October 4, 2021, was the worst day of my life. It’s the day my mom passed away and exactly one year has gone by. They say that grief starts to lessen, or at least change, around the one-year mark and I wanted to update you on how things are going now. Has the grief lifted? Have things gotten easier? Does time heal? Let’s talk.
It’s been 1 year since my mom died & I miss her
I’m not sure what I should say here or how I should do it, so I guess I’ll just dive in. I’m also purposely not re-reading my other grief posts before writing this, so forgive me if I repeat anything. They’re just too painful to go back to right now.
But for reference, let me catch you up on my other grief content:
It’s been 1 week since my mom died
I’m making a diamond from my mom’s ashes
5 Surprising effects of grief I didn’t expect
11 Little things that have helped me deal with grief
Life lessons from 10 years of blogging and a personal update
Gosh, OK, where to begin… hang on for a messy ride. I’m just getting it out. God, do I miss my mom so much. Ugh.
First, I’m writing this one-year update because I feel like a year is a solid passage of time and because writing helps me heal. I’m also being open with you about where my head is at because I know it helps some of you out there. We feel less alone knowing we aren’t the only ones going through something hard.
So with that, here we go.
It’s been a year since I lost my mom. And seven months since we lost our beloved dog, Dagny. She died on March 5, 2022, at age 10 — almost five months to the day after losing my mom. Both of these dates are etched into my heart and soul, like a tattoo I never wanted.
If you’re new here and the backstory is of interest, please check out the posts I linked above for more details. But long story short, my mom lost her battle with cancer after a six-year fight. A week after she passed away when I was still in the U.S., Dagny went into heart failure. This started a downward spiral into hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
The grief I felt for my mom was put on the backburner as we cared for Dagny, with many ups an downs (mostly downs) along the way. During that 5-month period, my mom was a distant thought because the here and now of what was happening with Dagny was our sole focus.
I never slept more than a couple of hours per night, often on the floor with her, and my anxiety was at an all-time high. Our life then consisted of counting breaths, daily calls to the vet, and a lot of crying. My thoughts were 90% about Dagny, her care, her demise, how we’d live without her… pretty much all the time. It was suffocating. Dealing with grief and anticipatory grief is a terrible mix. It’s crazy what the body can get used to.
It’s important to point out that Dagny was our child and so much more than “just” a dog. She was by my side from Day 1 in France. She traveled with us. She was family and anyone who has loved an animal deeply knows where I’m coming from. I love you, Dagny, and I miss you so, so much. I know I will for the rest of my life.
It wasn’t until Dagny passed away that I allowed myself to fully grieve. So while my mom died one year ago, I mentally feel like I’m at the 7-month mark and experienced all the grief together.
It’s been…. hard. A real hell of a time. I don’t even know what to say. I’m not telling you this for sympathy, but to fill you in on just how things have been. I want to be real because it’s important to be vulnerable in life. I truly feel less alone knowing people out there are reading this and that you have gone through hard things too and you are still here. We’ll get to tomorrow together.
The big questions
Let’s tackle the questions in my intro. Has the grief lifted? Not really. It’s changed. I’ll get to that. Have things gotten easier? Some things. Does time heal? I think it does.
Time heals to an extent. It’s true. Does it heal completely? No. Does it make you forget? Definitely not. But it does put distance between you and the pain and sometimes distance is a little win that I’m happy to take. The grief is still there, but it insulates the pain in a way that makes day-to-day life more manageable.
Distraction also helps to create that distance. As someone who hates being busy, I’ve sure done a lot this year and that should not be underestimated. Physically forcing yourself to focus on something else other than crying and pain is really important, even just mentally. Those two things — time and distraction — have helped me enormously.
Daily distractions have included throwing myself into work, talking to friends and family and helping them with their problems, Netflix bingeing, cleaning, picking up a hobby, and the list goes on. My routine has been a great distraction this past year, namely my daily walks, red light therapy, and fitness routine. (Huge shout out to both the Les Mills On Demand app and Peloton. You can get a 30-day free trial to Les Mills there, no strings attached.)
I also need to emphasize that support from loved ones and speaking to a therapist are also amazing. If I didn’t have people to talk to, I don’t know where I’d be. Friends and family who were there for me pretty much daily from when we knew things weren’t going well with my mom are so, so appreciated.
I hope I can be there for someone I care about one day in the way they were there for me. Just having someone to listen — not fix or judge — makes everything seem less horrible. Feeling like we aren’t in it alone counts for so much. Even if the person doesn’t know what to say or how to help, just the act of listening eases the heaviness and gets it out of me and into the ether.
This whole year has shown me who my real friends and family are. It’s nuts how a few deaths can bring out people’s true colors. I guess I’ve culled the crop in a sense. Silence from certain people has been deafening.
And while I don’t think anyone means to hurt anyone else, I know what it feels like to have people drop off your radar when you need them the most. I know what it feels like to be judged. I also know what feels good on the receiving end and what makes everything worse. Cousins not even sending you as much as a condolence text. An uncle being unnecessarily cruel. “Friends” who I haven’t heard a peep from. Nice stuff.
But we pick ourselves up and we move on. I have forgiven people who should have known better but didn’t do better. We’re only human.
Seeing how people react (or don’t) has taught me so much about what I should do the next time a friend or acquaintance experiences a loss. What a learning experience it’s been. But I’m grateful for the lessons, even if they’ve come at an emotional cost.
What I’ve come to learn is that we have to feel our feelings and work through the grief. We can’t ignore them or try to move on without letting ourselves heal. I think in some ways I’ll be doing both of those things forever. I feel things deeply as a highly sensitive person and we all deal with grief differently and have a different timeline.
We don’t magically get to the other side of grief and then discard all the unpleasantness one day. It’s not like that. What it is like is an extra layer we carry around with us that no one sees but we know is there — like an invisible coat. Some of the time, it’s a light windbreaker but other times it’s a heavy Canadian goose down winter coat.
We can ignore the “coat” most of the time and we seem very normal — happy even! — but sometimes we notice that layer of grief and it’s OK to acknowledge it and think about. It’s now part of our story and we learn how to keep going, knowing it’s forever attached to us.
I work, go about my day, laugh and still have fun. I appear normal on the outside. No one would know anything is “wrong” just by talking to me. I don’t have complicated grief. I get out of bed and do all the things we do as adults. I don’t walk around crying much.
But that invisible coat is always with me, like a foundational sadness that is now enmeshed with who I am. It’s an unhealed crater in my heart, a longing for what was. I will never accept how my loved ones suffered and died. But I have to acknowledge the fact that they are gone and are never coming back. Sometimes I fight it in vain.
Half the time I forget that my mom and Dagny are gone. For a split second in the morning, I’ll think Dagny is in bed with us. In my glasses-less stupor, I sometimes mistake my dark clothes balled up on the floor for her. Then I snap back to reality. Sometimes I’ll think of something and my first reaction is, “Oh, let me text my mom.” And then I remember. Maybe one day that will stop happening. In a way, I don’t want it to.
I said distance has helped me and the grief has changed, but it also makes me feel further away from my loved ones. Just the other day, I cried as I told Tom I forget how I used to put Dagny’s harness on. Was it from the front? One paw at a time? Left paw, then the right? I don’t know.
I almost forgot how my mom laughed and the funny expressions she’d say. She liked the word “sharp,” as in, “He looks sharps in that suit.” I try to remember. I’m scared I’ll forget.
I’m scared more people will die. Like the loved ones who passed away just before my mom that were heartbreaking and that I haven’t written about publicly. I’m scared I will get cancer, too. That maybe my heart will fail. That maybe someone I love will have to watch me suffer. I don’t want anyone to have to watch that kind of suffering. I don’t them to hurt like I did, like I do. I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to hurt them. I want to go back in time. I know I can’t. I know I am still here. Now. Tomorrow. I am OK.
When it hits you
To be honest, losing Dagny was almost harder than losing my mom. It’s not because I loved my mom any less. It’s because Dagny was by our side for 10 years day in and day out. Her physical presence in our house and in our life was 24/7 and is so, so missed.
Of course I miss my mom like crazy too, but it’s just a different kind of grief. I was already an adult when I moved to France so my mom never lived in my physical space. I feel her loss the most when I go out to walk (alone now) because I used to call my parents every day in the afternoon when I’d walk Dagny. Now I just call my dad.
It’s funny when the losses hit you. I miss my mom when I’m in her house in Florida and when I’m in NJ, where I grew up and we made so many memories as a family. I miss her when I start thinking too much. Basically, when I’m not distracted.
When I’m in France and my thoughts wander, it’s Dagny. When it’s the afternoon walk/call time. When I see her friends at the park. I hate the park now. I miss Dagny the most when I’m in my house, which is most of the time.
Will we get a new dog?
Within days of Dagny’s passing, I got a bunch of well-meaning messages with links to animal shelters and people asking if we’re getting a new dog. Too soon, folks, too soon. I hadn’t even processed the loss yet. Should I get a new mom too? Send me the link.
Someone even told me on FB to adopt a real human child and how many need homes.
Anyway, as I said, Dagny was never “just” a dog. I can’t even put into words what Dagny meant to us. The bond was like no other and she was such a bright spot in our lives and I loved her as much as I love my family and Tom. She was family and while my relationship with her was different than the one I had with my mom, I loved her just the same.
Love is love. The loss is felt just as deeply.
So long story short, no, we will not be getting a new dog — definitely not now and probably not ever. Dagny isn’t replaceable. She will always have a piece of my heart. And we are still deep in grief. Getting a new dog isn’t the right choice for everyone.
Honestly, we’re trying to enjoy the freedom of not having a dog, both mentally and physically. I don’t worry about her anymore and the anxiety which hit me hardest in my chest finally lifted the day after we said goodbye to her. It had been there for years. I could finally breathe.
For mental health reasons, I don’t think I could handle another dog. The worrying would consume me (and I have never been a worrier!) and I don’t think I could just enjoy the present moment. I’d always be thinking about the end, robbing me of the time we have together. So that’s all I’ll say on that. If you understand, you understand. And if you don’t, please be kind.
How’s the cremation diamond process going?
Good! I wrote about how I’m honoring my mom by creating a diamond from her ashes (a real diamond, yes!) at the end of last year and it’s been a beautiful journey so far. I get regular updates from Eterneva, both written and video ones, keeping me informed about where we are in the process.
Right now, we’re in the growth stage and will be for another few months. The process takes a year or more from start to finish depending on the diamond, so I’m patiently waiting and enjoying the ride. A distraction 😉
In closing, I just want to say that I know I’ll be OK. I’m forever changed and wish my loved ones were still alive and in good health. But they aren’t and I know I can’t change that. I’m learning to adapt and find the little joys along the way, while honoring their memory the best I can, one day at a time.
Hang in there. Call someone you love. Be kind to yourself and others. If you’re going throgh something hard, I’m sending you a virtual hug. Thank you for reading this one. I’m always rooting for you. 😉
P.S. If you want to shift gears and read something France related, check out my post from the other day on lies to stop believing about French people. You all had a lot to say about it!