Grief Doesn’t Need a Name
and sometimes, it's complicated
I check in today with a sore, tired body. The apartment is very quiet, for reasons I’ll get into. Outside, the sun and clouds alternate.
Art has fallen by the wayside for me, amidst anxiety over my finances, and my dog, and the State of the World (not good; see below; see the NY Times).
I’ve not posted a Squirrel video in a month. I’m in the midst of a bankruptcy process, and I’m nearly out of money—which apparently you need for things like housing and clothing and the esteem of your fellow Americans. So I’ve had to focus on my part-time job, which has nothing to do with healing or truth. But I am learning to use QuickBooks online.
Sometimes, while I’m coding expenses, I wonder, what if I died right now? What would they say? He was doing what he loved? He died as he lived, as a kind of meat-bridge between incompatible digital systems?
I mentioned this to my therapist and he sent me this image, which I’ve actually seen before:
And I told him: This is what I hate about society. This Venn diagram of compromise, enforced by capitalism. I like all the circles except the money circle. Fuck the money circle. The money circle ruins everything.
I asked one of my Patreon supporters why she chose to support me and Squirrel. She said:
Short answer to your question: I bloody love that squirrel, and I found you on my TikTok fyp.
The longer answer involves a frustration at a system that keeps people in jobs that drain them, removing so many opportunities for creativity, meaning and just general good in the world. So the more time you can spend with that squirrel, the better, and I want to support that.
Subvert capitalism and support life-affirming art by joining my Patreon💫
Grief Doesn’t Need a Name
Squirrel gets a lot of questions about grief:
»could you talk about losing like a family member/death inside a family
»Squirrel, can you talk about grieving the loss/ cutting out a toxic family member?
»hey mr squirrel, could you possibly do a video on grief? Ive lost a lot of people in 2021 and I’m not sure where to put all my emotions about it?
These sorts of questions strike a chord in my heart, and also a string on my anxiety mandolin. Because I’m not a grief expert. I also tell myself that I haven’t experienced the death of a close loved one, so I don’t have the lived experience to draw on. So I’ve steered clear of the subject, with the occasional exception.
Lately, though, I’ve changed my mind. I know rather a lot about grief. It’s just my grief is complicated. My grief isn’t always tied to a tombstone, or an obituary. I am even grieving some loved ones who are still very much alive.
One of them is a mixed breed dog, about 55 pounds, who I called Wilbur.
As of this writing he is back in Texas, the same state where he was picked up last June by animal control. And where he was put on the kill list at an animal shelter. And where he was saved from euthanasia by some volunteers of an animal rescue organization. And from whence he went on a scary journey to a placed called Washington, where a tall man greeted him in a Petco parking lot and took him to a strange island full of strange new smells.
And that man loved, fed, squeezed, and occasionally frightened him for about nine months. And over time Wilbur’s life contracted, as it became clear that he was too dog reactive to take to the dog park anymore. Wilbur found his days limited to short walks with the tall man, and too-brief games of tug in the tiny home.
And the man became increasingly sad and irritable. And Wilbur became increasingly anxious and excitable.
And then the man and the dog went on a car ride, which Wilbur found almost unbearably exciting. And then they went to a Petco parking lot that smelled like a thousand dogs, which Wilbur found truly unbearably exciting. And Wilbur found an appetizer, a perfect little dog poop, which he scooped up with puppy ecstasy, and the man barked a reprimand, and Wilbur flinched.
And then a van came, and Wilbur heard a cacophony of barks, and he whined, because dogs, and because, on some level, he must have remembered the barks and the smell of stressed animals from some nine months prior. And then a strange man took him by the collar and he flattened on the ground because he didn’t want to go with the man, didn’t want to go in the van, but the man picked him up and hoisted him inside and locked him in a crate.
And who’s to say what he felt or thought in that moment, or in the following 48 hours in the back of that van, or if in his dog brain he could picture the face of the tall man he had lived with for…A while (as dogs do not really understand time). Or how he will cope with the cataclysmic changes in his little world, the new faces, smells, humans, the van rides, the vets.
A strange thing to hold on to, but one of the things I found most disturbing about surrendering Wilbur is that he immediately lost his name. Because the rescue org immediately began referring him by his old rescue name, which is Chase.
So Wilbur is not dead but I have to assume I will never see him again, and that if I do, he won’t even be Wilbur.
If you had watched the tall man hand over the dog to the rescue people, you probably wouldn’t have seen much change in him.
At the time, my friend was with me, and there were people watching, and I needed to drive home, and so, while I felt a wave of nausea and horror, I pushed it down and got back in the car and breathed a bit and teared up for a few minutes and drove back to the ferry terminal.
But I could feel this terrible weight in me, this leviathan in my chest, pushing at my ribs, demanding Out.
The next day I cleaned the house, which was a somber affair involving the laundering of dog blankets and disposal of once-prized dog toys.
And then I sat down and prepared for a ketamine session. And I wrote:
To welcome grief, to feel it, to allow it.
To say goodbye to Wilbur Dogbottom + to love him.
To allow shame and to allow anger + tears, + rage and NOO!
In my experiences with ketamine, it is not a particularly emotional medicine. I’ve developed techniques to elicit some emotional release, but I generally require a push, a sad song, a teddy bear to squeeze. And I’ll be rewarded by a short, but good cry.
This time, as the medicine arrived, I felt something rumble up from my chest, up toward my throat, and I wondered if I was going to be sick, but then I wailed. I cried until I thought I was going to drown in tears. I roared into my pillow, I screamed, and growled: Oh god no! My baby! My buddy! Wilbur! Why? I thrashed around so much my eye shades fell off. My musical accompaniment, usually such a comfort, was cut off, as my headphones too fell away.
It was a paroxysm, an explosion, a tsunami, an orgasm of grief.
In one of the lulls of the storm, I grabbed my notebook, and I scrawled
GRIEF DOESNT NEED A NAME
And then, for you, dear reader, I took a photo.
I recall, in the midst of the tumult, thinking, my goodness, this is how a child grieves. From an Internal Family Systems lens, that is probably what was happening: My inner child wailing the loss of his favorite puppy.
It was beyond intense, it consumed 100% of my being, but I wouldn’t call it traumatic or unpleasant. It was a release of trauma. It was what Resmaa Menakem calls clean pain—the suffering that sometimes accompanies healing and growth. It felt natural, necessary, bodily.
Holding it in, that was dirty pain. That was traumatic, anxiety-inducing, depressing. Because I’d been holding it in for many months, as part of me knew that Wilbur and I weren’t well-matched. I was holding it in because I so feared the reckoning, the grief experience.
But the grief experience was beautiful. I’m so grateful I was able to let it out.
As I write, I am still spent, exhausted, depleted. But also: Peaceful, quiet. My mood was far worse last week, while I still had Wilbur. I can think of my dog and feel tenderness, love, appreciation, and sadness, but it no longer cuts at me.
I’ll rest a bit, but then continue walking forward, with an open heart. Grief will visit again. But so will love.