A letter to the doctor who compared losing my partner to losing a pet rabbit

My first GP said I was young and beautiful and I would find someone else

A nurse said she was sure I would feel better in a month

Friends compared my love dying to a break-up or divorce

You compared losing my love to losing a pet

Many people told me it would make me a better person

In the long run… stronger, more sensitive, more able

When my world was disintegrating at the seams

Many well-meaning people told me

I would love again

Many people wanted to help,

By absenting my pain.

You’re the first place people turn to after loss. When the police came to my house near midnight to tell me my love had been found dead in the street I remember I just wanted to walk. I felt like I could keep walking for the rest of my life. I kept repeating tell me this isn’t real tell me this isn’t real tell me this isn’t real… I had no idea what to do or what happens now. The next morning I went to see my doctor.

The morning my rabbit died I had to get up at 4:30am as I was on the morning shift. I was heartbroken, he was a beautiful companion and he had been in my family for seven years. I did go to work… and the day after, and the day after. I didn’t need anti-depressants to keep me alive, I didn’t want sleeping pills to just-for-the-love-of-god help me sleep… my dreams for the future weren’t utterly shattered to pieces and although I loved that little bunny my future still existed. It is wrong I have to even type these words… to explain to someone why losing the love of your life is simply not the same as losing your pet. It’s not the same as losing your parent. It’s not the same as losing your sibling. It’s not the same as losing your grandparent. It is not the same as any other loss as each loss is different and should never be compared.

Your words not only tried to compare but they exposed a sad picture of how our culture views grief. You used losing a pet rabbit as an example to tell me I should be coping better. If your pet rabbit had died, you would expect to be feeling better by now. You wouldn’t be coping by taking pills. In your eyes I was failing. I was grieving wrong. I was taking too long. I was too sad, for far too long.

We label people with complicated grief when it doesn’t fit into our standards. We desperately want the bereaved to move on… a phrase that feels like acid to our skin. We try to cover their pain with platitudes about healing and finding another love, as if one love replaces another or that falling in love with another would stop our grief dead in its tracks. Excuse the image. The bereaved are always too much.

So let me tell you a secret that all bereaved people know, no matter who they have lost. The first two to three years after a loss is the immediate aftermath. Then the beginning starts. The beginning is when we start to be able to live rather than survive, when hopefully, we can move with our grief instead of against it and build a life around it. Our grief is messy, strident, consuming and yet invisible to you at the same time. All bereaved people know this secret that grief is life-long. It does not mean we are broken. It means we’re human, we loved and still do.

When you dig down to the roots of the thing, there lays something that isn’t nothing, it isn’t emptiness, it is love with no place to go… it is love that still grows and love is a powerful thing. Yet you view us as weak. I turned to you for help, you’re in a trusted position. I came away from seeing you feeling more isolated than ever, feeling like the only people who would ever understand were those who were also widowed… and suddenly the world looked very narrow, very disconnected.

I wish I could write to you what grief feels like but there is a reason I call my writing a nameless pain… language does not have the words to express this. Each loss is unique, even when they share so much… there are universal experiences but so much is individual. Your words came from a place of judgement but many try to compare losses in a desperate attempt to connect and show us they care… but no loss is the same.

 

I feel some hope that there are charities trying their best to get our not so hidden secret into the minds of others. The bereaved community feel like we’ve been screaming it at the top of our lungs for years yet nothing changes. The charity Widowed and Young has many resources for outsiders to read. The Good Grief Trust aims to bring all bereavement charities and organisations together, so no one slips through the net and no one feels alone.

If you’re a doctor and reading this, or a nurse, or a friend… please pass this message on. We need to be heard. Please stop trying to absent our pain.

8 thoughts on “A letter to the doctor who compared losing my partner to losing a pet rabbit

  1. I’m so sorry for what you had to go through. But thank you for sharing your story. That was very brace.

    Your experience shows – sadly – why there are specialist bereavement counsellors. We have forgotten how to deal with grief. It doesn’t fit neatly into our sterile world where everybody needs to function.
    I have cried over the death of a guinea pig; and when I lost my horse I needed time out.
    Losing both my parents was traumatic, to say the least – as you say: every story is different. I lost part of my future and my past. But that’s a different story.

    People are protecting themselves by parting with platitudes. The saying used to be around sharing the pain – but nobody is willing or able to take it.

    Because it’s hard. Not to say or do anything. Not to make a plan. Just sharing the pain. And wait.

    Specialist advisors and bereavement groups now pick up what friends and family used to do.

    At the very very least, GPs ought to be the ones building the bridge.

    My thoughts are with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this sweet comment Sabine. Your words hold a lot of truth, people protect themselves with the platitudes and not knowing how to help. It is a skill to sit with someone in their pain and not try to “fix it” but I hope that anyone can learn how to listen like this. As you say, GP’s should certainly be the ones building the bridge as it’s where people first turn to mostly.

      I’m sorry for all of your losses and I am glad you didn’t take my words as showing any less empathy to whose who grieve their pets. I certainly have grieved my pets, which is why it was particularly odd that this GP chose the example of a rabbit as I have had rabbits all of my life. The grief is in no way less real – but very different and not comparable. Equally I would never claim to know what someone like you who has lost their parents has felt, as I still have both of mine in this world.

      Much love to you and thank you so much for your comment xxx

      Like

  2. Very well said! As a bereaved person, someone who is trained to support the bereaved & researches bereavement, I hear you and echo your sentiments about how powerful and deep the love is and that it has no-where to go but to consume us with sadness after the death. Eventually we do learn to live with the losses (not just the death but the other losses..) and in time we build a ‘new’ life but that does not diminish the love and loss, we just cope and build on that as best we can.

    I would add that both Leeds Bereavement Trust and Cruse Bereavement Care both have a list of local and national resources so any bereaved person can contact them for a list of charities that support the bereaved in both general or specific ways.

    With all best wishes, Caroline x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Caroline. I especially like how you’ve acknowledged that we have to deal with the primary loss of the death of the person, but there are so many other secondary losses involved in this. Thank you for your words and all the amazing work you do xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for writing this, I too lost my husband 5 months ago, he took his own life and I found him, nothing or no one can prepare you for this kind of grief, it feels like nothing else in this world, I just wanted to run away and never come back, luckily my doctor was more understanding and I’ve been lucky enough to have plenty of help from them and also a bereavement counsellor. You’ve described how I feel to a tee, I won’t ever get over it but I need to learn how to live with it, my friend said it took her 4 years to accept her husbands death. You are so right, we need to be heard and our pain needs to be acknowledged and not brushed under the carpet
    Thanks again for your wonderful words, take care xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment Lisa. I am so sorry for your loss and I cannot imagine how hard it must be that he took his own life. I am not sure if you’re a reader from Widowed and Young? But if so there is a bereaved by suicide group which I believe is very helpful, if you didn’t already know about it. I think 4 years for ‘acceptance’ sounds about right… I know I was in shock for the whole first year and I think most of the second was just spent still being unable to believe it had happened. I’m 2 and a half years in now and I don’t feel like I know what acceptance feels like yet.

      Much love to you and thank you again for your sweet comment xxx

      Like

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