No Contest

IMG_2401I’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.

100 thoughts on “No Contest

  1. I am so glad you touched on this subject. You are right. Every person needs to tend to their own worry tree, as my Aunt used to say. Be there for those you know are suffering, but keep tabs on your own troubles as well. Well written. Best Wishes for Lucy and her speedy recovery!

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    • Thank you! I know that there are definitely degrees of tragedies, but I hate the way we sometimes extend that to dictate the degree to which we are allowed to worry or grieve. Because I do believe that feelings are different.

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  2. Poor Lucy! I hope her recovery is swift! And she’s not “just a dog”. She’s YOUR dog and a member of YOUR family.

    I hate when people try to one up their grief or worry to someone else’s. We have absolutely no idea how that grief or worry is impacting someone, so there is never a comparison.

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  3. Very well presented. Just as (I believe) quality of life is a factor with another human, I also believe that to be true with animals. The unfortunate difference is that a human can often express themselves such that one can gauge what their life is like. With a dog, one must rely on ones own knowledge of the specific dog and hopefully get a vet’s opinion as necessary. In a worst case scenario, the grieving process is just as valid for a pet as it is for a fellow human. Anybody who thinks otherwise is being very narrow minded and inconsiderate.

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  4. I couldn’t agree more, there is no contest. And I’m so sorry for your Lucy and hope she will improve soon! I haven’t had yet the pleasure to enjoy the company of a dog but I can imagine how sad I would feel when it would be ill and I wouldn’t care what other people might think about it. You have the absolute right to worry and to grieve, she’s part of your life and your family, what else matters? Give her a little careful cuddle from me! 😄🐶

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  5. Ugh… people can be so unthinking sometimes. Maybe that’s why some remain silent when faced with the illness or personal tragedy of another. When you can’t think of something to say, a hug is usually appreciated. And, “I’m so sorry” is always better than words that try to diminish another’s pain.

    I hope Lucy feels better and regains her mobility soon. Your feelings matter. <>

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    • I agree, a quick hug or just the words “I’m sorry” are always appropriate. We aren’t always going to understand why someone feels the way they do, but we don’t need to. We just need to respect the way they are feeling, and offer whatever comfort and support we can. And thanks for your kind words!

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  6. no truer words spoken!!! As usual, you express thoughts that resonate with so many of us. Grief is individual and personal and people often try to minimize to “help,” but often end up hurting. I think the best we can do is empathize, offer an ear, a shoulder, a hug, and love and friendship. My heart is with you while you worry about Lucy. When Mikey died, I cried for days. Please don’t think your grief or worry is not important or worthy of expressing. Hugs from Mars!

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    • Thanks, Jodi! Our love for pets is real, which means so is our worry and grief when they are in trouble. And I agree, most people who seem to be minimizing our pain think they are helping, trying to point out the positives and cheer us up. They don’t realize that it actually has the opposite effect!

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  7. I’m not sure how someone can be a household companion for 15 years and not be considered a member of the family, human or otherwise. And if you can’t have feelings of worry or grief for a family member, what’s the point of having a family?

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  8. I’m sorry that you and Lucy are going through a tough time – I hope she recovers, quickly and completely.
    Loss is loss, no matter how it’s packaged. I wish we had better “training” on how to respond to this – something other than the “stiff upper lip” or “you think YOU’VE got it bad, well wait to you hear about ME!”

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    • Thank you for understanding! And I agree, learning how to respond to people in distress would be a good thing. I know people don’t mean to offend when the minimize someone’s loss, (they are often trying to cheer the person up), but their words too often make things worse. And I cringe when I think of some of the things I used to say before I learned better!

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  9. Ann it’s all been said above … I worked with grief for years and know it’s a highly individual response to a challenge. One lady wondered why she cried so hard when a Church member died who she hardly knew …. he died at the same age as her husband did a few years before. Sometimes people’s grief manifests at other times in other ways, so nobody can compare.
    I pray that Lucy has a complete and swift recovery but if not her time was up, we all move on and her passing will leave a huge hole in your life. She is preparing you now, warning you. Pets can’t speak but they reflect their owners personality.

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    • That’s a very good point…sometimes what we think we’re so upset about is actually just a trigger for something else that we still feel strongly about. Which, as you say, is yet another reason not to judge someone else’s emotions or grief.
      And thanks for your kind thoughts about Lucy. I am hoping that she recovers fully, and the odds are with us. But if this is indeed the end, then we will grieve, but also be very grateful for the time we had with her. Because she is fifteen, one way or another, her days with us are numbered, and I think you are right…she’s letting us know that someday she will be leaving us.

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    • Thanks, Paul! I think few things are more personal than our emotions, and we shouldn’t have to justify them to anyone. (I always say that emotions are like obnoxious out out-of-town relatives. They just show up from time to time, uninvited and often inappropriate, and we have no choice but to deal with them!)

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  10. I was raised on a farm. We were not supposed to become attached to our animals because they were either a commodity to sell or a work animal. But, I named our cows, cuddled our work dogs, and played with our feline mousers. Suffered heartbreak when Bessie went off to the butcher because she dried up and Buster was put away because he couldn’t chase cows anymore. But, I learned that grief does not discriminate. Whether it’s Grandma or Lassie, the grief is the same. One of our cats developed a seizure disorder and needs to be medicated daily. He’s still sweet and lovable, just tumbles a lot and staggers like a drunk. “Friends” actually ridiculed us for not putting him down. No, he is family.

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    • It is so hard when you live in an environment that doesn’t validate your strong love for animals, and I’m sorry you had your heart broken so many times! Because I agree with you and Paul (above): grief is grief, no matter who are what we are grieving for.
      As for your friends, I’m appalled. They may not have understood why you wanted to keep you cat despite his issues, but their job as friends was to support your decision. The fact that you two wanted to keep him was reason enough for any one who cared about you to keep their opinion to themselves. Some family members just happen to have fur and walk around on four legs…..

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  11. Ann, so very sorry to hear this. Please give Lucy a big hug from us. We so enjoyed seeing her. Sending prayers and love your way and hope she continues to get better each day Love from the Mistry’s..

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    • Thanks so much Louise! I know you understand. She’s eating much better today (ham, turkey, eggs, cheese and carrots) so that makes me more hopeful. Of course, I don’t think we’re ever going to get her to eat regular dog food again…. But if she recovers fully, that’s a price I’m willing to pay!

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    • Thanks, Pat! I am in awe of the way you have stood by Dexter and helped find the right medicine so that he can have a normal life. We love our furry children so much…and we do what we have to do to help them. You and Larry are a great example of that!

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  12. Sorry to hear about your dog being sick, I hope she gets better soon. Never feel bad about being worried or sad when it comes to any other living thing, it just means you care.

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  13. Such wise words. It seems so difficult for some to offer just simple encouragement and support. Perhaps they mean well. I don’t know. I am so sorry about your dog. With our precious pets it is so difficult. Maybe in part because they can’t speak for themselves. They are such a part of our lives and heart. 💕

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    • I honestly think they do mean well, just aren’t tuning into what others need to hear in times of crisis. And thank you so much for your kinds words about Lucy! You’re right..the hard part is she can’t tell us what she is thinking and feeling, and we can’t tell her to just hang in there, the vet thinks she will get better!

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  14. I’m glad you shared this with us, Ann. Worry and grief are indeed personal. There is no comparison nor should there be. I think any pet owner can relate to exactly what you are feeling though – let’s face it, our pets are our family. They are as important and loved as any other member and when they are sick, we worry. It’s totally natural. I’m a cat person, I’ve always owned cats – I currently have two who are seniors. My eldest cat is my favourite (I know, I shouldn’t have favourites but I do!) – she’s 15 years old, has early stages of both kidney and thyroid disease and I worry constantly about her wasting away. I already lost a 20 year old blind cat to kidney disease so this makes me more scared. Have faith in the vet, I know it’s painful to watch Lucy struggle but hopefully she recovers quickly xo

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    • Thanks, Kim! I’m so sorry to hear about your cat, and I hope that the kidney and thyroid disease don’t progress any further. You are absolutely right about pets being family, and as such we can’t help but worry about them, and grieve when they leave us. As for Lucy, she does have a much better appetite today, so I take that as a good sign! And it does help that I have confidence in my vet.
      Take care, Kim!!

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  15. None of us can ever truly know the pain of another, we can empathise but we rarely know the back story to another’s worries or grief. Our pets have often been a support through trying times, a friend in our dark hours as well as loving companions and there is no reason at all why you should feel ashamed of your care and concern, it’s just evidence that you are a compassionate and loving human being. I hope your dog is soon on the road to recovery and you can sleep easier at night.

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    • Thanks so much for your kind and understanding comment! You’re right…none of us can ever truly understand someone else’s pain, and therefore should never judge it. The concern we have for our pets is just the price we pay for loving them, and I do believe they deserve that love.

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  16. Our fur babies bring us such unconditional love, a love that works its way so deep in our hearts. Our concern for them when they are sick and our grief for them when it is time to say goodbye is real & painful. I hope that your lovely Lucy makes a full recovery, allowing both her & you to spend more days together.

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    • Thanks so much, Lynn! She’s got her appetite back today…even been begging for food…so I take a lot of hope in that. If she can get her coordination back, or at least mostly back, we are home free!

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  17. So sorry Ann to hear about Lucy. Prayers and blessings for her full recovery. This was a great post under difficult circumstances. You are 100% right – you don’t have to justify or rationalize your grief, sorrow, or any other emotion. They’re yours and you own them. We could spend our entire lives making ourselves feel great or lousy by comparing ourselves to others. please keep us all posted on Lucy’s progress and take care of yourself too during this rough period cause Lucy needs a healthy mom to help her recover.

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    • Thank you so much, Michael! I know you understand what it means to love a dog. The situation with Lucy just got me thinking how often we “rate” the problems and tragedies we deal with, and how very unhelpful that is to the people who are going through them. As you say, our emotions are ours, and we should just own them.
      Lucy’s appetite is much better today, so I’m feeling more hopeful than I have. As long as she gets a good quality of life back, I’ll be very happy!

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  18. Ann, I could not agree more with you on this post. So glad that you wrote it. We do think comforting someone means pointing out that someone else has it worse. The pain or worry you feel does not diminish just because others may have it worse. It is only you who truly understands your pain and concern. Here is hoping that Lucy will recover soon.

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    • Thank you so much! And I agree that when people point out that “it could be worse” they are just trying to offer comfort. There was a time when that’s what I would have said, too. But now I’ve learned that the best thing to do is simply accept, and even validate, someone’s feelings, whether we understand them or not.

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  19. Excellent post and I relate so well to what you wrote. The grief we feel over losing a family member, friend or pet is not relative to their age, their species, or how many years we’ve known them. I was grateful to have my dad for 82 years when others lost their fathers earlier in life. When our kitty was ill I was VERY worried (she’s fine now, thank goodness.) Love is love and loss is a loss. How much we grieve is determined by the most important thing: how much we love.
    I hope Lucy makes continues to make steady progress to a full recovery.

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  20. Hi Ann. I’m sorry about your pup. I know how precious people’s furry friends are. We had a golden for over 15 years. When he passed, it was the only time in almost 25 years that I saw my husband cry. I also agree that invalidating people’s grief and hardships is unnecessary and unhelpful. Not everything in life has to become an exercise in relativity. To be sure, sometimes I feel ashamed for lamenting my problems when so many have it worse, but that’s for me to realize and recognize, not someone else.

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    • I couldn’t agree more, Kim! No one has the right to tell you when you are allowed to be upset, or to grieve. We may figure it out on our own, but that is for us to determine. Honestly, I don’t feel there is a scale for hardships, we just deal with what comes our way as best we can, and acknowledge that some of us have it easier than others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel our losses deeply, and don’t need the support of our friends and family. Thanks for being one of those people who always understands what I really mean, even if I don’t express it well!

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  21. I am in total agreement with what you said regarding cheap consolation by way of comparison. Feelings are real.Would a mother feel comfort, who lost her only son in war if someone told her that with him died a thousand other brave soldiers? Situations where grief is involved requires true compassion. Thank you, Ann!

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    • Exactly! One mother’s grief over her son is real, no matter how many other mothers have lost their sons as well. We need to allow people to have their feelings, without judgment or comparisons. Compassion is the only correct response, I think. Thanks, Peter, for your kind and understanding words!

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  22. well said-I have a dear friend, that has spoken of this often-When my grandmother died at age 92, many remarked that she had a long and good life and that I should be glad to have had her so long-true and I was, but it was the first day of my life without her and I grieved the loss. A dog is a friend, we are tied to them by heart and the concern and worry should’t surprise anyone. God bless your dog.

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    • Thank you for you kind thoughts for Lucy! And I understand completely what you mean. Of course you were grateful for your grandmother’s long life and all the time you had with her, but that doesn’t mean that her death was easy to deal with. That’s a huge loss, and your grief was very real. People just don’t understand that those factors don’t diminish grief at all….

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  23. “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. EXACTLY. That is why when someone dies, I rarely say anything. I stick to “I am sorry for your loss.” Because grief is so personal, I can’t really say the right thing. That is my opinion.

    In regards to Lucy, it has been two days from this post. I hope she is doing better. I don’t believe in the phrase “just a dog/cat/bird/whatever”. Pets are part of the family and in some instances are even “more” part of a family. I am sorry you are having to watch her suffer . . . and wonder . . . that is an awful part of it all. These are the times when I wish – more than any other time – that the pet could talk. I do hope she is doing better. Hugs to you both!

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    • I am the same way. Unless I am sure of just the right words, I stick to “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Because not only is that true, but it doesn’t impose any of my ideas on their feelings. As for Lucy, her appetite is back, and that’s a hopeful sign. She’s still not nearly as coordinated as we would like, but I’m hoping that will improve as well. I feel much better about her chances now than I did at the beginning of this week. Thanks for your kind words and concern.

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  24. First of all, I’m hoping that Lucy is doing better. As you know, there is no such thing as, “just a dog” to those who understand and love them. They are part of your heart and anything that resides that deeply inside causes us worry and pain whenever they hurt. Human or non human.
    You’re so right about how you should be allowed to feel and how others try to place labels or degrees on our grief or pain. I sometimes try to justify their words because I tell myself they’re trying to make us feel better or they feel inadequate in terms of not being able to do something for us so they feel minimizing it in some way lessens the blow. It doesn’t.
    We have to grieve and hurt for those we love and lose in life. Thats just the way it is and nothing anyone says will remove that hurt. The only thing I’ve ever found that helps is when someone puts their arms around you and doesn’t say a word.
    So here’s a quiet hug, hoping that Lucy recovers but knowing you will worry and hurt seeing her like that.
    Stay well, Ann.

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  25. Ann, such a beautifully expressed post on matters of depth. You are so right that worry and grief is intensely personal, and that no scale need apply. You feel what you feel, regardless of anyone else’s interpretation of your situation. People are often awkward around grief in particular, saying things that they hope will comfort but can be somewhat wide of the mark. My thoughts go out to Lucy and your family, and thank you for sharing your experience in your wonderfully thoughtful way.

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    • I agree, I think those words are meant to comfort, even if they do the exact opposite. I think we just need to remember that we don’t always understand what others are feeling, or why, but the point is to simply acknowledge it and support them in it. Worrying about my dog made me think about this, who knew? But thanks, as always, for your comments!

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  26. I have never owned a dog, but love is love and loss is loss. You love your dog and I am sorry for your current situation. All humans want to be heard and have their feelings acknowledged. Thank you for bringing up this important conversation.

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  27. Of course we’re allowed to worry, in fact we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. Anyone who says any different is lacking in compassion, or maybe it’s a moment of thoughtlessness. Regardless it serves no purpose. I’m sorry that Lucy’s suffering. I know all too well the sadness that comes with an old loved dog. Our Bluey was 15 when we had to make the hardest decision to end her suffering. Hope Lucy will be ok. Thinking of you Ann.

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    • Thanks, Miriam! It’s odd, isn’t it, how sometimes we can believe we aren’t allowed to admit to our emotions. I still remember when Peabody, my pet mouse died when I was 12. Two of my friends stopped by right afterwards, and I was still crying. As soon as I stepped out of the room, I could hear one whisper to the other, “Is she actually crying over a mouse?” But I was….
      You’re right…grief and worry are just part of being human!

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  28. As someone who lost two cats in 2015, I understand what you must be feeling. There are moments I look out the back yard and briefly, just briefly, I see them there. They both taught me a lot. And I miss them fiercely at times.

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