Fear of Loss
After the death of my son Noah I was stricken with the fear of losing another family member, particularly my wife. Whenever we were not together, I would worry that something bad was going to happen to her. The thought of someone else in my life dying caused me great anxiety because I was convinced I wouldn’t survive it; I still wasn’t sure if I was going to survive the death of my children, adding more to the pile was hard to imagine.
I knew it wasn’t logical thinking, but after the death of a child, logic doesn’t always come into play because your world has been turned inside out. The thought that “bad things only happen to other people” goes away and you start to realize bad things can happen to me or anyone else at any given time. The loss of feeling “in control” is gone and the feeling of “out of control” quickly sets in.
As time progresses, logic starts to come back and the fear of someone else in your life dying goes away. However, you never forget that bad things can and will happen, it’s just a matter of time. It helps you look at life a little different; in a more realistic way, a good way on many levels.
The reason I am writing about this subject matter is the fact that many people experience this after the death of a child. You don’t fear you own death, but you do fear losing someone close to you. This past weekend I had a scare, with someone that I love deeply, was going to die in front of me and the emotions of the fear rushed over me. This someone helped me change my life after the death of my son Noah. They helped pull me out of the despair, depression and grief that had been smothering me for months.
This someone is one of my best friends that wiped away my tears and was always there to pick me up when I wasn’t doing well. I like to refer to him as my furry angel. My dog Buddy. My wife and I never had a dog until we got Buddy about 10 months after the death of my son. He was just a puppy but he would listen to me every morning before I leave for work and was always there to greet me when I got home. He is almost 5 years old and has become a very important part of our lives. We have no living children and my wife jokingly calls Buddy “her third child”.
I think Buddy is going to be fine, but the fear of loss revisited me this week. We were probably overreacting to some of the symptoms he had, but after several tests, our minds are put a little more at rest. I know the death of Buddy wouldn’t be nearly as bad as losing a child, I want to be clear about that. I don’t want anyone to think I am comparing the two, because I am not. But he is loved very deeply. The realization that he will eventually die and my wife and I will have to say goodbye to him stirs up a lot of emotions from the past. A lot of emotions I thought were gone.
Have you experienced the fear of anyone else in your life dying?
Thank you for what you are doing here. As too many of us understand, dads who have lost children need a place to be real – to be transparent about the pain we feel. My 25-year old son Keith died February 20, 2011, following a yearlong cancer battle. The pain continues to be great, but as time passes, we see the blessings of today. We were fortunate to know what “might” happen before it did. So many are not given this luxury – hearing unexpected words that forever change their lives. Regardless of how the blow of our loss was relatively softened, the journey from here is still arduous and never-ending.
This post about fearing loss reminded me of an experience I had three months ago. At the risk of highjacking this post, I thought I would share my journal entries. My apologies in advance for the length..
September 1, 2011 ~ 10:00 a.m.
I have an urge to be philosophical, to try and spiritualize what happened yesterday, but everything in me is screaming to simply be excited – to not make it some big life lesson. Yesterday in the early morning, as my wife and daughter were leaving for the gym, they discovered a lost puppy in the front yard. Bringing her in the house, my wife said, “Put her in the backyard, and we will try to figure out what to do with her later.” Of course, she never made it to the backyard. I continued to sit, reading at the kitchen table, and this precious little dog first sat, and then laid down on my feet falling fast asleep.
For months I have spoken of looking for a dog of my very own. At the age of 10, I begged for a dog, but for whatever reason, my parents never allowed it. I was always relegated to collective ownership of the family dog, but I never had one of my own. A few years ago, I realized that I had become fond of cats because they held everyone at arm’s length – exactly like I did. Dogs, on the other hand, simply love people, and as I began to understand how to love, I opened my heart to these wonderful canine companions. Six years ago, we found a wonderful puppy that loved me but completely adored my wife, and last fall we made the tough decision to put her to sleep due to worsening health problems. Since then I have felt it was time to finally begin the search for the dog for which I have waited forty years to find, but there are so many emotions involved. While burying our dog Chloe, I fought the pictures in my mind of what it would be like to bury my son. I begged God to not let me experience such a horrible thing. Now, my son has been buried for more than six months. What I feared came to pass, and life is slowly returning.
Interestingly, I have known the name of my dog for months. Somehow along the way, we started to choose pet names from the Bible, and I thought it would be fun to name a dog Mary Magdalene and call her Maggie. It is not very original, but in truth it is probably a name that a 10-year old boy would pick. The challenge for me has been finding her. I have looked at dogs on occasion, and my wife has been saying that Maggie would find me. Well, it seems that she finally did. This little dog captured my heart instantly. She has a hernia that needs surgery, but the vet feels she is a healthy mixture of possibly bird dog, border collie, and who knows what else.
Despite my excitement, I am filled with anxiety. She has captured my heart, and I am afraid someone will come take her away from me. I have lost so much. I am unsure if I could handle more. My wife keeps saying that God brought her into our lives. I am trying to trust that He knows what is best and that she will be with me for many years to come.
September 6, 2011 ~ 2:15 p.m.
I feel like I have been given a new role in life. I have been transported, along with those around me, to a bizarre amusement park. My assigned job is to choose the ride for the day, and my family, friends and coworkers are required to tag along. “Today, it will be the emotional roller coaster!” How many times lately have the cars bounced around the tracks, racing to the top of the highest peaks and dropping into the darkest of tunnels? I jokingly wonder if everyone on the ride will pull me from the safety of my seat and throw me over the edge. Maybe they would rather be on the merry-go-round; it is so much calmer.
Some things are simply not easy to say, so the best solution is to merely say them. Maggie died. The surgery appeared to go very well, but she experienced complications, either due to an allergic reaction to a medication or some unknown, undetected medical condition. The vet called me somewhat dumbfounded.
So here I am – facing a loss that I feared. I am sad, but in truth, not much can compare to losing Keith. Little Maggie was with me for less than a week. I keep reminding myself that I was not sure how I could really handle a new pet with my schoolwork. When we first found her, we did not know what the hernia was, and my wife suggested that if it were something serious, maybe God knew she needed us. Just as it was when we found her, every part of me wants to be rational and overly spiritual. The nearly 50-year old man I am says, “Be glad for the time you had with her.”
But the 10-year old boy this little dog seemed to awaken is crushed! She was MY dog! She was my FIRST dog! What in the world is God doing in my life?! If I am honest, I want to really lose it, but I am so tired. I almost want to ask, “What else could possibly happen?” I cannot, for I fear God will show me. I am in shock over this, but I am not shocked. Sometimes God makes no sense to me anymore.
What a mess.
As more time has passed, I am amazed at how new loss is not as awful as I feared. I have already been to hell. It is painful, but at least it is somewhat familiar.
Thanks again for what you are doing.
Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I am so sorry for all of the pain you have endured over the last year.
As you said, not much compares with losing your son, but its the constant piling on of all the other losses that continue to inflict pain.
I am sorry for the loss of “your” dear friend Maggie. Don’t give up on finding another companion for yourself. These furry guys can help you through some very difficult pain.
Again, thanks for sharing this with us,
Thank you for having this page I am not a grieving parent I am not a parent yet but I have witnessed a lot of deaths in the last couple of years and just lost one the last this week witnesses all of this in my 28 years I have an overwhelming fear that I am going to loose everyone I care about and appreciate the fact that others are speaking out that they have gone through something similiar and feel the same way. Thank you again.
We lost our youngest son Adam in March of this year. He was 29 years old. There was just under 1500 friends and family who came to the wake. When the wake was over and the friends and family left I was glued to my dog Ellie. She brought great comfort to me, and still does. I don’t know how I would have handled the great loss of Adam without Ellie.I still grieve Adam and always will. The loss is indescribable. The fear of another loss is great.
The one thing I cannot understand is the lack of support from my family and friends. Maybe there is a reason for this happening, I don’t know.
One thing is for sure and that is without Ellie I don’t know where I would be right now.
Frank – I want to start by saying how sorry I am for the loss of your son Adam. As you know, there are now words I can say that can erase the pain you feel inside.
I am happy to hear how great of a friend Ellie has been to you. Like you said, when the wake/funeral is over, many friends and family disappear. Our beloved dogs stay close to use because the sense the pain and sadness we feel. As far as friends disappearing, I wish I had the answer for that, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that most people have no idea how difficult this is. Unless they too have been through the loss of a child, how could they. I have found new friends that have been through it and understand the struggles. Its hard to say goodbye to old friends, but being around others that help you carry your pain if very important. You’ll still the old friends, but it’s not the same.
Thanks for sharing Frank. We are here for you any time. Email or call me if you need to talk.
One month to the day after my 34 year old daughter died in 2009 my Golden Retriever had to be put down due to severe Cushing’s. He was 10 years old.
I couldn’t even cry.
This year my cat had to be put down due to bone cancer. I couldn’t cry either.
Now I am left with the last pet, the daschie. They found a mast cell tumor one month after my cat was put down.
I cried and cried. But, she’s going to be okay.
Thanks for the interesting post. Interesting in the fact you couldn’t shed tears until you were down to your daschie. Was it the reality of being alone, the fact that all of teh heartache from the others losses had finally took their toll? Hard to understand certain things. I have had a hard time crying at other deaths in my family. It’s almost like nothing can come close to the sadness we experience after the death of a child. We kind of go numb. Its not that we dont feel a level of loss, its just not as deep. Our threshold has been redefined.
I am happy to hear you firned is going to be ok.
My daughter started with a low grade fever this week that turned into an ear infection that turned into a much higher fever. The fever never reached dangerous levels but an irrationality took over when she became lethargic, slept much of the day and refused to eat. In an adult, we would just shrug it off as they are sick and we know exactly how they feel. Well, in my 4 year old daughter, I was worried, then irrationally worried, then did something I had never done before…I put my hand under her sleeping little face to feel her breathe. Then 10 minutes later, again, then 5 minutes later, then I stirred her to make sure she was ok. She told me she was sleepy and asked that I cover her. For the first time, I was terrified of losing my only living child. Does it make rational sense? No. Does it make sense in my new reality? Yes.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s the fear of another loss that makes us do things we never done before. I think its because we all understand that “bad things just dont happen to other people”. We’ve been the “other people” and it can happen again. You learn not to take things for granted. No it doesn’t make rational sense under normal circumstances, but it makes perfect sense given what we ahve been through.
I have a 7 year old German Shepherd mix and her hips have been getting progressively worse over the years. Whenever I saw my dog limp up the stairs or struggle to stand up from laying down, I would think about how I was going to try to explain her inevitable death to my son Charlie. Little did I know that my 2 year, 10 month old would die before my 7 year old dog with bad hips. By the way, dogs grieve too. She didn’t eat for days after Charlie’s death and often laid down in his bedroom and cried/whimpered.
I’m glad you quickly defined that you are not comparing losing a pet to that of a child. My friend, in a helpless but genuine attempt to identify with me, told me how devastated he’d be if his dog died. I turned to him and told him, “I would personally sacrifice my dog right now for one more minute with Charlie.” That shook him but I think he then realized that there is no comparison. I love my dog but my love for Charlie is something that can’t be explained. I would do close to anything to get one more minute with him.
Yes, please understand that I was not trying to make a point that pet loss is just as bad as child loss. I wasn’t trying to quantify whose pain is worse than someone else’s pain. I dont know what it will be like to lose Buddy. Will it be difficult and will there be grief involved, no doubt. Will the grief be as deep, I don’t know, I say that because I really have not idea how much damage has been done to my system. Will it trigger a lot of pain from the loss of my babies? Possibly.
The main point of the article was to discuss how these fear we have after the death of a child can be triggered and force us to relive certain feelings we thought we had already processed.
Thank you for you comments about your discussion with your friend. I have had very similar conversations where it takes the other party by surprise, but it helps them get a glimpse of our pain without having to feel it themselves.
Kelly, my friend, I understand the fear you describe, as well as the strong attachment and love you feel for your precious fur baby Buddy. Your readers might find this article of interest: “Is Pet Loss Comparable to Loss of a Loved One?” http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2010/09/is-pet-loss-comparable-to-loss-of-loved.html
Marty – Thank you so much for sharing this article. I have no doubt that the death of a close pet can have major impacts. I know Buddy pulled me out of some deep dark places and allowed me to channel my love for my children to him.