I’m worried about my dog. Last Friday, she had what appeared to be a stroke and we rushed her to the emergency vet clinic, thinking that the end had come. It turned out to be Vestibular Syndrome, which looks like a stroke, but the vet said her chances of recovery are actually quite good. The problem is that Lucy is 15-years old and so far, her recovery has been very slow.
Her eyes are no longer twitching, she’s no longer drooling non-stop and she has regained control of her bladder. But she’s still lurching around with her head twisted sharply to the right, can’t manage stairs, wipes out completely now and then, and is eating only sporadically. Lucy is usually fiercely independent, and although she has mellowed somewhat with age, she has always been a sassy little hell-raiser. So it is hard to see her so tired and bewildered, so unsure of her movements, and so completely dependent on our help. I cling to the hope that the vets are right and she will continue to improve. But meanwhile, I worry.
At first, I was reluctant to tell anyone what I was feeling, because I was afraid of the responses I would get. Yes, I know she’s “just a dog,” and there are people who are suffering from much worse, and there are even more people out there who are watching loved ones suffer from painful and potentially fatal diseases. I also know that among my fellow dog-lovers there are many who have watched their own dog suffer, and sometimes even die, of much worse things . But eventually, I came to the conclusion that even though I feel genuinely sorry for what other people are going through, that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to worry about my dog’s bout with Vestibular Syndrome.
Worry, like grief, is personal. There’s no competition for who is dealing with the worst hardship or the greatest tragedy. Whatever it is that I’m coping with, there will always be someone out there coping with something much worse. But that doesn’t diminish my feelings.
I remember when I was planning my father’s memorial service, and in the midst of trying to make so many decisions, I blurted out the to minister, “This is just so hard!” He reminded me that my father was old and sick when he died, so I didn’t have it nearly so bad as people who were planning a funeral for someone who had died young and suddenly. And you know what? That response didn’t help at all. My father may have been old and sick, but my grief was still real, and so was my frustration at trying to figure out the right way to honor his memory.
I know the minister didn’t mean to dismiss my feelings (aside from that remark, he was quite helpful and supportive), but he made the common mistake of trying to rate the bad stuff that happens in our lives on some sort of world-wide scale. And that’s not helpful. If I’m upset about something, I don’t benefit from being told it’s a “First-world problem.” A mother grieving for her dead baby doesn’t need to have someone point out to her that, unlike some other grieving mothers, she has still has another child to love. A man standing next to the concrete slab where his house used to be doesn’t want to be told, “you’re one of the lucky ones, because the tornado missed your barn.” Those may be true statements, but they only serve to tell someone that they shouldn’t be feeling what they actually are feeling.
I believe that each of us is allowed to be upset, to worry, and to grieve exactly the way we want to and need to, without being judged or corrected. There is no prize for the one suffering from the biggest tragedy, and no one deserves to have their feelings dismissed for being too trivial. Our emotions are real and need to be dealt with as such, even if they don’t make much sense to others. Because when it comes to feelings, there really is no contest at all.