Last month, we lost our 12-week-old puppy, Tess. One minute, she was full of life; the next, I was rushing her to an emergency vet hospital. After 2 days of treatment and doctors doing what they could to figure out what was happening, her little body gave up the fight.
She was such a light and gift to our family. For such a young puppy, she was perfect. She didn’t cry when put in her crate, so was already learning to sit on command and do her business outside, and she LOVED to snuggle in our laps. She would do this cute little thing whenever she was called – she’d hop like a bunny before rushing to us and leaping, full on, into our arms.
It would be so easy to view what we have been through as unfair, a terrible tragedy or even look for who or what was “at fault.” This experience has challenged me and all of my family members to dig deeper and instead of focusing on the terrible aspects of the circumstance, look for the gifts and the lessons.
It has challenged us to become more emotionally intelligent.
Through our grief, we have been asked to connect with the bigger why and understand, through feeling and not thought, what this beautiful life gave each of us in the short time she was with us.
My 16-year-old daughter, who herself had been coming out of the personal trauma of being in a near-death car accident a month earlier, was first very angry and blamed herself. “What if I dropped something that she ate that made her sick,” she kept saying between sobs upon first hearing the news. Then she was angry with us for taking the puppy to get a scheduled dewormer the day before she got sick. “What if we killed her by letting her get that dewormer?”
I had looked at my daughter and asked, “even if we could know the answers to your questions, would knowing make you feel any differently about Tess’s passing?”
After a long silence, my daughter answered simply, “No, I guess it wouldn’t.”
I looked at her tear-streaked face and felt the pain I saw in it within my own heart.
I took a deep breath. “We think, by knowing what happened, we can somehow control the pain we feel. This is about self-protection and trying to shut down the emotional pain by focusing on our thoughts and searching for concrete answers. Although that can be helpful to learn in order to avoid anything like this happening again, that is not what we need to be doing right now. Right now, we need to feel.”
“But it hurts too much,” my daughter responded.
“I know it hurts,” I said, choking up. “But in the challenge of the pain, we find the gifts and connect with what’s really true about the situation for us.” I paused, as tears streamed down my own face and my heart felt like it was breaking into a million pieces. “We are not being called to avoid our feelings but to listen in order to permit them to share the important information that they have for us,” I said slowly.
And then I remembered something I had heard a few weeks earlier.
“Only open hearts can break,” I said to her.
My daughter looked at me, questioningly.
“If your heart wasn’t open, you could not feel the depth of what Tess meant to you. By not shutting it down and going into your head, you remain connected to her. That connection, as long as you keep your heart open, cannot be broken, and your heart can whisper the truth, through your emotions, about the connection and its purpose and significance.”
We both sat in silence for a number of minutes.
Finally, my daughter looked up and said, “I believe she taught me to slow down and focus on the moment.”
I smiled, and she continued.
“I mean, I think my car accident attempted to do this, too, but because I was responsible for helping take care of Tess, I had to take the time to put down the things that normally take my attention to be with her.”
“How did you feel when you were doing this,” I asked her.
“Oh, you know, Mom, she was so loving and funny, and she always put me in a good mood, even when I was just taking her out to go potty.”
My daughter then looked at me. “What do you feel Tess taught you, Mom?”
The answer came so fast, it surprised me. “I feel Tess is teaching me to let go with love and acceptance, and to love myself the way I loved her.”
I looked at my daughter and felt the tears begin again.
“Traditionally, I have struggled to let go when things or people would leave my life before I was ready. I would focus on the pain of the detachment instead of the gift of having had them and their influence in my life. When the doctor called from the hospital to tell me that Tess had passed during the night, I felt an overwhelming feeling of calm. At first, my mind was very surprised by this and kept pushing me to feel something else, as if it weren’t okay to feel peace. I started wondering, is this just relief after two days of constant uncertainty? The more I felt into the sensation I was having, the more I realized that it was, indeed, peace that I was experiencing.”
“It was this peace that allowed me to understand that I was feeling the love and accepting the gifts that Tess brought to me, instead of focusing on the pain of the loss of both her and of the role I played in her life.”
“The role you played?” my daughter questioned.
“Yes, I was Tess’s primary care giver during the day when you were at school and Dad was at work. From 7am-7pm Monday-Friday, Tess was my responsibility. I had embraced this, enjoyed it and felt the significance and purpose it brought to my life.”
My daughter nodded silently, and I continued.
“I saw the benefits early on. I had needed to be more mindful of my schedule and using my time wisely. I was getting up more throughout the day, which was better for my health than just sitting at my desk for hours on end. What I was doing for her was what I hadn’t chosen to do for myself before she came into my life. I was benefiting from her love, the significance of my role in her life and of how it was teaching me to do things for myself that I needed to do.”
“So what does this mean for you now?” my daughter asked simply.
I smiled painfully, “it means that Tess taught me that I need to love myself more. Not to rely on a role or having others to serve for me to love myself the way that I deserve.”
My daughter looked at me. “That seems like a very big gift and lesson,” she said quietly.
“Yes,” I responded, almost whispering. “A very big lesson and gift for which I’m tremendously grateful. And it is clear to me the challenge of her passing has allowed me to receive it.”
For a moment, I thought back to an earlier lesson I had learned from another special life who had crossed paths with me years ago. He, too, had made me see an important truth – that my heart was in need of opening and developing the gifts that only the cultivation of emotional intelligence can allow and teach.
We are far stronger in love than we are in fear and worry. Life endures as we choose to look towards where we can give and receive love.
The fact is, we have 3 layers of body intelligence. Our minds, or cerebral intelligence, have been given top billing and most of our conditioned attention. However, in more recent years, we have begun, as a larger collective, to recognize the significance and essential information that we receive from our hearts (emotional intelligence) and our guts (instinctive intelligence). These three body intelligences, coupled with our intuition or energetic intelligence, are there to help us learn, navigate and, ideally, thrive in our lives. Each provides its own information and gifts, and it is up to each of us to learn how to develop and grow each intelligence to get the most from our experiences and what we have to learn from them.
If you would like more information about how to work with your different levels of intelligence, to increase your capacity as a leader and in life, go to https://theinnatecoach.com/whole-brain-leadership-approach .