- Death & Loss of Life
Grieving the Loss of a Pet
The dictionary defines Grief as deep mental anguish over a loss. Although we all have our own definition of what a major loss is, in our lives those of us who have animals know the supreme sadness we feel when one of our companion animals pass on.
Our mourning can actually start at the first signs our pet getting older and we realize they are not immortal. This happened to me one morning. My fourteen-year old Golden Retriever woke up, but couldn’t get up. My first reaction was utter fear. I was aware my Bailey was getting on in years. She was slowing down and needed help getting up occasionally, but this incident really brought home the feelings of dread. Although the incident happened about six months before she actually passed I thought it was the end. There were a few other really bad days like this one, each time I wondered if this was it. I called my neighbor to help me carry her outside then sat in the middle of my yard and cried.
I took her to into the vet that day. They put her on a daily pain killer and told me to exercise her as much as Bailey would handle. Before this I had managed her pain with a home-cooked diet and supplements. Within a few days she was much better and started walking on her own, but this incident started the emotional roller coaster I would be on for the next six months.
Factually speaking there are five stages of grief. They don’t always happen at the time of death. Many of us start on our grief journey way before the actual passing. Much like a cancer patient the grief may start at the time of the cancer diagnosis. With our pets we may start grieving with the first initial signs that our pet is aging, or the diagnosis of a terminal illness.
The first steps of grief are defined as denial and disbelief. Who wants to believe our pet will eventually leave us? Our denial or disbelief can happen over period of days, months or even years. I believe it is meant to protect us so we can care for our aging pals. As our pets age and their bodies break down it may take a few days to adjust to each new malady. So, we put aside our feelings and deny they are there, because it is too painful to comprehend the inevitable.
Anger is the next step in the process and I know I faced many days when I was angry. At times I hate to admit, I was angry at Bailey. I can remember begging her to stand up and walk, or pleading with her to get better. I know my true anger was really at the process and the realization that we out live our pets, but I was also tired a lot.
Bargaining, the third step I know I did a lot of that, too. I asked God constantly if he could save the animals and take the bad people away instead. I always wanted more time, more time, but we all only have so much. Every time she had a bad day it brought tears.
The next step is suppose to be depression, but like I said I started on my roller coaster of emotions when I first started seeing Bailey go down hill physically. I fell into a deep depression almost immediately after her first bad episode. I know I was tired, a lot. Bailey didn't sleep much and as time went on she got more uncomfortable. She was on heavy doses of pain killers. I spent many a night lying next to her on the floor. By the time Bailey had passed I was through my depression stage. When she got really sick her last two days on earth I only wanted her to be out of pain, so her passing was some what of a relief.
Shortly after Bailey’s passing I made it to the last step, accepting it. I didn’t grieve for Bailey as badly as I did for Deacon, my other Golden. Deacon was poisoned and only made it two days after we got him to the hospital. He was so young and there his passing was so senseless. I had no choice but to run the gamut of grieving after he was gone. What I remember mostly was being in shock and disbelief for a long time.
So we don’t always go through the symptoms of grieving after the loss. Many times it starts at the time our pet is diagnosed with an illness, or when we first realize we will probably outlive them. When they show the signs of aging we begin our own process of learning to let them go, but everyday a little piece of us goes with them that I am sure of.
Since I do communicate with animals I tried to live Bailey’s last few months of life through her eyes. I became a more spiritual person. Life seemed so fragile and so short I worked on what was important in my life, mainly her. I could clearly see Bailey’s body was betraying her, yet she never complained, so, I paid more attention to my own complaints. There were plenty. Since I concentrated on Bailey and spending time with her I began to see the good in everyday. She was definitely a catalyst in my turning my life around. I switched my work schedule to spend more time with her and in doing so started writing again. I limited my time with negative people and even broke off a relationship with someone who clearly wasn’t good for me. I didn’t see how destructive my life had become until I stopped everything to take care of my dog.
I stopped concentrating on people and things and just worked on caring for Bailey. In hind sight it was the best decision I made. I didn't regret spending the time with her I actually delighted in taking care of her. I could tell she was liking it too. I was able to concentrate on what the next chapter in my life was going to look like. Only those of us who truly enjoy our animals can relate to learning so much from them. I know what I did for Bailey I did for a reason. It brought me back to my basic roots, so I could branch out in a new direction. I took what I learned from my experience with her getting older and her passing and I've carried it forward. It has been a month, but her inspiration keeps me going.
Your journey will be different but I hope you use the time with your animal companion as a learning experience. Pets don't hold onto things like humans do and the best thing we can learn from them is to drop the baggage and learn to live in the present.
Death gets all of us eventually, but it isn't all a bad thing. Take a spiritual journey with your animal companions. Try to understand them. Throw away your complaints and live for today. I learned that living through my grief and experiencing each part of it made me grow as a person. A pet passing can be a sad time, but it can also be a time of renewal. Make it a time to change what you don't like about your life now.
This article was the story of my grief, but I hope it helps you learn to deal with your own. It is okay to be feeling what ever you are feeling. Grow from it and let it move you on to the next step in your life.
I always said all the animals in the world deserve to have someone cry over them when they pass. But by moving on yourself you are giving your pet permission to move on themselves. If you are lonely then adopt a new companion. Remember you can never replace a pet that has passed, but a new companion can help you heal and that is what all your pets want for you.