Oh animals. They really are, in some ways, the very best. They symbolize so much to so many of us; often in ways that are so simple, yet so profound. Words can’t always aptly qualify what our animals mean to us – especially in those quiet moments when they are relentlessly loving and always there.
I am a pet-loving (no…PET ADORING) therapist. I even cried for days when my fish died. I also am very conscious of the fact that to many people, pets are THE ONLY living thing that hasn’t let them down. For some people who have hurt a lot in this life, their pets are one of the only safe havens they have. Pets are family members, friends, children to some of us, and at the most fundamental level — an example of goodness in a world that can often be quite a disappointment at times.
The other hard thing about pets that is sort of abundantly unique and even unusual is that we know from day one that in 98% of circumstances they are going to die way before we want them to or are ready to have them go, and unlike in human relationships; many of us are willing to take that risk, open our hearts and love blindly over and over and over again.
On the one hand, you might think, “Why would I keep opening my heart when I KNOW it will be demolished in the long run?” And to that I answer…oh let me count the ways. How about loving and being loved unconditionally is amazing. How about what we receive — even in a short time — is unmistakeable, juicy perfection. We learn commitment, we learn authenticity, we learn to live in the moment and, perhaps most importantly; we learn that love in all capacities is the beckoning of hope — hope that we might take that expanded heart these beloved, furry friends offer and go out into the world and share it with other humans.
If you are reading this, you either love animals and have lost one at some point in your life, or you may be freshly grieving the loss of your best furry friend. Either way, you know the pain all too well of not just being able to replace your favorite dog of all time with another rescue right away, or not being able to just start training a new horse when you have had you’re abiding and majestic friend along for so many years. It feels sad. It feels hard. And, sometimes it even feels (even though the animals would never think this of us) like betrayal.
Just like the people in our lives with whom we have the most intimate connections are all abundantly unique and totally irreplaceable, the same goes for our animals.
This week, I would like to dedicate my blog to anyone who has ever loved and lost a beloved, furry (or hairy or prickly or shelled or gilled or — you get the idea) friend.
Three Tips for Dealing with the Loss of Your Beloved Pet:
1. Make a List
So many times when we lose a friend of any kind, we become terrified that we will lose any connection to them at all. While, of course, in the wake of a recent loss it is totally normal and understandable to feel this way; it doesn’t have to be the case in the long run.
One of the most amazing things about our animals is that they teach us to be present. To literally live in one, encapsulated moment in time. They show up, for a short time, and they show us what life is really all about. When they are young or give the falsely youthful promise of living forever — we may forget to notice these remarkable teachings and gifts, but if we really hone in on our time with them, the lessons and gifts will most likely be too many to list in one sitting. That is okay. Try anyway.
Take out a piece of paper. Now take out an actual pen or pencil (you know, the old fashioned kind).
Now, without pausing; start writing a list. Start with “1” and see how many you find. List every amazing quality your pet had. List every amazing lesson you learned about how to grow as a person and how to evolve in every way from your relationship with this one, amazing friend. List everything you learned about life from this animal. Now list their best, most unique and most challenging qualities, and then keep adding to the list. Add to it about the things you miss most. The things you hope to hold on to. And keep going as long as you need. Cry a lot. Smile too. Lean into the pain inside of your heart and chest and talk to your furry friend. Maybe they can still hear you. Either way, they are definitely within you in ways that will always carry you forward.
Next. Every single time you think of something new, add it to the list. Keep it. Put it in a place that matters. When you get afraid, or you feel scared that you might not feel that connection or that you might forget the things that matter most about your unique relationship with this unique pet — refer to the list. Read it again.
You can add to it, read it, or do anything you want with it over time. It is your pet, your relationship, and your list.
2. Share Your Grief with Those Who Also Loved Your Pet(s)
Pets are communal aren’t they? Even if we live alone and don’t see other people a lot, I bet you can think of at least one person on this planet that knew, cared for and absolutely thought your pet was pretty cool. Maybe, in some cases, lots of people loved your pet(s). Maybe he/she was the literal talk of the town! Either way, let people know. Let them in. Share stories, Let them love you and let them show you that your animal’s life had a purpose beyond just the scope of your awareness or connection to them. That their life had a purpose with others too.
Ask the other people who knew or cared about your pet (or even the people who love you and didn’t meet your pet, but grew to love them through hearing about them from you) how they felt about him/her. What did they enjoy about him/her? Learn things and perspectives you might not have known before. Let other people feel things too. Even the people who care about you and don’t know how to always show it, they want to know and try to help too. Maybe they can’t do it perfectly, but give them a try. Let them in.
Let’s face it, in most cases, your pet might have been pretty open to trying new things. So can you.
3. Take Some Time (And Make Another List)
And, by take some time, I literally mean take some time. Sit for an hour. Light a candle. Do a ritual. Play a song. Sit at the dog park and cry. Wear his/her blanket around the room. Be pissed about it. Be hurt if their life ended too soon. Think about the things you are holding onto that you are blaming yourself for. Are you questioning if you ended their life too soon? Are you questioning if you hadn’t taken that trip, might they have lived another day? Are you questioning — if it was an accident and your animal died suddenly and without the chance to say goodbye — if it was your fault? Then, ask yourself this: what do I have to learn from my beloved friend about how to accept life as it is? About how things are always changing. About how life is moment-moment?
Ground yourself. Then take out another piece of paper.
Make another list. Make a list of everything you did right by your pet. Make a list of all the things you tried really hard to do to make them happy. All the extra treats you bought or the extra time you gave. Think about the love you felt and tried to impart — to the best of your human ability — to your pet. Think about the good things you did. Add to the list. Keep it going. Any time you start to question yourself again — read it. Add some more.
Forgive yourself. Your pet already has.
If you are grieving the loss of a beloved pet and seeking support, contact me and refer to this blog for a free, 30 minute phone consultation.