The loss of a family pet can happen suddenly, and without prior warning. Grieving the loss of a pet can leave us and family members reeling from the impact. The pain of losing a family pet, can be as difficult and complicated as losing a member of the family.
The relationships that we may have with our pets may extend for a considerable amount of time. Some of us, may have had our furry friends as companions in our lives for a few decades or more! To put that into perspective, a lot of people these days, may not even have been in a romantic relationship for that length of time.
The emotional connection and attachment that we have to our pets may be considerable. They are in a lot of cases like extensions of our families.
They are there day in and day out, to greet us at the end of our day, to offer a warm welcome, and unconditional love and acceptance.
No wonder they can be such a big part of our lives, and their loss can leave a gaping hole in our hearts.
Loss Hits Home
This is exactly what happened to me last weekend!
Unexpectedly, my nearly 20 year old Tabbie, Molly, began to show sudden signs of distress on Thursday night. She wasn’t looking like her usual self and I decided to keep an eye on her. By Friday morning, she was laying on the floor and in clear distress.
Alarm bells were ringing inside of me!
How bad is she? She looks bad! Should I bring her into the vet?
I called immediately to make an appointment. The vet had an appointment and luckily I could see her that afternoon. Nervously I tried to concentrate on my work, but in the back of my mind I was very concerned about Molly. As soon as I was able to, I got myself together and prepared myself for anything.
Hoping for the best and fearing the worst!
Wating is the hardest part!
Second hardest, as I was unfortunately to find out. The vet was very kind and patient, and went over Molly very gently and thoroughly. She then said that she would need to take her to take some blood tests.
Things were never the same after that!
I was told to go and grab a coffee and come back in an hour to get the results.
The early stages of grieving
Shock / Denial
“She’ll be okay. I’ll just go and get a coffee. The vet will take care of her. Run some tests. Tell me what’s wrong with her. Give me a prescription and send me home. And she’ll get better!”
The moment I got back, and the vet came to see me with Molly, things would never be the same again! Molly looked like herself, but swollen and a bit roughed up from all of the poking and prodding.
When the vet spoke to me about her condition, still in my reverie, I asked hopefully how she was.
I didn’t get the “optimistic” message… the ohh she’s in great shape for a cat her age!
What I got was a look of concern, and a suggestion that I could leave her there overnight, or that I could take her home overnight and make her comfortable, and that I could give her some antibiotics. Next came a conversation about seeing about her “quality of life”.
The view from this side
From this side, that would have been the moment when I should have known that my dear companion’s days were soon coming to an end. That this was the vet’s way of saying that “there’s really nothing we can do for her.”
But shock and denial can do strange things to one’s mental faculties.
I decided to bring her home. Since they didn’t seem to be able to do anything for her, there was no way I was going to leave her in some clinic overnight.
Looking back… it all seems so clear and almost preordained.
I wasn’t to come back to see the vet.
I went home and made her as comfortable as possible. I gave her the medicine and tried to get her to eat and drink water. By this point she was too far gone.
I set my clock to check in on her at 3:45 in the morning. It was hard to tell whether she was fighting hard to survive, or whether she was on her way to another world.
I picked her up and hugged her and caressed her. I told her that I loved her, and that if she needed to go that that would be okay, but that if she wanted to stay, that she was welcome as long as she wanted to and that I would take care of her.
I woke up that morning and went down to check on her. I opened the door with a feeling of hope and dread. My worst fears came true.
My beautiful little loving companion Molly, was no more.
The beautiful tender little spirit that had inhabited her body had left.
More Shock and Denial Soon To Come!
This is where the emotional rush comes crashing at you, at a speed that you can barely fathom! Pure heartfelt emotion, letting you know clearly and in no uncertain terms how much this little being, your pet has meant to you, and how excruciating you are feeling, and wondering how you will go on without their companionship in your life.
It all sounds dramatic. But one must remember, this is a being, a warm-friendly constant companion, that has been in your life, offering you daily and non-ending love and warmth. And now you are finding out in a rather shocking and harsh way that this being has been taken from your life forever!
Please remember, all of you non-pet owners, or to those who are not that close to their pets. For some, the bond between human and pet can be a bond of the heart, if not a psychic one.
What can make grieving the loss of a pet that much more difficult is to have to justify one’s pain and loss to those around them. The pain of losing a pet is real. The love and attachment, and affection and relationship with a pet, may not be as deep or as meaningful as one is able to achieve with another fellow human being, but it can be a very deep bond, and can bring on a sense of deep depression in those who have lost a long-time companion.
Yes, it’s really real! You keep telling yourself!!! (Shock and denial)
You look where your pet would usually lay, or expect them when you get home to greet you.
But they are not there!
They aren’t coming to greet you!
You look over at their bowl.. at their blanket… they aren’t there!
It is starting to sink in.
Molly isn’t there anymore!
Even though you buried her in the yard yesterday. One of the hardest things you may have done in a very long time. She is no longer physically in your life!
But the eerie part is… I can feel her energy, or I should say, the lack of her loving energy that so filled the house.
Oh what we sometimes take for granted when we are busy, but when it is gone, we can never ever replace!
Negotiating / Depression / Letting Go / Accepting
The grieving continues…
If only I had done this… or that!
How did I not know?
Did I do well by her?
She’s not really gone! This isn’t really real!
She’s gone isn’t she?
She’s not coming back!
The memories start to pile in… the good / the bad / the challenging / frustrating moments / the moments of pure love and acceptance…
More realization… She’s not there anymore! I won’t get to hold her in my arms and cuddle her. I won’t get to see that sweet little face of hers coming to greet me at the door when I get home. She won’t be waking me up in the middle of the night, or yowling at me for whatever reason!
What I wouldn’t give to be woken up just one more time by her!!!
To have her yowl at me, and to go to her and pet her, and to talk to her and see if I can make her happy….
But there aren’t any “anymores”!
When it finally starts to hit you that your little or big loving being is no longer in your life, then you may start to get sad, mad, cranky, despondent and start to think about all the things that you can no longer do or share with your pet.
Being a therapist and seemingly “knowing better”, I try and tell myself to focus on all of the memories that I got to share and experience with her. But being a therapist offers no cover or no insurance against loss. I feel the moments where I would have been with her and shared a caress or a tender feeling. I try to remember that Dr. Seuss quote that goes something like this….
“Don’t be sad because it’s over… be glad that it happened!”
Damn you Dr. Seuss!
You never had a little cat named Molly, that you had for 20 years!
I don’t mean it! I love Dr. Seuss! The Cat In The Hat.. Green Eggs And Ham… all of it!
I’m just mad. Another part of grieving… Anger.
But my anger is soon short-lived, as it is not doing me any good.
Then it turns to …. crankiness. I am not much fun to be around, and I go off to be alone so I can try and be with my thoughts and grieve the loss of Molly.
I try to find a quiet place, but there are people everywhere, and they are talking loud which just makes me all the more cranky!
How can anybody go about their business and be oblivious when we are grieving?
I leave the beach. It is not doing me any good. The people won’t stop doing what they are doing. It begins to descend upon me that it will take time to grieve. This comes as no real shock. It is something deep down that I know
and tell people all the time. But it is another thing to tell oneself that one’s grieving will take time…. that it will take time to come to acceptance.
The Road To Acceptance
So that is what I am doing. I am (hopefully) on the road to acceptance.
And by the way, as I like to say in cases like this, acceptance doesn’t mean that we like what has happened!
Acceptance means that we are working hard to make room for, and live with the reality that has happened.
You don’t need to like it to accept it!
And I don’t like it one bit.
Fluctuations On The Road
Emotions come and emotions go.
Sadness turns to anger, turns to gratitude, turns to depression, turns to compassion, and back to sadness again…
Each day, it is as if another layer is peeled.
Each day, it is like… did this really happen?
Yes it did. And it is in those moments that I am deeply grateful to the people around me that love me and that showed me unconditional loving support. Who held me, hugged me, let me cry, held my hand, and even helped me lay Molly to rest.
All without shaming or blaming… just unconditional love and presence.
And it is those people in our life, that help us to pick up the pieces and rebuild ourselves.
When you are able to, thank those people with ALL of your heart for being there, for understanding, for not judging, for loving you and just being there with you in your deepest moments of grief.
The road to acceptance goes on…. each day brings another layer, more work to do. The work of grieving feels like you are running a huge program deep within you, while trying to keep yourself together, go to work, be present for your family, and try to grieve and feel the emotions that are beckoning for your attention.
Day by day I try to bring awareness to what is happening inside of me, and what I am feeling. I am a witness AND a participant to this grief work.
The road continues, day by day….
I am reminded of a prophetic sign that I saw at the vet’s office when I was there….
“Cats come into your life and leave paw prints in your heart”
Molly… you have left indelible prints in my heart.
Be free, sweet little loving spirit.
Namaste to All