Do you remember the first dog you knew? What about the first one you loved? Sadie was a Basset Hound. Mellow to the bone, ears in her water bowl, low and slow and even-keeled. She lived at my level and allowed my little-girl self to pull on her ears, dress her up, and hug her whenever I needed. Dogs affect our lives deeply and are often the first to teach us about unconditional love.
Our capacity as human beings to love directly correlates to our capacity to grieve. Because of how we come to love our dogs, we experience profound loss when one of them becomes ill or dies. Everyone mourns in their own way and there is no timeline or formula for processing loss, but there are helpful tools.
Time. No one grieves on a prescribed timeline. Everyone is different and some losses take longer than others to process. Loss takes us through a variety of emotions as we learn to integrate it into our lives. Be gentle with yourself and honor the time it takes to heal.
Story. Tell the story of your loss to those whom you feel safe sharing it with. Share about the loss, but also share about the life of your pet. We all have our collection of funny, heartwarming stories about our furred family members.
Connect. Find and make use of your support system. Understand that not everyone knows how to be supportive to someone in grief, and that’s okay. Typically, a third of those close to you are the ones who will be the most supportive. Another third will be neutral, and the last third will not be helpful. Limit your interaction with this last third at this time, but remember they may be the ones there for you at another time. Don’t write them off.
Retreat. While connections are helpful, also recognize there will be times you need to retreat and recharge. Grieving drains your energy and you may need more quiet time to recharge than you normally take. You may also find that you won’t have the energy for your everyday tasks. It’s okay to recognize this and ask for a little extra help from family, friends and coworkers.
Listen. Pay attention to your self-talk. If your emotions are spiraling out of control, you may need additional support. There are several resources available for those grieving the loss of a beloved pet.
|“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
—Will Rogers (actor)
Support. If you know someone who is grieving the loss of a pet, the best thing you can do is be a good companion. Sit with them. Listen to them. Provide them a safe place in which to grieve. You can’t fix it for them, but you can help them heal by being there for them. Let them know you are thinking about them.
Memorials. Memorials are a beautiful way to honor the memory of a beloved pet. Morris Animal Foundation provides donors with several options for sending memorial cards, including two new cards specifically for golden retriever lovers.
Written by Nancy Kay Clark, BSB/M, CVT (Certified in Death and Grief Studies)