Photography courtesy www.suzuranphotography.com
Written by Claire Atkinson M.A. – Counselling Psychologist and Dog Behaviourist
Every pet lover knows that at some stage it is likely that this deep and wonderful bond will be challenged by the unimaginable sense of loss. We express our love by doing the very best we can for our pets. Letting go, for whatever reason, is a part of that love. We grieve deeply; a thunderstorm of emotions runs lightning-wise around the hole in our hearts. We don’t ‘get over it’ (that would be a denial of our love), but we can get through it.
All you want, as often as you want. Not everyone will understand, but it’s your loss and it’s personal. Putting on a brave face to please other people is not helpful!
Be honest with yourself
Recognise that your feelings are in turmoil. Any feelings that arise are different for each person. You may experience denial – especially in the case of a lost pet. After all, there are stories of pets returning after years, but these thoughts may inhibit you from moving on. Anger towards a careless driver, about an incurable illness, a vet who ‘could have done more’, however justifiable, preclude the resolution of your grief. Depression is a natural part of grief, but can lead to shutting down if allowed to control your life. Guilt – ‘if only I had’ – serves no purpose. You did the best you could, it is enough. If there is a lesson to be learnt, make the necessary changes to prevent it happening in the future.
Work through your feelings
Once you have honestly accepted the way you feel, start the process of recovery. It begins with expressing your feelings, speaking them out loud, writing them in a journal… accept that you are hurting, and don’t try to avoid it. At the same time, try to focus on remembering the good times. Write about the funny things you remember, or put together pictures of your pet; remembering the happy times, even when you are crying your heart out, is a step towards regaining balance.
A friend in need
Get help. Choose a friend or family member with whom you can talk about what you are feeling. After a recent loss, a good friend gave me a box of tissues and then talked about all the good times she remembered, and other friends sent similar messages… every one helped me with special memories they had. Sometimes it’s necessary to seek professional help, particularly if the grief is not easing as time goes by. There is not a ‘time’ for grief to end but it is healthy for it to ease, from dominating your life through to moments when something triggers a moment of sadness, but more often a memory of happiness.
Animals, too, feel loss. How much and in what way is not always clear: elephants, for example, show grief in almost tangible ways when one of the herd is lost. Dogs frequently show their grief at the loss of their owners. But what definitely happens when a pet is lost is that other pets feel the change and it helps us to help them with sensitivity to the way they may be feeling.
Helping children through loss is personal. As a kid, I was told that Lizzie the Bull Terrier had gone to a lovely farm. I wanted to know which farm, where it was, whether we could go and visit, etc. The truth was probably that she had been euthanised after biting another child. I didn’t receive an honest answer, and, somehow, I didn’t trust grown-ups quite so much after that. So, it’s usually best to be honest, and allow them to grieve with your help.
Getting another pet
This is often suggested on the theory that it will ‘replace’ the lost pet. Nothing replaces a loved and lost pet. But, as time goes by and your grief eases, you may wish to have a pet to which you can give – and receive – that special love and care so well deserved. The soul who comes to join you is one of a kind, and you will love him/her in that way, not as a replacement. You will be ready when you have let go of your grief, preserved your love, and are ready to move forward on your journey. You will understand that love is… letting go.
A Dog’s Last Will & Testament
Before humans die, they write their last will and testament, give their home and all they have to those they leave behind. If, with my paws, I could do the same, this is what I’d ask…
To a poor and lonely stray I’d give my happy home; my bowl and cozy bed, soft pillow and all my toys; the lap, which I loved so much; the hand that stroked my fur; and the sweet voice that spoke my name.
I’d will to the sad, scared shelter dog the place I had in my human’s loving heart, of which there seemed no bounds.
So, when I die, please do not say, “I will never have a pet again, for the loss and pain is more than I can stand.”
Instead, go find an unloved dog, one whose life has held no joy or hope, and give my place to him.
This is the only thing I can give…
The love I left behind.