A personal journey
Why do I have a photo of a cat here? Well, this was my lovely old Soots when he was in his prime, but I had to say goodbye to him this weekend. Aside from the obvious heart-wrenching grief of losing a precious member of my family, it has made me realise some things, and I wanted to share this in case it helps or inspires you.
Firstly, I am a massive worrier and have been for a large proportion of my life. And I overthink. I am saying this with kindness to myself, not judging: it is just how things have been for a long time. But what I am discovering is that this is not who I am, and these moments of worry and overthinking are only that: moments.
This too shall pass
I am sure most of us are aware of this adage (it is translated from a Persian fable… had to look that up!). It always seemed to me a bit of a banal and trite thing to say, perhaps even a little insensitive. But now I am really recognising its simple truth.
Even amidst the pain of discovering, suddenly, that Soots was never going to fully recover I was able to accept the situation (albeit with floods of tears) and have rational conversations about what the best thing would be for him. This gave me the courage (with the amazing support of friends, family and the vets) to make the hardest of decisions.
What has really surprised me since is that far from wallowing in the pain of loss 24-7, I am having some truly lovely experiences. This happened too after my mum died, but I did not realise it like I can now.
This is the power of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
It is an awareness of what is happening inside and outside, of being connected with the current moment and recognising when our brain takes us down a thinking path.
My thinking brain often involves going back over past events or what might happen in the future. And this is where the overthinking and worrying come in. This is natural, a throwback to our evolutionary past when we would be constantly looking for signs of danger and problem-solving ways of staying alive.
What mindfulness has taught me is to be so much more aware of that thinking brain. I can still go down a thinking spiral (with associated emotions), but now I (usually) see it happening. This doesn’t always mean that I can acknowledge and let it go, but this is progress and I am experiencing the benefits.
Nature and nurture
My big revelation of happy, contentedness came to me yesterday afternoon, barely 24 hours since Soots had died.
How was this possible? I felt light, alive, and there wasn’t even a trace of sadness for a short period of time.
I am certain that this was because I had been for a nature walk with a lovely friend. We weren’t just in nature and chattering (although we did that too!), but we really engaged with it: sights, sounds and smells and a curiosity about what we were experiencing. We spent over an hour talking over a hot drink or two after the walk, and that also really helped.
The point for me is that nature is soothing to our brains, and we are social beings, so the combination was a really powerful tonic and very much needed. It was a nurturing experience and that is why I felt happy.
Time & self-care
I will continue to experience waves of sadness, but I know that these will go, just as the happy feeling went when a small thing reminded me of how much I miss Soots.
Going forward, I will keep up my meditation and mindfulness practices, and I will continue to engage with nature. Most of all, I will give myself time and compassion whilst I come to terms with my loss (I will also cry buckets), and plenty of self-care.
Look after yourselves out there – and if you are experiencing grief or are struggling with anything else, please reach out (to anyone). You are not alone.