“No one can truly understand why dogs are called “man’s best friend” until they have experienced the loss of one.”
“When the cat you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.”
(quotes from https://www.loveliveson.com/loss-of-pet-quotes/)
Every journey with a pet is unique. Each death of a pet is unique. As I research write these words, my husband and I are dealing with the final days of our beloved Mary. A springer/cocker mix, Mary has been our special companion for more than six years. We adopted her when she was almost seven, nearly a year after the loss of another much-loved dog. Mary’s former owner had passed away suddenly, and Mary went into rescue; we learned about her and drove 300 miles one way to meet and adopt her. She has brought much joy and comfort to us during the time we’ve been blessed to call her “ours.”
Trained as a therapy dog by her previous owner, Mary has positively impacted many lives. I’ve written two children’s books about her (and am in the final stages of completing a third), and together, we’ve visited libraries and schools. Mary’s kind, sweet nature won over children and adults alike. She provided comfort for elderly folks, and to my husband and me. Her intuition for people who were down physically and emotionally has been incredible to observe, and her patience and affection for other animals allowed us to bring in another dog 18 months ago who needed her guidance and friendship. My husband and I worry how Jeremiah, our rescued Shih Tzu, will handle Mary’s passing.
This is not the first time we’ve faced the death of a beloved pet. In our 20 years together, my husband and I have experienced the passing of two dogs and one cat, and before we met, we grieved the loss of animals as children and younger adults. However, the experience never gets easier. Each pet has brought love, fun, joy, and devotion to our lives, touching our hearts in their own special way. And, their passing leaves a void. Yet, their lives leave memories galore!
Each pet parent’s experience with the loss of a beloved animal is a personal journey. Some people grieve for months, even years. Just as the loss of a human friend or loved one pierces the heart, so does the loss of a beloved animal companion. And just as the journey of grief for another person is personal and unique, so is the journey of pet loss.
Experts note the stages of grief after losing a pet are similar to those experienced at the loss of a human loved one: denial, anger, guilt and acceptance. They also agree a person needs to grieve the death of a pet. Some adults may try to keep their sadness, guilt, and other emotions in-check, being embarrassed to acknowledge how their animal’s death affects them; however, bottling up those emotions isn’t healthy. A person needs to accept and acknowledge the depth of grief they feel in order to start the path of healing. Also, don’t let other people tell you how you “should” feel – as noted earlier, this journey is a personal one and other people are NOT you and you are NOT them. Talk with friends and family who are understanding and empathetic, those you believe will be of help to you and with whom you feel comfortable sharing. Some communities, either through veterinarian’s offices or other organizations, offer pet bereavement support groups; consider going to one. There are also online sites where you can share your thoughts about the loss of your companion, take part in a memorial service, and connect with others who are going through their own pet loss journey.
Whatever your pet loss story, whatever your journey, know that over time your broken heart will heal. And, perhaps one day, another sweet dog, cat, horse, hamster, or other animal will share your love and your life.
Here are a few websites that help pet parents deal with the loss of a beloved animal:
A POEM FOR THE GRIEVING
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die...
-Mary Frye (1932)
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.