Losing Your Best Friend – The Four-Legged Kind
I’d like to preface this blog post by saying I’m not a hippie, a socialist, or a weirdo; I just really love my dogs.
This past weekend Mikey suffered a seizure. He had bolted up the porch steps too quickly, and his fourteen-year-old heart simply couldn’t keep up. Luckily, he survived and is living out his final months with my family and me (and a degenerative heart condition), where he should be, but I swore we were going to lose him then and there in the hospital.
Upon learning of what his vets deemed a “cardiac event,” a flood of emotion hit me like a truck; my throat seized up, and I became hysterical. I’d never even let myself picture life without Mikey, my childhood dog of fourteen wonderful years. For the past week, I’ve been forced to digest the painful reality that all things live and die, a fact that my mere twenty-one years have yet to experience first-hand.
You have to understand: Mike’s a rare case. Despite his canine seniority, he continues to sport a voracious appetite and pounce on furniture twice his height, not to mention his loving, can-do attitude even with one eye (a story for another day). Mikey has the digestive system of a juicer: no matter what goes in (be it Christmas fudge, towels, diapers, brick shards, pool water, dead woodchucks, tampons, Q-tips, crab shells, and so on), it always comes out in some softer form. We call him Mike the Miracle. Regardless of his apparent invincibility, however, the day will soon come where Mikey will no longer be with us.
I can’t accept it, but I have to. We were a hair away from losing our sixth family member, and for those of you who are or have been in a similar situation, I have a few thoughts on how to weather the storm of emotions that painfully and inevitably follows.
- Most importantly: Cry. Sob. Just grieve. Cry until you can’t cry anymore, otherwise you’ll carry that burden with you for the rest of your days. It’s the most basic form of mourning, but it’s the crucial mechanism that allows us to process our sadness and thus forge on. Just don’t forget to bring Kleenex everywhere.
- Cherish each day you spend with your ailing pet. Sound cliché? It is, but necessary? Of course. Tell Fido how much you love him. While many would argue that pets can’t understand your words, the act of expressing your love may still provide you comfort. Each day with your pet is one you will never get back.
- Search through old photos and memorabilia and dig up favorites of you and Fido or of places and things that remind you of him (favorite beach, a scrap of his favorite blanket, or even a clipping of his hair, if you’re bananas like I am). Compile an album or scrapbook with your memories and look at it often. Not only will the act of putting together photos prove to be a valuable, cathartic experience, but revisiting the compilation often will also prevent you from ever forgetting your best friend and the value he had in your life. While it may be painful to look back, it’s only fair to your lost pet that you don’t deny his role in making you a happier, more fulfilled person. Also, don’t be afraid to show your scrapbook to others; it’s likely you’ll gain some peace of mind by sharing that same joy that Fido was able to bring you.
- Don’t forget about your other pets, despite your own grief. They may or may not be deeply affected by the loss, especially if they spent many years together, like our dogs Mikey and Saba. As humans, we project our emotions onto our animals because we have no other way of interpreting their behavior. When Mikey was at the hospital for two days, Saba seemed unaffected. It may not have been that he didn’t miss Mikey, but rather that he was coping in a manner undetectable to us humans. Thus, be sensitive to the behavior of your surviving pets. Give them love and attention, but don’t try to understand why they act the way they do. Dogs are dogs. Humans are humans, and to love them doesn’t always have to mean to understand them.
- Spend time with your family or those closest to you who share in the grief. Not only will you feel more comfortable expressing your sorrow around those who are also bereaved by the loss, but you will also benefit from the bond forged by your communal mourning. According to Moira Anderson Allen, author of Coping with the Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet, “It is vital to share in the grieving process as a family. When grief is shared and discussed, the loss of a pet can actually help bring a family closer together instead of driving it farther apart.” Having others empathize with your sorrow may also allow you to get through the pain more quickly.
Posted by Liza