me to be strong enough to make for her. And even though I think I believe that deep down inside, there is still a part of me that is trying to come to terms with it on some level.
Just When You’re in the Thick of It
Less than two months after losing my best friend, a leak in the apartment above caused mold to grow in our kitchen. I’ll spare you the details on this one but to put it lightly our property manager made our lives hell during remediation while over the course of a month and a half we were essentially displaced from our home and living out of a suitcase.
It became clear that the root source of the mold was not going to be remedied and as much as we really didn’t want to move, we just weren’t going to get the mold the hell out of our lives, so we decided we had to get the hell out and literally packed everything and moved in a week. Don’t. Recommend. It. Like I said, I’ve moved lots of times but a week to pack and move was the craziest kind of stress ever.
When Devastation Blazes Through Your Community
Two months after that came the most devastating fires in the history of California. On December 4, 2017 the Thomas fire burning 281,893 acres, which has now become the largest wildfire in California’s history, raged through our city and neighboring communities with high winds fueling its burn the size of a football field per second, if you can even even imagine. As the fire burned in the hills directly across the street from our home (the pictures below show the progression from our backyard within minutes) we were packed and prepared to evacuate if necessary.
For weeks as the fire continued rapidly spreading north my partner had to make the unnerving drive up the freeway to work each day with fires blazing on both sides as it eventually crossed over into neighborhoods along the coast. Although we are grateful we weren’t forced to evacuate and the worst we had to deal with was a power outage taking out our refrigerator and living out of a cooler for a week, it was nothing compared to what so many other people sadly had to endure.
Close to 105,000 people were forced to evacuate some of which were close family and friends, and some even had their homes and all their belongings burned to the ground. The aftermath these communities are dealing with is nothing short of heart wrenching. And sadly, a wife, her 2-year-old daughter and one on the way are now without a husband and father, the firefighter who lost his life battling the blaze. Current stats from the U.S. Forest Service show 1,063 structures destroyed and 280 damaged by this devastating fire.
More Devastation When You’re Already Down
And when finally over a month later the fires were almost fully contained, the unthinkable happened. On January 9, 2018 unprecedented flooding and mudslides caused by record rainfall 18 times more than required to produce debris flows hit Montecito, devastating everything within its path. It is heartbreaking that at this point 21 people have lost their lives, 2 remain missing, and several more were hospitalized, some in critical condition. It has been reported that over 100 homes were destroyed and some 462 damaged. Another 8 commercial structures were destroyed and 20 damaged.
Accepting That Sometimes Pause and Silence are Wise and Courageous Acts of Sanity
Typically over the holiday season I would have been posting about things like how to deal with holiday stress and how to make the most of 2018 but if I’m being 100 percent, it just didn’t feel right this year. On top of numerous mind-boggling natural disasters worldwide in 2017, the gravity of them right where you live can make you feel like your in some kind of alternate universe. It just seems so surreal.
Maybe I could have written about some of my personal losses earlier but that just didn’t feel right either. I can’t really tell you why I chose not to other than I did the best to listen to that little voice inside, feeling that sometimes in the thick of pain and loss the best option may be to go silent for a minute. Just go inside for however long it takes. Sometimes it’s all you can do to simply deal. And that’s okay.
And when you think to yourself or someone says to you that other people have it worse, the probability is real, but still…only you can feel the depth of your own pain, devastation, and loss. And to that end each of us deserves to have our process of moving through these moments honored.
For the first time since starting Essentials of Self Care I found myself having to talk myself out of feeling guilty or like I was letting people down by not writing my usual amount of content. I had to talk myself into being good with what I have worked hard to produce up to this point. I had to really coax myself into taking some serious time to reconnect with my self care and to be gentle and loving with myself.
You know how when you deny the nourishment of your soul you start to feel really shitty on the outside? The struggle is real. It was a huge wake up call for me. Time to reconnect with my soul-fullness.
The Gritty Path to Bouncing Back
When you’re ready to stop with the harshness of just dealing, you can transition into the grittier but more beautiful work of processing. How amazing would it be if you could simply bypass grieving and get straight to bouncing right back? One thing I’ve learned for sure is that until you deal with it…I mean really deal with it regardless of how long that takes, all that grief will just keep creeping back up on you.
Only when you honor your process does it become easier to let go. And in those moments of letting go you create more space to seek more light.
Ironically, while I was in the thick of things I was invited by Seasons in Malibu to contribute to a roundup post regarding how to build up resiliency to negativity and take care of your mental health. The result is the following post:
The timing couldn’t have been any better. These major life stressors were forcing me to test and grow my own “resilience muscles” in that very moment. It was a perfect reminder and opportunity to hone in on the positivity factor. And honestly one of the major ways I chose to take care of myself was to immerse myself in the love and support of family (which is a piece I mention in the roundup).
Each time I got home from taking trips to go see family in different places for quality visits since I don’t get to see them very often, my heart was that much fuller and I was that much more grateful, which helped me to heal a little more and build a little more resiliency. Piece by piece.
Light Seeking and Lessons in Letting Go
Although these days I am able to focus more on the good times, I still miss my best friend, and don’t wish having to make the call to end your pets life on anyone. Ever. I do have a sense of peace knowing that both my fur babies had a good full life of love, I am forever grateful for the pawprints they left on my heart, and hope they are roaming freely and peacefully at Rainbow Bridge.
In my search for something to read I felt I needed not only for it to address the actual grieving but also, actionable steps to take to move through the process of losing a pet, and things I could do to get to the place of honoring their beautiful memory.
For pet parents who have lost a beloved cat, it can be difficult to find books specifically on how to deal with the loss of a feline friend. There seems to be a lot of books written on the loss of dogs so when I found the book Soul Comfort for Cat Lovers, it was exactly what I needed. I hope it will bring many more comfort.
For as much as we miss living a block from the ocean, instead of being resentful about the way things were at the end, I am looking at it as a blessing in disguise that spurred us out of a worsening situation that could have had devastating health effects. And I have eased into all the warm and fuzzy memories and how forever thankful I am for that beautiful beach life experience we were able to enjoy, plus good friends made along the way.
As for the pain, loss, and devastation left by the fires and floods, there is so much recovery and rebuilding to be done in lives and entire communities for years to come, but it’s beautiful to see the resilience already shining through. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see people coming together to support each other and help one another out. Like so many others have expressed I am grateful and humbled to be part of such a caring community.
This Ted Talk from a woman who’s house was burnt down not once, but twice, and how losing everything can set you free inspires hope and offers comfort.
And a huge THANK YOU to all the first responders, especially the firefighters…rest in peace Cory Iverson, who risked their lives working long hours in brutal conditions away from their families during the holidays. At one point I think they said there were over 8,500 men and women fighting these fires, coming from all over, and it resonates throughout our communities how thankful we are. I don’t think words could ever express all of our appreciation. Your efforts will never be forgotten.
2017 was a tough year for so many. I’m so ready to bounce back big in 2018. By the same token, whenever you feel lost, just know you’re never alone. To resilience, letting go, finding your way back to gratitude, and light seeking…whatever road it takes you on and however much time you need. As hard as it is sometimes, trust your journey. Sending lots of love and light, XO
What about you? Hopefully 2017 was a great year for you, but if you faced some challenges, maybe some you’re even still in the process of bouncing back from, it would also be inspiring to hear how you were able to exercise resilience and overcome those obstacles?