Understanding Our Emotions After Loss – The Dandelion vs. The Orchid

Within months of getting married in 1999, my wife wanted to start having children.

Like any newly married 25 year old man confronted with an eager spouse wanting to bring another life into this world would do, I recommended a dog instead.

That dog, which was just 6 months old when we adopted her, lived to be 16 years old. She was an absolutely INSANE animal that ran at full throttle 100% of the time, but our family loved her with everything we had.

I can still vividly remember the day we had to have her put to sleep.

I can remember what both of my daughters were wearing as they begged me not to do it.

I can remember the song playing on the radio as I drove her to the hospital in what would be her last car ride.

That day was 1/30/13 and although I feel I’ve healed from losing her, I still can not bring myself to get another pet.

How is it possible that after more than 7 years, I’m still too afraid?

How do some people go out a couple of weeks later and adopt another pet?

Does it mean I loved my dog more than they loved their dog?

Of course not.

How is possible for someone to end a long term relationship with someone they loved and jump right back into another one immediately?

Does it mean they didn’t love the person they were with?

Of course not.

Dealing with loss and grief

We all respond to loss (and the grief that follows) in our own individual ways.

To better understand how we handle the emotional reaction following catastrophic events, let’s define grief.

Grief is defined as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.”

While we all experience some level of “emotional distress” following the loss of a loved one, it’s our level of sensitivity that determines the pace at which we heal.

This level of sensitivity is best explained by pediatrician and researcher Dr. Thomas Boyce, that developed the theory of “dandelions vs. orchids” in reference to varying responses children have to their environments.

I know what you’re thinking…..

What do kids and flowers have to do with how I handle the pain of loss?

Fair question, and as a side note, I’ve killed every flower I’ve ever attempted to grow.

Anyway, back to my thought process on how Dr. Boyce’s theory perfectly applies to our emotional capacities for healing as adults.

He concluded that the vast majority of kids are like dandelions – hardy, resilient, and able to deal with stress as it comes.

Dandelions are resilient

But, he also found that approximately 20% of children are more like orchids – very sensitive and much more susceptible to both bad and good environments.

When it comes to loss, regardless of the type, some of us are dandelions and some of us are orchids.

Understanding which one you are can have major positive impacts on how you heal.

It’s very easy to view someone going through a type of loss similar to ours and handling it totally different than we are.

This can cause us to start questioning ourselves and trying to figure out if “something’s wrong with us” because we’re not progressing through the healing process at the same pace.

This only adds additional pain and anguish to our already fragile emotional state.

Stress caused by a pandemic

In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “Five Stages of Grief” model in her book “On Death and Dying.”

Although the premise of her book was based on how terminally ill patients processed the grieving of their pending death, it’s since been widely acknowledged as a guide for better understanding how we heal from all types of loss.

The five stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Some of us quickly proceed through each stage and get back to our normal lives.

Some of us move slowly and spend extended periods of time in each phase.

Some of us only experience 2 or 3 of the stages.

Some of us experience all 5.

Some of us might totally skip over one and move to another. We might even move through one only to find ourselves regressing backwards and having to start all over again.

Here’s the take away…….

There’s no right or wrong way to heal from loss. We each handle it our own individual way, and at our own individual pace.

The healthiest thing any of us can do to best facilitate the healing process is to not allow ourselves to assume someone else’s coping mechanisms are the same as ours.

Although someone may appear to be in the same storm as you, they’re probably not in the same boat. They may be cruising on a super yacht and you may be on an inflatable raft with one broken paddle.

Understanding WHY we’re feeling WHAT we’re feeling is an integral part of the healing process.

With that in mind, what type of flower are you?

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