Death of Your Best Friend, The Ugly Cry & A Guide

by Mary Haight on November 6, 2011

Death and grief are an odd couple in our culture. People are often embarrassed by tears, and turn away rather than consoledeath of a pet another – it makes them uncomfortable.  Disturbing that this should be so, given loss is a shared experience that should bind us with the reminder life is fragile.  Response to grief can be even more complicated when grieving over the death of a pet.  Support can be found among other cat and dog owners, but you won’t always feel the love from those closest to you. That lack of support may find you hiding rather than expressing your feelings, making it more difficult to get to a place of healing.

Death of a Pet

The death of a pet is traumatic. When your dog or cat dies suddenly it is always a shock, just as it is a shock when you have to make a life or death decision for your dog or cat when the time comes.  I don’t know which is more difficult – to have the choice made for you or to have to make the choice. I’ve been in both places, as most pet people have, and have suffered the ignorance of comments like “*it* was only a dog” and a sometimes (not always) dismissive “well he was 14” as if that was long enough.  Is there an age limit to grief?  I say let loose your torrent of tears, go for the ugly cry and let it flow. There is often catharsis in that.

When you ask pet people what they think about when they remember dogs in their lives, a common thread is a sense that if they had done something differently, the outcome might have changed.  Guilt.  It dogs our heels through the years. But probably the most constant shared experience of grief are the blank spaces everywhere you look. The glance that expects to see your dog or cat sleeping in their usual place, chewing their bone, pouncing on toys meets empty space instead.  It takes your breath away. The experience of waking every day and coming home each night to silence is a constant reminder – the life of the house and your constant companion is gone.

Grief Support Guide

Pet loss is the subject of Lorie Huston’s interview with Gael Ross, a licensed clinical social worker who has written “30 Day Guide to Healing from the Loss of Your Pet“.  It includes a diary and words of wisdom to help you get your bearings in your first month of coping with loss. I think you will find this an interesting, informative and surprisingly upbeat discussion on grief, the various stages, and how those stages do not travel a linear path – something I think we might lose sight of. Check it out at Animal Cafe and join the conversation – have you stoically held back tears, felt suddenly not part of those close to you because they did not understand?

 

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8 comments
Pup Fan
Pup Fan

You're so right... somehow in our culture it's almost like grief is something to be ashamed of. Even when I lost a parent, after a few months people thought I should be over it already. (I mentioned this on Edie's blog too - there's a great series on grief from Meghan O'Rourke on Slate from a few years ago - it's worth a Google.) I did feel a weird unspoken pressure to keep things inside, and I've felt that same pressure regarding the loss of my furry friends as well. I will admit, I was very lucky to grow up in a family of animal lovers who all got it and there was no shame in being sad over pets lost years before. I wish everyone was so understanding.

takepawsmadison
takepawsmadison

This is really wonderful. Our family recently lost a pet, and I wrote about that experience on my own dog-centric business blog. But what I failed to write about (because it was my mom's dog who died, and I don't live with my mom any more) was the "empty space" you mention. I think this is the hardest thing. We recently adopted a two-and-a-half year old from the Humane Society, and already he's nestled into our everyday lives completely. Imagining him gone is horrible, and we've only had him for a season. Living with an animal for years and then losing them? You're right. It's nothing short of traumatic. Thanks for your post.

Kristine
Kristine

I never gave myself the chance to properly grieve when my childhood dog died. I was 21 and finishing up my Bachelor's degree. It was exam time and I was stressed about a great many things. Dealing with the loss of my dog just didn't fit in with my schedule. Because of that, because I never talked about how I felt with anyone and I never gave myself the chance to come to terms with her being gone, I've also never really recovered. Just thinking about her makes me cry to this day. I am so glad there are people now thinking about this absence of support. Thanks for sharing this information.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Welcome. I am truly sorry for your pain and the loss of your Tasha. These are the toughest times. Nothing makes it better, but you have lots of little ones to care for and I'm sure they need and are as comforted by your affection as you are by theres. I'm glad something in the post struck a chord for you and thanks for sharing!

Irene
Irene

I just lost my 14 1/5 yo westie on 10/21. She was my baby, my first born, my best friend. This was a great post. I hate hearing "she was 14, you gave her a great life, etc". That doesn't make it any better. I was depressed and withdrew from everyone. No one understands. I also have 3 other dogs, we mourned Tasha together. She was my shadow and even now I still cry and don't want to deal with people. My 22mo baby is keeping me busy and that helps. I cried a lot and didn't care who saw me. She was more than just a dog, she was everything to me. Thanks for posting this

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Yes, I had just such an unsympathetic reaction and my respect for and trust in that person changed markedly. Those unguarded frustrated moments say a lot about a person. Don't you dislike some of these book people who think they know it all;) I'm afraid that title change was devised to mislead, reach a broader audience and get more sales. Everyone buys into the "quick fix". I think her easy to read little book could help people get some sense of steadiness beneath their feet. Thanks for sharing;)

Pamela
Pamela

You're so on the money about getting an unsympathetic reaction from someone changes our feelings about them. I understand not everyone will understand my bond with my dogs. I can't understand their bond with their children. But if you really care about someone, you at least make an attempt to be there for them even if you don't have personal experience with their loss. BTW, I know Ross's book title is devised to sell copies. But I think it's an unfortunate one. It seems to suggest that 30 days is all you need to grieve if you buy the book. I suspect it was suggested by the marketing department of the publisher, and not Ms. Ross.

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