I’ve often before about pet loss, the grieving process for both owners and pets, and even whether we can expect our animal friends to be with us in heaven. Whatever your personal belief system, the universal commonality is if you love pets, it hurts to lose them.
TEARS ARE GOOD–WASHING AWAY PET LOSS
As many of my readers know, last February’s vet check for our dog raised questions and worries about when normal hurts. We were able to relieve the hurties to a degree, and in July our Magical-Dawg celebrated his 11th birthday. But as of today’s posting, it’s 15 days since we said goodbye to our Magical-Dawg.
It’s hard for anyone to lose a beloved family member. My first dog gave me my reason for writing. But Magical-Dawg inspired my fiction and gave me a new career. He changed my writing life–and I’ll never be the same. He’ll live on in my stories, but now–I hurt.
I’ve been in the hospital now for 7 days (should get out today) but felt it important to post. This is the first I’ve been able to write, other than the tribute lyric here. But I was put here to advocate for pets and those who love them–so yes, this is for me, but also for you. May a bit of this help as together we walk through this deep valley.
REMEMBER THE LOVE–IT NEVER ENDS
It still hurts, and will for a very long time. Now my husband and I have begun to share memories, and smile a bit through the tears. But emotion ambushes you at the oddest moments.
…leftovers at the restaurant we now leave behind instead of taking doggy bags, for instance. Or a funny poignant TV commercial featuring a special canine. Or . . . my Pastor bringing me a “Prayer Bear” to my hospital room, and knowing that Magical-Dawg’s all time fave toy was his Bear-Toy. My Karma-Kat also suffers grief, with no easy way to explain where his best friend has gone.
STAGES OF GRIEF–NO WRONG ANSWERS
I suspect most readers are familiar with the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. I’ve read that for some, the grief process is a soul journey of seven stages, progressing from lost soul to becoming re-enchanted with everyday life. And that the soul is the deepest, most precious part of us, and where we encounter God, and that, we must listen to our soul to help us move through this process and leave our hearts singing again. Just turn within, and listen. I’m trying. I really want to be happy again.
The steps can be experienced in any order and various lengths of time, depending on the individual. They are: feeling alone after the death; dealing with “why me?” learning to receive and offer compassion; realizing an overall purpose; sorting through past life experiences; returning to daily life; and committing to a new level of aliveness and reality.
KNOWING WHEN TO SAY GOODBYE
All of us who love and care for dogs and cats understand that we will outlive our pet, and ultimately have to say goodbye. But knowing that doesn’t make the reality any easier. I knew as early as last December that things had changed for Magic. Oh, how I hoped to be wrong. But in some ways, it was a gift to have the time to come to terms–and to ensure Magic’s last months were happy and pain free.
Quality care for aging or ill pets can prolong their lives only for so long, and not all pets die in their sleep. When the joy of living is gone, when pain replaces pleasure, and when your dog or cat is ready to leap forward into the next adventure beyond your side, you can grant her the greatest gift of all – a merciful death. That’s what we regretfully gave to our precious baby-dawg.
PET LOSS GRIEF–LIVING WITH BEREAVEMENT
Grief is normal, and a testament to the many years of love you shared. When a beloved animal friend nears the end of life and ultimately dies, grief can be overwhelming and paralyzing. I’ll be putting some of this together into a future Quick Tips booklet, too, as I’ve been asked to share guidance how to understand deep sorrow, move through it, and eventually use the power of that emotion to transform lives.
Friends reached out to me, sharing their empathy and sympathy, support and love. It can be hard to accept–almost picking at that wound–but open yourself as much as you can and accept the love you’re given. It helps, it really makes an incredible difference. And offer your own support back. That is the beauty of pet love, after all, sharing in the funny/sad/whimsical/hurtful/uplifting/glorious memories our family members bring to us.
For myself, writing is therapy, and trying to give back. I gave his nearly full bag of dog food to the local shelter, donated left-over meds to his caring veterinary team, and we submitted blood work to a university study that may help future dogs avoid Magic’s untimely death. His legacy lives on.
And I also reached out to my pastor. Maybe you wonder, too, so I share his comments about whether pets go to heaven in this post.
WHAT ABOUT GRIEVING PETS?
For pets left behind like Karma, the grief is just as real and intense, and often more confusing. How do you tell your other animal companions they will lose or have lost one of their family, and that he isn’t coming back? It’s not unusual for these pets to search and cry for the missing love one.
When we’re working through our own pain, it’s hard to know how to help. If the departed pet was ill, often the surviving animals may already know. I think Karma suspected for longer than we did that Magic’s time was short. And when it’s possible, I recommend allowing surviving pets to view the body, sniff and examine (or ignore) and in that way, KNOW that there’s no need to search and cry. We placed Magic’s collar on his bed, left his toys out for a week, and Karma chose to nuzzle and roll, lick and groom and ultimately sleep with Magic’s collar. Cue more tears…
We also talked to Karma, not that he’d understand the words, but certainly the emotions would resonate. Things as simple as, “We miss Magic, too. We’re sad too, and it’s not your fault.”
UPDATE: We lost Seren-Kitty on November 30, 2017. She didn’t quite make it to her 22nd birthday, and now Karma is an only pet, after living with two others his whole life. He’s doing his best to fill the echo that his furry friends’ absence has left.
Dogs and cats grieve differently, just as people do, and there’s no right or wrong. There is no timeline limit on grief, for any of us. And we all choose what’s right for our circumstances, with the knowledge we have at the time.
If nothing else, please share this message with anyone who needs to hear–Such painful but loving decisions made with the heart cannot be wrong.
Love will come again, perhaps in a new furry friend. I believe that. It’s what Magic would want so his legacy lives on.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!