Death in Recovery
Updated: Sep 11, 2018
I have seen a lot of death in my 34 years of recovery. Everyone my age has probably seen a lot of death in the past 34 years, but not everyone is a recovering drug addict. And not everyone is a counselor trained to help people through the grieving process. And not everyone is faced with the decision to not use extreme measures to extend life. And not everyone has a dog like Beulah.
Beulah was a "rescue dog," adopted from the Ojai Humane Society 14 years ago. My wife had spotted her and drug me along to meet her, though I did not want a dog. I initially didn't think she was very cute but she captured my heart in about two minutes and I found myself saying things like, "Come here, baby. Come to daddy." Embarrassing to admit. She was a really good dog -- she figured out the doggy door and walking on a leash the first night. She was friendly with people and other dogs. She didn't chew things up and never did her business in the house. She didn't know any tricks, but she greeted me when I came home with that unconditional love reserved only for dogs.
She had her health problems over the years. She had overcome an auto-immune disease that required a blood transfusion and a lengthy regimen of medications. By the time of her death, she was totally deaf and blind in one eye. She was also quite arthritic and required a stroller to go along with us on walks. We had talked about the day coming when we would be faced with the decision to end her suffering. I had even said that when that day came, I could not guarantee my continued sobriety.
The thing about extended periods of recovery from addiction is that we are more equipped to handle situations and our own emotions than we might think. My wife and I have seen a lot of death. I have lost both my parents, one brother, and one sister. My wife has lost both her parents, one brother, and one sister. We have attended the funerals of friends, fellow recovering addicts, and fellow church members. We have also lost numerous pets over the years, but none so close as Beulah. We are extremely sad, mixed with some guilt and regret, but our recovery has helped us learn how to survive our emotions. Our recovery is not threatened.
I have studied and taught about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance -- but I have learned over the years that grief does not present itself in an orderly and predictable pattern. Her stages were meant to normalize and validate the very not-normal time that is death and loss and grief. There is no set pattern. There is no finish line. You grieve because you love and love is a gift of recovery. Love changes, but does not end. So I expect I will go on loving Beulah, grieving her death from time to time, remembering her quirks, thanking God for my time with her, and hanging on to my recovery. Right now, I'm simply sad.