This past Easter Sunday I was heading back from the grocery store, enjoying a song on the radio and looking forward to the day. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a dog and a cat bolted into the street in front of me, the dog chasing the cat. I ended up hitting and killing the cat.
At first I wasn’t sure if I had hit both animals… I stopped the car in the middle of the street, got out and realized the cat was not going to survive.
It was devastating. I am fortunate because the dog’s owner came running out after the dog and acknowledged this was all his fault, although it sounds like it was all just an accident and no negligence on his or my behalf.
I am an animal lover, and even more so, a cat lover. I left the scene after the dog’s owner assured me he would handle the cat and came home only to fall to the floor, sobbing. There is no way to make any sense out of this. It happened, there was nothing I could have done differently, yet there seemed to be no way to reconcile it in my mind.
I decided to go about my day and, for the most part, enjoyed myself. But I came home and the memory quickly returned in the quiet of our house. I cried and thought, “tomorrow I will feel better.”
Tomorrow came and the feeling hadn’t subsided. It was Monday, and the route I take to work takes me past the scene of the accident. I thought to myself, “don’t avoid it, face it.” So I did, but facing it only brought back the tears. I was then confronted with the question, “How do I get past this?”
I found myself thinking of all the “if only’s” about the timing, and the “what if’s.” It came down to this: there is nothing that can change it… it was the wrong place and the right time.
I found ways to comfort myself through talking it out with friends and family; everyone has a story to share. However, I couldn’t come to terms with having taken the life of a living animal, and someone’s beloved pet. I am the kind of person who catches a fly in the house and sets it free… so to be involved in the death of a domestic animal is difficult to resolve. I am a therapist; I am supposed to know how to deal with trauma and grief! I kept thinking to myself, “this really isn’t a big deal…it’s not like someone died!” Yet, I knew that’s not something I would say to a client had they been in my shoes.
I decided it was time to revisit the steps for recovering from a traumatic event. I realized I wasn’t giving myself the time I needed to recover, or to mourn. I wasn’t being patient. I did, however, find myself feeling better after talking to someone who was empathetic, so I sought out more friends I could count on to listen and understand my feelings. Just the process of communicating my experience was cathartic.
I took inventory of my stress level prior to this event and realized it was already fairly high. I remembered that people who are facing other emotionally challenging situations are likely to have more intense reactions to the current event and may need more time to recover. Once I was able to take this step back and give myself permission to grieve, the process and my emotions seemed more tolerable.
I decided I would call my therapist in two weeks and make an appointment if I was still feeling the way I was in the days after the accident. Seeking professional help, even as a professional, is a proactive way to deal with the emotional impact before the issues persist and begin to interfere with daily living.
It’s been a week so far and each day I’ve found it less painful. The memory, however, is still fresh and uncomfortable. I continue to give myself permission to feel my feelings and knowing I can ask for more help is reassuring.