how i stayed positive during heartache



It's been almost exactly a year since I put my little Bella pup to sleep. I still miss her every single day and my heart still aches at the thought of never seeing her again, but the pain has eased a bit over the past twelve months. The loss of her has been one of the most painful experiences I've had to face (those of you with pets know just how difficult it can be to lose one), but since she's been gone I've learned a lot about mourning, loss, and finding comfort in times of sadness. I've discovered that I'm stronger than I'd once thought, and I've learned that difficult situations—even those filled with negativity and heartache—can be overcome with the right attitude and actions. 

It's been tough not to have Bella in my life, but looking back on it now, I can identify some actions I took to make the year without her bearable. It's been by no means easy—I still cry about her probably once a week—but it's gotten a lot better since last year, when I spent the early days of March sobbing, my heart literaly aching at the loss. Below I've listed some of the things I did over the past year to make the loss of my beloved dog easier to bear. If you're going through a difficult time, or know someone who is, I hope these suggestions will help you stay positive and make the most of your moments (even when it's so hard to do).   





Being sad isn't fun. It's not a state I like to find myself in and my initial reaction is to avoid it. Like the Nat King Cole song, I wanted to hide every trace of sadness (which I do not recommend doing). Now that I'm three years sober, truly avoiding sadness can be pretty difficult to do. Without some sort of mind-numbing agent, it was hard not to return to the sad feelings, especially when they were so fresh, and over the years I've learned that avoiding feelings of sadness usually doesn't work out so well. So, instead of running from the sadness, I decided to sit with it for awhile. For the first couple of days, I let myself be sad. I treated myself to sick days—lounging around, watching my favorite movies and not focusing on work. In the first few days, I wasn't able to eat without feeling really sick (it's astounding how much loss can physically impact us!) so I couldn't treat myself to any snacks, but I would have had I been able to stomach it. I coddled myself, doing all the things I loved to do, while allowing myself to cry as much as I wanted to and feel as sad as I needed to. But I set a limit for myself on this. I knew I wanted to allow myself to experience the sadness, but I didn't want to dwell in it. So after a few days, I did what I could to move forward. 



Shortly after losing Bella, my boyfriend invited me to go on a business trip with him to Princeton University in New Jersey. I didn't really have much interest in journeying north—I was on the hunt for a new puppy and was considering looking at one the same day he was planning to depart for the trip—but I ended up deciding to go with him, figuring that a change of scenery would do me good. It did. Even though I was still terribly sad (I spent a good part of the day crying in the hotel room), it helped not to be in my apartment, a place heavy with memories. It helped to be in places I'd never been in before, experiencing new things. A few weeks later we ventured to Disney World (another place I'd never been) and that too was a wonderful distraction, a fun adventure filled with some of my favorite beloved childhood characters. These trips didn't erase the heartache but they certainly helped me to see that that the world is filled with so much to see and do and that sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to push mind out of the sadness. 



A lot of people wondered if getting a new puppy a mere two weeks after losing my dog was a good idea ("are you sure it's not too soon?" was a common query), but to me it felt right. Even though I knew there would never, ever be a replacement for Bella, I was certain, deep down in my heart, that a puppy would make me feel better—or at least distract me from my pain. I was right. Though there were some tough times in the beginning (who knew puppies didn't sleep through the night!?), I've never regretted my choice to find a new little pup, Barkley, to love. In dealing with all the new-puppy-mom tasks, I was able to put my heartache on the back burner a bit. It didn't remove the sadness I was feeling, but it helped me to direct my attention from what had happened in the past to what was happening in the present (something you have to do constantly with a curious, trouble-making puppy!). One of the best things about finding a distraction—especially one in the shape of a little ball of puppy fur—is that it really helps you to stay present and keep your mind from dwelling in sadness. 



As the months progressed, the pain of losing Bella eased somewhat. I found myself going days without crying (something that seemed like a miracle at the time!), and one of the things that helped me to move toward a more positive state of mind was focusing on what I loved to do. On the very day same day that I lost Bella, I'd been contacted by a publisher interested in working with me on a book. In the months that followed, I threw myself into working on a proposal, spending countless hours drafting ideas and crafting outlines. It was a busy time and that busy-ness was a welcome escape from focusing on my sadness. While I still missed Bella constantly, I was able to focus on securing a book deal (which I did last August! yay!) and then I was able to get to work on the book, which has been such a rewarding process. While all that was happening, a few other good projects came my way and I was able to dive into those, directing my energy into creative and fulfilling pursuits. At first, it wasn't always easy to concentrate on my work because I was so darn sad, but every day it got a little bit easier and I soon saw that the more time you spend doing what makes you happy, the less time you have to harp on your heartache. 



For me, one of the trickiest parts of losing Bella was thinking to myself, "I'm never going to see her again. Never." When I allowed my mind to wander into the dark place of eternal loss, of thinking I'd never again spend time with her, it made it so much harder to move out of a place of sadness. So I tried a trick I learned in therapy: taking it one day at a time. Instead of thinking, "I'll never see her again," I told myself, "I'm not going to see her today." Even though this didn't change the facts (I probably won't ever see her again, though I'd like to think there's some way I will), shifting my thinking to focusing on today instead of all the days in the future really helped to make the loss easier to bear. I used the same tactic to make it through the really tough days. Instead of allowing myself to panic at the thought that I'd always and forever be missing her, I encouraged myself to just get through the day. Every day I did this and, gradually, it got easier and easier to get through each day. Taking it one day at a time, especially right after the loss, was an essential tactic for staying positive even as my heart continued to ache. 


The loss of Bella was an incredibly difficult situation for me to overcome. For others, this kind of loss might not be so devastating, but for me it was heartbreaking. It's taken me a long time to even hear her name and not start to tear up, but it's pretty amazing what a difference time, the right mindset, and a few choice actions can make. It's literally astounding to me that I've made it through writing this, reflecting on the year without her, without breaking down and crying. If you're going through a difficult time or suffering from a loss, I hope these words will inspire you. I hope they will remind you that it's possible—even in the darkest moments—to create your own light. 

9 ways to cope with loss during the holidays



It's been almost ten months since I put my beloved pup, Bella, to rest. Every day, every month, it gets easier to deal with the loss (perhaps that old "time heals all wounds" saying really has some truth in it), but the holiday season seems to freshen the hurt, mostly because she loved it so much. I can still see her tearing through the wrapping, so thrilled with every gift (even those not for her!). I can still see her dancing on her back paws, reaching her nose up toward her stocking, knowing it was filled with treats just for her. I can still see her tangled in ribbon and bows, enjoying Christmas morning more than any other day of the year. (It sounds silly, but she really did love gifts!)

I miss her every single day and I probably always will, but I know I can't let my sadness get in the way of having a positive holiday season this year. I know that's not what my sweet little pup would have wanted, and I know it's not fair to my new pup, Barkley, who'll be celebrating her first Christmas in just a couple weeks. Dwelling on the past gets in the way of the present, I know, but it's hard not to find myself lost in the memories of Bella, of the Christmases I spent with her. Here are some of the ways I'm going to do my best to make the most of the holiday season—even during the moments it seems almost impossible. If you're coping with a loss this holiday season, I hope these tips will help you too. 


The more time spent with positive, uplifting people, the easier it is to stay positive and focus on the present. Positivity is contagious and the more it's around you, the more you start to see the good in the world, taking your mind away from dwelling on your loss and reminding you of all that you still have to be thankful for. 



Pushing your grief away isn't a good way to deal with it. (It always comes back, usually at the worst times!) The best way to cope with loss is to face it, to recognize the sadness and understand that it's okay to feel sad. The trick is to give yourself a set amount of time to spend with your sadness so it doesn't turn into a place where you dwell in sorrow. 



It's also a good idea not to shy away from remembering the good times. Recalling the happy memories might seem like it would be more painful than helpful, but it's actually a great way to celebrate the life of the one you've lost. When you find yourself wishing s/he was here, remind yourself of all the good times you had when s/he was with you. 



While avoiding sadness is never a good plan, keeping yourself from dwelling in it is essential for making the most of a difficult time of year. One of the best ways to do this is to stay busy by doing things you love. Whatever your favorite activities are—holiday-themed or otherwise—make time for them. And try to say yes to invitations too. 



Sometimes it can feel wrong to create new memories—as if you're negating the traditions of the past—but making new memories and traditions can help you move forward instead of staying stuck in the past. This doesn't mean you have to let go of old traditions, but creating new ones can provide you with a fresh perspective on the season. 



Getting lots of rest, eating right, and staying active can really help when dealing with a tough time. When you're tired or cranky, any negative emotion you might be feeling can be amplified, seeming much worse that it is. To make you emotional state more manageable, it's important to take care of yourself—not just emotionally, but physically as well. 



Sadly, there are many people struggling with loss during the holiday season. While it might seem counter-intuitive to think of all the loss in the world, it can actually be helpful to remind yourself that you're not the only one struggling to feel festive this year. If you think it might be helpful to connect with others feeling as you, look online for local or online grieving groups. 



Volunteering your time with those who are less fortunate than you—at a homeless shelter, for exmple—can help remind you of all that you have to be thankful for. You might also see how those who have lost a great deal still manage to move forward, reminding you how strong and resourceful we humans can be. If you don't have lots time, consider buying and wrapping a gift for a child in need. 



It's hard, when a loved one is missing from the holiday fun, to allow yourself to feel joyful. It's tempting to feel guilty about enjoying the holiday season, but consider the joy you experience this year as a gift to yourself. You've been through something difficult and you deserve a time of love, joy, and happiness. Remind yourself that your loved would have wanted you to enjoy the holidays. 


I know that this first Christmas will probably be one of the most difficult, and I know that each Christmas season without Bella will probably get easier, but it's still a constant struggle to stay positive, to redirect my mind to the present. Just thinking about her, my eyes fill with tears and I miss her so much that my heart physically hurts, but I keep reminding myself of how much she loved Christmas and how much she hated to see me cry. She would never want me to be unhappy and so, for her (and for myself!), I'm going to do my best to take my own advice, follow these nine tips, and make this season merry.  

the packaging vs. the present phenomenon



I recently ordered a ton of toys with the hope of keeping my crazy little puppy Barkley entertained (and if anyone has any tips for keeping a puppy busy, let me know!). When the box arrived, Barkley was pleased with some of her new playthings, but she was obsessed with the big piece of cardboard they arrived in. (You can see the same thing happening in this old Mastercard commercial.) Babies and puppies tend to find packaging just as exciting (if not more so!) than the items they encase. And even as an adult I've experienced this—receiving a gift wrapped in a box or gift wrap that I liked even better than the gift itself. 

I call this the Packaging vs. Present Phenomenon, a situation very common in kids (and pups!) in which they appreciate the packaging more than the present. As we get older, it seems less and less common for us to be thrilled by the box a gift came in, mostly because we've become so trained to look past the outer wrapping to see what's inside. While watching Barkley play endlessly with a cardboard box while ignoring the new toys scattered around her, I realized there's a lot we can learn from this Packaging vs. Present Phenomenon...




1. Appreciate the simple things. 

The box and wrapping, such simple things, are what babies and puppies are drawn to when they receive a gift. They appreciate the basics—some colorful paper and a hearty slab of cardboard—and will happily play with just one item without even realizing there are other objects around them. We could learn a lot from their focused appreciation. With so much to see and do these days (just a little online time has me lengthening my wish list like crazy!), it's tough to remember how valuable each little simple thing is. Whether it's a neatly wrapped gift or simply a quiet moment alone, it's worthwhile to acknowledge (and enjoy!) life's little pleasures. 


2. Explore objects from another point of view. 

One of the cool things about watching a puppy or a baby with a box is seeing all of the silly things they'll do with it. It certainly never occurred to me to put a flap of the box in my mouth and chew on it, but Barkley sure seemed to enjoy nibbling on the cardboard corners. (Then again, I'm not a teething puppy so it's probably no surprise that this didn't occur to me...) When a puppy encounters something new, she explores it. Pushing it with her nose, biting it, and pawing at it. While I wouldn't recommend biting into newly discovered things (unless they're edible, of course!), there's something to be gained from really taking the time to look at something in a variety of different ways. 


3. Find value in what matters to you

Puppies don't care that a toy cost $10 while the box it came in was (relatively) free. All they care about is what grabs their attention and seems like fun. What they value isn't based on status symbols or the latest trends. They focus on what's important to them, right in that moment. If the box seems like more fun, the box has more value (regardless of how many times a human squeaks a new toy right in front of them). We, too, should value not what we're "supposed" to value, but what actually matters to us. We shouldn't be held back by what we should value; instead, we should be inspired by all that we could value. 


4. Use your imagination like a kid. 

Apparently one of the reasons little kids like boxes so much is that they are absolute wonderlands for their imaginations. For an adult, a box is just a box. But for a kid, a box can be anything—a castle, a dungeon, a boat! (I can't speak for a puppies imagination, but I'd like to believe that Barkley has some creative ideas for what exactly a box's purpose is.) The more we try to see things the way a kid would, the more we open ourselves up to new and more creative ways of thinking. In fact, I saw proof of this in this episode of Brain Games. The more we try to think like a kid, the more creative we get. And the more creative we are, the more exciting (and positive!) life becomes. 


5. Focus on the inner and the outer. 

Eventually, after playing with the box for some time, Barkley got around to investigating her new toys (some of which have been lifesavers for me!). While the box seemed to be a favorite, she also appreciated new toys to play with. Seeing how she reacted positively to both what was in a box and the actual box itself reminded me of how important it is to focus on both the inner and outer aspects of our lives. For example, it's essential to focus on creating a great relationship with yourself—and it's equally as important to create great relationships with others. We all tend to focus more on one than the other, but don't forget to spread the love to both the packaging and the present. 


Pretty funny how much I got from watching a little pup play with a cardboard box, huh? Perhaps it's just my overanalytical mind at work, but I'd like to think that the five lessons I wrote about above show how even the simplest things can have value, can teach us things, and can make us appreciate not only the moments we experience, but the lessons those moments come packaged in.