Strategies/Resources for Handling Multiple Deaths
May 28, 2019 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Looking for resources that have helped people deal with multiple personal losses in a short time period. Additional: you (me) were excited for a new phase in a parental relationship, and you blame yourself for your cats death.

If something has helped you deal with grief, please let me know. I'm in therapy and back on an anti-depressant. It's now been 3 months since my dad died and 2 since my cat died.

So my dad died very suddenly in late February shortly after we got to a new place in our relationship. I had handled my depression and anxiety, noticed some issues remained and was diagnosed with ADD. Medication changed my life. My dad called me and we talked about how he saw that in himself, and he wished he'd noticed it in me/us. It was an amazing conversation and in my mind it went for 20-30 minutes. It was six minutes. I will cry just thinking about it, it made me so happy. A few weeks later he had a stroke and died with no warning on vacation (I did get down there, but he was on life support and clearly gone.)

Then 4 weeks later my amazingly cuddly cat started limping, got sick and died. I can't stop blaming myself for this. I took him to the vet multiple times, they thought it was an infection and cleaned it and sent him home with me Wednesday. It was the worst night of my life with an open wound (you can't imagine the smell), how much pain he was in and not knowing how to help or get him to eat/drink. I tried putting on the e-collar they gave me, and he howled loudly at 4am and had gotten it around his midsection somehow. This will be why I blame myself for his death shortly. At 7am, he screamed worse than I've ever heard anyone scream... I rushed him to the vet and... he died shortly thereafter. A thrombosis in his back legs/spine. So a stroke basically... again. It was exactly 5 weeks since my dad had died.

I just can't get over this. Maybe it is too soon to think I should be reasonably okay. I feel like the person I was becoming is gone, and it's kind of scary. So yeah, books or talks or ideas or even movies/songs/tv shows if they helped you please.
posted by OnTheLastCastle to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so, so sorry for your losses.

I wish I had something helpful to say about your dad, but I don't. Regarding your cat, I also had a cat die and blamed myself for her death. Cats are stoic and they often don't let us know how bad things are until it's too late. My mother-in-law sent us The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, which is heartbreaking, but also helps soothe a broken heart.

Take good care of yourself.
posted by CiaoMela at 1:19 PM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear about everything you've gone through- I think you deserve lots of hugs. I lost my father last year, and can't imagine losing my cat right after. You shouldn't blame yourself at all- you did everything possible to help your cat. It sounds like you went through a really traumatic experience, so in the meantime do everything you can to take care of yourself. Do you enjoy talking walks to clear your head? Perhaps make a phone call or 2 to old friends/family while getting some fresh air.

Look for easy, bingeable TV comedies to take your mind off things. I recommend Schitts Creek if you haven't already seen it...there are plenty of options, but unfortunately you may find comedies that involve or use death in the plot, this could be good or bad depending how you grieve. I tend to stay away from those but just be forewarned, as I've tried to escape into a comfort TV binge mode only to be brought down by things reminding me of reality.

I apologize if this is insensitive, but if/when you are ready I would definitely look at getting another cat. Nothing will replace your last cat, this is not an attempt at that. But you sound like a great pet owner and it might be nice to have a little kitten around to take your mind off things. Don't rush into it if not ready- you may also look into fostering a cat for a short period of time if you don't want the commitment.

But really, in the short term be as kind to yourself as you can and know that you will get through this. There's going to be some more pain ahead, it sucks. You can't replace a parent (or a pet). But despite the cliches, you will get through this and find happier days ahead.
posted by andruwjones26 at 1:21 PM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

My go-to is the Grief Counseling Resource Guide: A Field Manual, from the NY State Office of Mental Health:
The grief experience impacts all aspects of the being of the individual. The manifestations listed are more intensified when there has been a sudden, unanticipated death. With the intensification, the period of time to process the reactions will often be longer. It is important to remember there is no timetable for processing.
::sending you hugs::
posted by Little Dawn at 1:26 PM on May 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Two/three months is *nothing* in grief-time.

Not that any kind of loved one's death is easier than another, but both of those deaths were of the sudden, unexpected, WTF variety. Your dad was older and even though it sucks, that's the natural order of things, but that's not enough for your brain - it's frantically trying to make sense of at least your cat's death by insisting that there must have been something you could have done differently. There wasn't. You know rationally that there wasn't. Be patient with your brain and it will come around to that conclusion too.

When you are ready, you will be able to think back on the conversation with your dad without grief and regret but with gratitude. Consider the substance of it: he was glad you were taking care of yourself, he wished he had been able to get you on that path sooner, and he regretted not taking that path himself. So to honor your dad, make up for lost time by taking really, really good care of yourself.
posted by headnsouth at 1:29 PM on May 28, 2019 [11 favorites]

I am so very sorry. I found the list below somewhere online when I was surviving through the early stages of grief over my brother’s sudden death. It helped me, especially number 3. Honestly even reading through the list is still soothing for me.

Help through Grief

1. Be patient with yourself. Do not compare yourself to others. Go through mourning at your own pace.
2. Admit you are hurting and go with the pain
3. Apply cold or heat to your body, whichever feels best.
4. Ask for and accept help.
5. Talk to others
6. Face the loss
7. Stop asking “Why?” and ask “What will I do now?”
8. Recognize that a bad day does not mean that all is lost.
9. Rest.
10. Exercise.
11. Keep to a routine.
12. Introduce pleasant changes into your life.
13. Know that you will survive.
14. Take care of something alive, such as a plant or a pet
15. Schedule activities to help yourself get through weekends and holidays.
16. Find someone who needs your help.
17. Accept your feelings as part of the normal grief reaction.
18. Postpone major decisions whenever possible
19. Do something you enjoy doing.
20. Write in a journal.
21. Be around people.
22. Schedule time alone.
23. Do not overdo.
24. Eat regularly
posted by ewok_academy at 1:34 PM on May 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

Eat breakfast, make it nice, sit with yourself, recognise the bites. Drink plenty of water. Hugs to you. You will get yourself back. Grief is a necessary undoing of attachment, to make room for new love. Keep in touch with family curl up with yourself, wrap up, be good to you.
posted by Oyéah at 1:48 PM on May 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

I lost my mum in December. Unexpectedly. A heart issue. I had to take her off life support 10 days later. She lived with us, leaving behind her little beagle dog. I had to have her dog put down in March. She had some kind of liver mass that wasn't responding, and had lost most of her muscle mass. My husband and I feel like we traumatized the poor vet with our carrying on. Losing that dog was the most painful thing about losing my mum *at that moment*. I feel like we killed that dog (and we did, but not through negligence)

Now almost 6 months later, I realized that I was putting one foot in front of the other. I thought I was doing "OK" With the start of gardening season (my mother loved), Mother's day, a huge win for my son in Water Polo (mum would have been so proud), Grade 8 graduation around the corner, and my birthday... I've realized that my grief was dull for awhile, and is now quite active. The last 2 weeks have been heavy heavy heavy on my shoulders.

It is far too soon for you to be "ok". And it will be easier/hard cycle for awhile. I lost my dad unexpectedly, but not suddenly, and it was far easier to deal with.

Just be kind to yourself. Don't do what you don't want to do. Allow yourself to take the time you need. There is no need to be busy, just to be busy. I've stopped a lot of stuff that I was doing. I have no will to comfort other people, or to live up to other expectations, so I gave up some volunteering, and other commitments. I don't want to, and I won't feel guilty. The only thing I have taken to and really enjoy is gardening-- the thing my mother and I bickered about most.

I am not Catholic, I don't particularly believe in Religion, nor have faith in any god. But I found this prayer to be helpful-

May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.

I twist it in my mind to be more like

May I support myself all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and my work is done. Then may I find safe lodging, and a rest and peace at the last.

I use to give myself peace to understand that I need to be still. Be kind. To stop. Until I'm ready again.
posted by Ftsqg at 1:56 PM on May 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

My stepkids' mom passed away somewhat suddenly in December, and they came to live with us immediately. It was a shock, and it was horrible. We got through the early dark days by watching a lot of Adventure Time.

Also, disaster movies where you can sink into a sense of gloom, but emerge thankful that at least you're not dealing with sharks (or a volcano eruption, or snakes on a plane), on top of everything else.

Also, baking, and little projects that require you to set a timer and do things in sequence. It helps your mind be busy, and it will produce something that will give you a bit of enjoyment.

I'm really sorry that you've been going through this.
posted by witchen at 2:05 PM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry for your losses. I want to comment on the urge to blame oneself. After a friend died, I was amazed by how many of our mutual friends found ways to blame themselves. It must be part of how the human brain works. If you can't find a way to let it go, could you ask the vet for help? I'm sure they are very familiar with the tendency of pet owners to think "what if?" It sounds to me like you were very actively trying to address the issue, and even if you did something that in retrospect wasn't perfect, you can't blame yourself for not being omniscient and perfect. Lots of love and peace to you.
posted by salvia at 3:05 PM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe it is too soon to think I should be reasonably okay.

I think so. You lost a parent. That's enormous and I wouldn't expect anybody to be doing a lot more than functioning and putting one foot in front of the other.

Please be kind to yourself. Please do not blame yourself for the death of your cat. I say this as a card-carrying, certified crazy cat person. When they are sick they are so hard to care for, and while they are wonderful companions they are terrible patients. (I started my day by giving two diabetic cats shots and giving a third cat an antibiotic for a UTI. I have plenty of evidence on this front.)

It sounds like you took excellent care of your cat. I'm no vet but I suspect that the thrombosis had more to do with the medical procedures than anything you did or did not do. I'm so sorry for the way your cat passed away, but please do not blame yourself.
posted by jzb at 3:38 PM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Holy crap! You have gone through such a lot in a short period of time.

Just allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need to, for a while. Grief can be sudden, or it can be delayed and then come on all at once. You never know. But there's no right or wrong to grief.

Sometimes I talk to my dead dad, and I wish he was here, just so I could hear his voice. He was a cat lover, so when my cat died, it made it worse, and when I got a new cat, I was like, awww, my dad would have loved this cat.

It's a process and I'll never get over my dad dying. Because we were close. I think that's normal
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:21 PM on May 28, 2019

Oh, big mom-certified internet hugs are coming your way!

Everyone else has done such a good job with suggestions for dealing with grief and loss. I just wanted to add in something that has helped my daughter and I deal with the sudden loss of our goofy, loving rescue dog: cartoons and YouTube videos. "Bob's Burgers" and "SpongeBob" are our cartoon favorites. Watch with a bowl of ice cream to enhance the experience. We also watch YouTube videos of baby goats. It never fails to crack us up.

These are small, temporary hits of happiness but they provide some relief. And, when you're going through grief, relief, no matter how fleeting, is a good thing.

A few weeks before he died, my dad talked me into attending Bingo with him at the local Catholic church while we were on vacation. I have no idea what possessed him. He had never played Bingo in his life. I almost said no. It turned out to be a hoot and I still have those bingo chips 20 years later. I couldn't think of that afternoon for a long time without it causing me pain. Now, it makes me smile. Every single time I unearth those bingo chips, I feel happy. You'll get there. But first, you'll have to be where you are. In the meantime, find your small pleasures where you can because they have a surprisingly cumulative effect.
posted by MissPitts at 4:27 PM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I just can't get over this. Maybe it is too soon to think I should be reasonably okay.

Oh gosh, yes, agree. when my dad suddenly dropped dead (and I did not get to see him before he died) it took me a solid YEAR to really feel back to being me and maybe three months before I didn't feel like I was basically a husk-ghost-person all of the time. And I didn't have an additional loss to deal with. Please be super kind to yourself, pay attention to ewok_academy's list. You did right by your dad. You did right by your cat. It's really part of grief that if you have a tendency towards negative thoughts and self-talk, they creep into ANYTHING. It sucks and I am sorry. i found this little twitter thread about how the pain from grief subsides (and doesn't) to be helpful for me getting over my grief.

That happy conversation you had with your dad is real, it's just bounded now by your way of relating to him and hes to be more integrated with the dad in your head and less so the dad in your day to day. My dad isn't alive anymore but he's still a part of my life and your dad will be in yours.
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

The most helpful thing that I used in getting through a sudden death was The Grief Recovery Method, a workbook you can get on Amazon. What would have likely become a traumatic grief was supported into becoming bearable. Thinking of you and sending healing energy.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 7:09 PM on May 28, 2019

It's so, so soon in your grieving process. Give yourself lots and lots of leeway to feel whatever you're feeling.

My beloved niece died in October last year. She was only 29 and had battled cancer for 3 years. Her 30th birthday in February just threw me into a tailspin. This sounds so, so strange but the show After Life really, really helped me process a lot of the stuff I was feeling. It sounds like it wouldn't have, being about the death of a loved one, but I just felt so incredibly light and whole after the first season. I cried a whole heck of a lot, of course, but it was cathartic.

So that's what helped me recently. I hope you can find comfort in your memories of you dad and your sweet kitty.

Take care of yourself. Hugs if you want them.
posted by cooker girl at 6:27 AM on May 29, 2019

Thank you all. This was really helpful and lovely. I do accept the hugs. It probably shows my headspace that I posted this, went into a movie and was like "I hope people weren't like "psshhh, your cat died?!"." This was very helpful and encouraging. I have read and shared the Grief Counseling Resource Guide above and am keeping the list of things in mind. Especially the hot or cold, it does help. I take a lot of showers or I turn the AC down very low I've noticed more.

I would like to get a new cat, but I have one who's fussy right now and I'm just trying to enjoy our time together before I introduce a new fuzzball that she might have trouble getting used to.

My mom did watch After Life and said it helped. I'm not a huge Gervais fan anymore, but I may check it out.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:37 AM on May 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

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