Unfortunately, our household has had to cope with tremendous loss these past 10 months, and even more in the past 2 years. We accumulated fuzzy family members when my daughter was young and, as she is now almost an adult, our sweet pets have grown older, too.
Last July, we were devastated at having to put our beautiful yellow Lab, Clementine, to sleep (nearly 13 years old). I didn’t do well with the grief initially, but found pet grief forums online quite helpful to get the hurt out. Now only last month, we had the unexpected loss of Spot’s “mate,” Toto (her photos are on this blog). Only six, she hid her illness 100% and left us quickly – taking her to the vet for what we thought was allergies or asthma in this new humid climate we are rving in, but not being able to take her home ever again.
Though still unable to believe this has happened, I also unexpectedly lost my 66 year old mom in January 2012. I had been given the gift of not having to deal with any grief or loss for 15 years, now it is all happening at once. Of course, losing my mother hurts most of all – but learning how to cope with the loss of a pet was far from easy.
The death of any pet is, in many ways, a very different experience. I experienced both cases – knowing the end was near (Clementine) and knowing nothing was wrong (Toto). I can say that I cried just as hard and felt just as lost in either scenario…there is no “good” way to lose a pet – no matter how old they are or how expected their death was.
The first challenge was missing their unconditional love. When they are healthy, it is easy to take for granted that they will always be there, happy to see you, doing their funny things, nuzzling you for attention. That is the gaping hole left when they are gone and it is hard to be normal without their daily presence.
The next challenge was the impact on the other pets. While we “humans” grieved the loss, the other pets would act confused, distant, uneasy and lonely. Spot used to spend 24 hours/day with Toto – now I’ve been nominated as the surrogate. He is at my side all day, something he never used to do. You want to talk to your pets, if you have ones left behind, but you just cannot explain it and it is very frustrating because they hurt, too.
Toto hit me extremely hard because when my mom passed away, she was always our “little hippie/flower child” who always had a loving disposition. She just always looked happy, wagged her cat tail, romped and played…and snuggled with all of the animals and humans. Losing her so soon after my mother made the wound deeper, because she was such a positive presence in a dark time.
I did find a way to cope with pet loss, however, that worked for me and it granted me peace so rapidly. Mind you, this may not be for everyone…and that is ok (it is important for you to find what is most meaningful for you). Anyway, I had Clementine and Toto cremated and now have their ashes together, as I will for my remaining pets Hannah and Spot one day, and their ashes will be spread with mine when my time on earth is over.
In this way, Clementine and Toto are still a part of our rving life, keeping them in one small “urn” container as we travel here and there. I find peace in two ways – I have them close now and also feel soothed knowing that we will be reunited is some form when my life ends someday. My daughter also requested a pet urn necklace, to wear around her neck, which gave her comfort. So for me, finding a way to keep them close was the healing I needed. Once I made that decision, I felt so much calmer and content.
No matter what you decide, don’t criticize yourself or feel like you should be “getting over” the loss based on other people’s critiques. Grieve in your own way, as long as is necessary. If you feel it is becoming a problem, be sure to find support to help you through. Many people lack empathy when it comes to pet loss, expecting you to bounce back quickly because “it is just a pet” or to not grieve because “your pet was old.” Do not be impacted by other people’s “expert” advice. One day they will have to go through this painful process and I guarantee their perspective will change (if they aren’t “pet people” then they shouldn’t be giving advice anyway!!)
Having lost my wonderful mother and pets in one year, I can say that it isn’t a comparison of grief (like one is more important). In their own right, both types of loss hurt tremendously. Get support through online forums for pet loss and find what will give you the peace you seek.
Most of all, do NOT feel guilt – that one sneaks up on you. You loved your pet and did the best you could, no matter why your pet passed away. Guilt hit me with both our dog and cat, when there was no way I would have ever intentionally hurt either. The “what ifs” and “I should have” will keep you from healing – let go and remember, as your sweet pet always knew, you loved him or her with all of your heart.
Peace to you….
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