Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

On Grief (and messages from beyond)

It’s been two weeks since my beloved cat Simone died, and today is the first day I haven’t cried. But it’s only 2 PM, so we’ll see. On the first morning after I put her down, I cried so hard I worried I might scare the kids. “When does this grief pass?” I asked Drew between sobs (he’s lost both parents so he’s more familiar with grief than I am). “If you’re still crying like this in a month,” he replied, “it might be time to talk to someone.”

Well, I thought, if he doesn’t already, my husband’s soon going to think I’m crazy, crying for a month over a cat.

But she wasn’t just a cat. She was more like a life partner, really. We lived together for over 19 years – longer than I’ve lived with anyone else. She’s been with me through everything! It felt like a piece of me died with her and I couldn’t — I still can’t — wrap my head around all the years that lay ahead without her.

In the days that followed Simone’s death, I felt like I had fallen into what I called a grief abyss. My grandmother, whom I was very close to, had died only a month to the day earlier, and overcome with shingles pain (probably brought on, in part, by the stress over her imminent death), I couldn’t make her funeral in St. Louis. I also couldn’t really focus on the emotional pain of losing her. The grief was shelved for the time-being and then when I recovered from shingles, I’d take it off the shelf for a few minutes here and there as I had the strength and time to deal with it.

“I think you’re doing a great job dealing with her death,” Drew said to me a couple weeks after my grandma died while we were walking through Central Park and I was remembering something about her. And I felt like I was doing a good job, too — like if I was going to get graded on processing a loved one’s death, I’d probably get an A. I was appropriately sad, but not messy or needy about it. And then Simone died and my neat and tidy little exercise with grief blew up in my face and I’ve cried every day for two weeks straight now.

One of the hardest parts of the grief, particularly the grief related directly to Simone, whom I shared a home with for 19 years, was the stark disruption between her being with me and then not being with me. Where IS she? I kept wondering. Where did she go?? Is she ok? Is she scared?

A friend texted me a link yesterday to this quote from Nick Cave:

It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

On the third day after Simone died, I got a spirit message. I won’t go in detail, but it felt as real as I needed it to feel, and my grief instantly lifted a bit. I still haven’t gotten a message from my grandmother — maybe I never will — but I felt less worried about her. I believe in an afterlife and since my grandmother was preceded in death by plenty of loved ones (including my grandfather), I knew she wouldn’t be alone or scared on the other side. I didn’t feel that same reassurance with Simone; I was her world. Drew, the kids, Miles, and I were her whole world, and we’re all still here, so who was/is with her on the other side? Of course, I still don’t know. I’ll never know. And regardless of what anyone’s faith is, everything after death is a great big mystery anyway. But I did get what I believe was a message that Simone is ok, and that my love — our love — transcends the big divide between us now, and that will have to be enough.

It’s been two weeks. According to Drew’s grief timetable, I have two more weeks to put a bumper on the daily cry fest or I may need to find a therapist to help me. (“It’s ok if you need to talk someone,” he reassures me.) I honestly don’t know if I’ll pull it together or not, and it bugs me that I am no longer acing grief — that I’ve become messy and needy, the things I was actively trying to avoid being, and I worry about what will happen when I experience an even bigger loss. But! But I do feel heartened that I am not alone in feeling this way — that others have and do experience similar grief after the loss of an animal (or the compounded loss of multiple loved ones close together). And I feel better thinking about my grief as a measure of my love, though I think both my grandmother and Simone would probably say, “We know you love us! You can quit crying now!” And I feel better that I received what I believe was a message from the other side that Simone is ok, even if it was, as Nick Cave says, simply my madness willing the message into existence. I’ll take it as the gift it was meant to be, and let it continue leading me out of the darkness.

These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.

Have you received messages or dream visitations from deceased loved ones? If you’ve had similar experiences with grief, was there anything that helped you through it?

32 comments… add one
  • avatar

    TheHizzy November 5, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Recently I had a very troublesome dream of my recently passed Grandma who I was close to.

    The family was at her house, and she was in a TV room and we could just swiftly walk by, not stop and talk to her. We knew she had passed in the dream and she was just out of reach.

    It’s been 5 months and I still cry on the regular about her. Grief is so personal to each person and hard.

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    • avatar

      FannyBrice November 6, 2018, 10:49 am

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

      About 6 months after my beloved uncle died, I had a similarly disturbing dream, and it felt like starting from day 1 of the grieving process again. It takes a lot of time before happy memories start to catch up to the pain, and that’s ok. Be gentle with yourself.

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      • avatar

        TheHizzy November 6, 2018, 11:48 am

        My future planning self used to send her to voicemail to record her voice and then I would call her back within 5 minutes to not be suspicious.

        I have recordings of her: saying hi, saying she loves me, calling me sweetheart like she always did, telling me “Call Grandma” and everything nuance she had.

        I’m so very thankful to have all of those, with the most recent one was about a month before her passing. <3

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    Kate November 5, 2018, 2:45 pm

    When my dog died in 2006, unexpectedly from cancer (he was 8, which isn’t that old), I was an absolute mess. I was single at the time, and I remember I couldn’t sleep at home alone. I would sleep at my parents’ house, then drive home to go to the gym and get ready, and go to work from my house. I wasn’t okay until I got a new puppy – who’s now 12 and starting to get “old.” It was a REALLY dark time, and I’ve blocked a lot of it out, but from his diagnosis to his death to when I got my puppy was about 3 months of hell. I wasn’t crying every day or felt like I needed to talk to a counselor, but I was pretty miserable.

    What I think happens to animals is, whatever their experience was in this life, they’re going to keep experiencing that. I think there are people, right, who’ve passed, and there are pets who have passed, and they have the same kind of relationships that people and pets have now. So I think Simone is probably with a new loving mom or family, and she’s experiencing the same nice things that she liked with you. I had those same thoughts, like who’s taking care of him, is he okay? Is he playing ball? And I had to trust that of course he’s ok. People have always looked after dogs, people and dogs belong together, so he’s with someone who’s caring for him and throwing a ball for him. You know?

    I never got a message from beyond, but my parents did when their parents passed. I think my dad heard his mom’s voice loud and clear, and my mom actually saw her dad, he sat down on the bed and told her he was good, and that he felt like a boy. I don’t know if those are our own manifestations in our minds, or real messages, but you hear about them a lot.

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    • avatar

      Kate November 5, 2018, 3:40 pm

      I mean, I did probably cry every day while he was sick, and for a little while after he passed. But not a month after. It gets better.

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  • avatar

    ktfran November 5, 2018, 3:09 pm

    I’m so sorry Wendy! Simone was a very lucky cat. I personally haven’t received messages from the other side, but I do believe in the other side, whatever it may be, and that Simone is happy and well taken care of.

    We lost my Grandpa when my niece, was IDK, 3 or 4. So this was around 9 years ago. She was visiting us in Chicago and we were on the el. She waved to someone. We asked who. She said “Great Grandpa.” He was in the sky. I fully believe he was looking down on us that day. Protecting us. I guess that’s what I believe. That our loved ones, when they pass, are somewhere. Looking out for those who are still living. And maybe, just maybe, they find each other and are hanging out.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy November 5, 2018, 3:25 pm

      When my grandfather died five years ago, I found a penny on my seat in my dad’s car right after the funeral. I’m almost certain that penny wasn’t there before the funeral. The year on the penny was 1988 – my grandfather’s bday was 8/8. In the immediate weeks following the funeral, I found pennies constantly. Sometimes little piles of pennies. And there were two times that Jackson, who was almost two at the time and had visited my grandfather with me a few weeks before his death, told me that he had seen Grandpa Jack at the playground.

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      • avatar

        ktfran November 5, 2018, 5:22 pm

        What an absolutely great story.

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    Stacey November 5, 2018, 3:12 pm

    After my grandmother died, I had a dream where we were jumping from mountain to mountain and literally flying. I knew she was okay and was finally free of illness. I’ve felt her a few times with me over the years. It gives me great comfort and I believe that she’s the one taking care of my cats when they pass on. I believe God gives us animals to bring us joy and I don’t believe he would take that away from us suddenly. I believe in life after death and I believe I will have my cats with me along with my loving family. My two cats have gotten me through so much these past seven years! When their brother died six years ago, it was painful, but I took comfort in the fact that Grams was taking care of him. <3

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  • avatar

    redheaddesiger November 5, 2018, 3:20 pm

    My dog died about a month prior to your cat’s passing, and yes, I cried so much the first week that I was constantly thirsty.

    I know what you mean by how immediate it is by them not being there. You expect to see them when you walk through a door, sit down to eat, curl up on the couch. I feel like there are a thousand reminders that a pet is no longer with us.

    I still miss her when I sit down to eat toast and no longer have anyone to toss crusts to, or walk through the door and don’t see her barking at me, but distance from time starts to make it a little less wrenching. That and I do agree, all dogs (and cats!) go to heaven.

    My condolences to you on the loss of your sweet kitty.

    PS I think you can still cry about it every so often, even a month in. You had her for 19 years! Grief is nobody’s timetable but your own.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy November 5, 2018, 3:30 pm

      I’m sorry for the loss of your dog! Glad to hear that time is bringing some relief.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse November 5, 2018, 5:04 pm

    I saw this Nick Cave link this week and really loved reading it.

    I hope it gets a little better, Wendy.❤️

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  • avatar

    Rangerchic November 5, 2018, 5:07 pm

    There are two very sick relatives right now and I’m afraid neither will make it to the end of the year. My grandmother has stage 4 COPD and my FIL has been fighting cancer for a long while now (like years) and it’s worse then its ever been and now he’s developed pneumonia. I haven’t ever lost anyone close so I am dreading the day for these two deaths. (I did loose a grandfather a few years ago but we weren’t super close). We live kind of far from family so we don’t see them often but nonetheless it will still be hard when they are no longer there at all. I do hope my husband sees or hears something from his father when he passes as I know it’s going to be so hard for him.

    Also, we have two dogs (one is 7 this month! and the other will be 10 in January). They are such an integral part of our lives that I can’t imagine life without them. The thought of that brings tears to my eyes instantly so I don’t think about it. They are always there, greeting us at the door, always happy to see us no matter how long we are gone, sitting in our laps, keeping us company – just always there. I love them so much and they have provided so much love and joy to us.

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  • othy

    othy November 5, 2018, 5:57 pm

    My grandparents were always very practical types. Rather than bothering to visit any family members, my grandparents hooked their grandkids up with jobs. My brother got his first ‘real’ job, after months of searching, the day after my grandma died. My cousin got a big transfer/promotion that she’d been gunning for the day after my grandpa died. I like to think that they definitely had a hand in it.

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  • avatar

    golfer.gal November 5, 2018, 7:36 pm

    Oh Wendy I am so sorry. The pain of losing a pet is one of the worst kinds- they are our true, constant companions. There is no “losing” at grief even if you aren’t winning at it anymore. Your feelings are very much normal and you shouldn’t stress about being messy or needy.

    I have had many spirit messages over the years, from different relatives. I have a chronic inflammation/pain condition in my chest, and had a bad episode a few years ago where I had to go to the hospital. That night I dreamed of my aunt, who in life was a nurse. She took out a pale blue cloak, put it around me, and clasped the cloak at the very center of my chest. The next morning, my pain was gone. I did some research and found that blue is the color of healing, something I definitely had no reason to know beforehand. I’ve had others over the years as well. There are others in your family who will watch over Simone until you are with her, don’t worry. Or those, like my aunt who took in strays all her life, who will cross her over while she waits for you.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. November 5, 2018, 9:53 pm

    When my dog died, we got a very strong message from him. I was still living at home at the time. There was a nightlight in my mother’s bathroom that never worked. She kept it because it was cute. (It was shaped like a teddy bear.) Days after the dog died, two things happened: My Christmas cactus that had never bloomed suddenly produced a ton of flowers; and, the nightlight in my mother’s bathroom came on by itself and stayed on for days. It was especially meaningful because my mother had been accidentally involved in his death and was feeling very guilty. We took the nightlight as a sign that he was all right and that he didn’t blame her; that he still loved her.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. November 5, 2018, 9:59 pm

    Another thing I’ve learned is to give myself permission to feel whatever I feel. As I mentioned on your original post, I recently lost my little bird. There are people who don’t understand how I can feel such grief for an animal. “He was just a bird,” they say. He was a bird, but he was also my little buddy. I wrote him a eulogy. It’s okay to feel raw and needy. You’ve lost someone important to you. It does get better.

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    • avatar

      Kate November 6, 2018, 5:24 am

      My dad was wrecked when his parakeet died. My mom and I got this bird, but she totally turned into his bird. She talked in his voice, called him sweetie, laughed like him, and hung out with him all day while he was on brutal IBM conf calls. That was not “just a bird.”

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark November 6, 2018, 12:25 am

    In my twenties, my childhood dog had to put to sleep around just shy of 14 years. Some months later, in the middle of the night, I awoke to scratching on my apartment door. Bleary eyed, I opened to door to discover my dog Duchess peering up at me with a sheepish naughty little grin. “Surprise!”
    .
    This was a dream of course.
    .
    Now the idea that this little Boston Terrier had somehow made an epic journey from Minnesota to Los Angeles is the kind of wacky impossibility that usually awakes me from my dreams. But no. Nor had her ability to talk jolted me awake.
    .
    “What are you doing here?” I simply asked.
    .
    “I miss you. And I miss oscar meyer hard salami. You must have some.”
    .
    “Oh. i don’t know that I do.”
    .
    “You’d better!”
    .
    A trip to fridge revealed an ample supply of her favorite treat. And we chatted away as I sliced her a generous portion of salami.
    .
    I maddenly don’t remember what we talked about, but she soon found a rubber whale in my bathtub and so played ball just like always until at last she anounced she was tired from her really long trip.
    .
    “How exactly did you get here?” Iasked remembering vaguely that her arrival at my door was pretty much well beyond the realm of possibility.
    .
    “Later. It’s a boring story. I’m tired. I wanna go nighty night. Because I really do miss you. And I have leave in the morning.”
    .
    (Edit. It’s strange, but as I am typing this — damn, I am suddenly tearing up. And yet all this happened in 1997!)
    .
    And so we jumped into my futon and fell fast asleep. With her snuggling right up against me (like always) and snoring softly. Here is another strange part, I remember laying there, wide awake. Not wanting to fall asleep. Just needing the night to on and on. But eventually, I yeah, must have dozed off…
    .
    Rolling over the next morning, I was genuinely confused not to find her. (For a moment anyway. She had been gone for months.)
    .
    I suppose it was just a silly dream. But it was so odd in that by the time it happened I truly had grieved hard and processed her death. Her visit seemed so random. So out of left field.
    .
    Also, I can somewhat control my dreams. Meaning, if I deliberately think about something I often dream about it. And yet even though I tried and tried, I never dreamed of my talking pup again.

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  • avatar

    MissD November 6, 2018, 5:58 am

    My mom’s boyfriend passed away when I was a teenager. I wasn’t particularly close to him, but after he died I would dream about him often. They didn’t feel like normal dreams, though. He kept telling me things with such urgency, things that didn’t make sense to me. It was like he was speaking in code. And the dreams would just feel so real.

    So I would tell my mom the things he was saying and she would always understand exactly what he meant. I’m certain he was trying to let my mom know that he was ok.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie November 6, 2018, 6:47 am

    My step dad died earlier this year. He was my parent. I didn’t call him Dad but I he had been a patient and supportive person in my life for over 30 years.

    The hospice called us around 5 am with the news that he passed. We rushed over and said our goodbyes. It was awful. When we were ready to leave my mom turned to us and said “We’re going to have breakfast across the street.” She was not ready to go home – we weren’t going to argue.

    We were one of two tables. We were tear stained, and disheveled, shocked and across the street from the hospice. Music was playing. Suddenly we noticed that the song was “Can’t Stop Thinking of you” okay, that was apt. Then the next song was “All Cried out” ooookaaaayyy… we laughed a bit. The next song was “Don’t worry be happy.”

    Ok -Gotcha dude. We’re good. We will be ok.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy November 6, 2018, 7:09 am

      Aw, I love that. And I’m sorry for your loss.
      We got a message via music after Drew’s dad died (a year after his death). It was so specific and undeniable and very meaningful. I’ll never forget it.

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    • avatar

      Ange November 6, 2018, 4:17 pm

      We get musical messages in my family too, I guess because many of us are pretty musical. My grandfather was an excellent blues pianist and could do a mean Louis Armstrong, he used to sing ‘it’s a wonderful world’ all the time and we’d often hear that song at really opportune moments.

      Another time my aunt and uncle were driving around Melbourne trying to find the old house my grandparents lived in. They were close but my aunt couldn’t remember exactly where. Suddenly their car broke down and they pulled over, coincidentally right in front of the house. They had fun looking at it for a while then decided to deal with the car, funnily enough it started right back up again.

      Now I don’t really believe there was anything supernatural about it but there’s a certain comfort to be had in thinking there’s a helping hand out there giving you a happy push.

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  • avatar

    Ale November 6, 2018, 7:28 am

    When my grandfather died I had a couple of dreams where he told me that he was fine and to “let go”. Some people say that if you want a message you have to tell them: so a couple nights I lied on my bed and said “grandpa I’m here if you want to talk to me”. Some of those times he appeared on my dreams.

    With my dog that passed away 5 years ago, I didn’t get a spirit message. But last year I remember rushing home because I had to walk him, and turns out he had been dead for 4 years. That was odd. I told my therapist his story recently and I bawled like a baby. I couldn’t believe I was crying over a dog that died almost 5 years ago. But I was. Like you said, they are a part of us.

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  • avatar

    ecwashere November 6, 2018, 9:18 am

    I also have two dogs that are seniors and dread the day one or both of them pass away. I can’t imagine the grief you’re experiencing, Wendy. Everyone experiences it differently and don’t set a time table for yourself.
    My grandmother passed away over a decade ago. We were very close and she had been ill on and off for over a year. She was in hospice care and they had her sedated because she was in a lot of pain from an infection. When we received the call to come say our goodbyes, I was driving to the hospital and two songs came on the radio that made me feel like she was speaking directly to me. Still to this day, whenever I hear either one of those songs, it takes me back to that moment. A couple of days after her funeral, I had a very vivid dream about her and I taking a walk at her farm house. She hadn’t lived there for over a decade, but somehow in my dream it felt like we were home. I knew that she was at peace and in a better place.

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  • avatar

    Steph November 6, 2018, 9:26 am

    The loss of a pet is as real as anything. I got a puppy for Christmas when I was in seventh grade. He was 18 when I put him down a few years ago, and I was 31. He has been through everything with me. College, break ups, deaths of loved ones.

    It’s been four years and sometimes it’s still hard to process that he isn’t here. When I’m sad or on a cold rainy day when he would cuddle up with me and keep me warm or just to cheer me up. I have seen him a few times in dreams, he’s come to visit.

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  • avatar

    FannyBrice November 6, 2018, 10:43 am

    I have many late relatives who send me signs frequently, including dreams, which are bittersweet. One of my favorite stories though:

    My maternal grandfather – who adored & favored me – died when I was a teenager, and since he was the first person I knew who had died I took it very hard. When I was kid, he used walk ahead of me and check the coin returns of pay phones for quarters (lord, am I dating myself!!) – but he never found any. So I’d check the same the coin returns and, lo and behold, there’d be a quarter! It took me yeeaaars to figure out he was actually sneaking the coins in for me to find. I kept the habit of checking coin returns well after he died – really, until all the pay phones disappeared. Never found any quarters

    About 3 or 4 years after he died, I was in college and very stressed out about something, to the point where I was holding back tears in an administrative building on campus. I walked past a pay phone, and automatically checked the coin return out of habit — and found 4 quarters. I really did start crying then, but it was because I felt so much better. Grandpa was watching me and telling me everything was going to be OK.

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  • avatar

    K November 6, 2018, 12:25 pm

    My grandmother passed away in 2011. About a month after her passing, we went down to her hometown in North Carolina where they were going to have a memorial service for her. My mom, uncle and I were staying in my great-grandmother’s trailer, which had long since been vacated, but served as a place for visiting relatives to stay. We had lots of good memories there over the years. As we were going to sleep the night of the memorial, one of the window shades suddenly snapped up. We had never experienced that in all our years staying there. It really startled us. We pulled it back down, and it snapped up again a minute later. Pulled it down yet again, and it snapped up for a 3rd time. By this point we were all laughing. We knew it was my grandmother, letting us know she was there with us, and having a little fun.

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  • Copa

    Copa November 6, 2018, 12:25 pm

    I haven’t lost anyone close to me in 10+ years, but I do believe in the other side, whatever that may be, and signs, and have liked reading all of these stories about signs. An ex boyfriend of mine lost him mom about six months before we started dating, and one of her sisters had asked her to send them a sign once she passed to let them know she was okay. After her funeral, everyone exited the services to a double rainbow. My ex and his family think that was there sign. I do, too.

    I’m going to be a wreck when it’s my dog’s time to go. He’s my baby, he’s my buddy. He’s the absolute sweetest soul.

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  • avatar

    Heatherly November 6, 2018, 9:16 pm

    I sent this article to a friend recently who’s brother passed away & I hope it’s helpful to anyone else:

    https://medium.com/@ORachaelO/grief-is-an-island-send-a-smoke-signal-2ad55c8e4b6f

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  • avatar

    Carol November 7, 2018, 8:56 am

    I am so sorry about Simone’s death. Yes, I still grieve about my cat, Allen. I miss him so much. I feel him around me always. He has been dead for over a year. I don’t cry because I don’t let myself, but if I dwelt on it I could easily cry.
    I have had dream visitations for 2 people. The first was my best friend who was murdered. He visited me in 3 dreams. The third dream he was walking away from me and didn’t show his face. I kept calling his name. He turned around, looked at me and waved. Then he walked off.
    My father appeared to me in a dream after he died. I was worried about my mother and dreamed of problems with her house. My dad appeared on the 3rd floor when I went up there in the dream. He opened his arms and I walked into them to hug him. He put his arms around me and the dream faded.
    I believe that grief never goes away. It simply becomes a part of who you are. It is an added layer of you. I now live with daily grief about several people and pets, but it is who I am, now. I am still happy and upbeat, but after real grief entered my life, I had to incorporate it into who I am.

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