This is the anatomy of a grieving dog mom. I wrote this piece after my first Cocker Spaniel passed away in 2008. I never thought I would ever feel complete again. The logical part of me knows we all will die someday. The unprepared part of me wasn’t ready, couldn’t have prepared, and went into a downward spiral of pain as a grieving dog mom.
If you are grieving the death of a dog, please understand you are forever changed. Death changes you whether you want it to or not. I’ve learned to live with my grief and carry it with me as an invisible suitcase. Here, in its entirety, is Anatomy of A Grieving Dog Mom followed by resources to help if your dog died.
Anatomy of A Grieving Dog Mom
There’s a hole in my heart where it used to be whole.
Those were the first words that came to mind when I sat down today to write this piece about grief, the power it spews into one’s life whether we want it or not.
The great Emily Dickinson wrote so many passages about death, yet one resonates over and over, “Forever is composed of nows.”
It certainly is. Are you loving someone today? Missing someone today? Wanting something today? Right now, you hold the forever that is the feeling. Right now.
And today, now, my forever is grief.
It’s an odd thing, grief. We fear it, dismiss it, try and avoid it, occasionally have brushes with it, and most often times without warning, it invites itself into our lives. No welcome mat but it comes nonetheless.
Emily said it best, “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.”
I didn’t know what to do with myself, how to behave. I didn’t want to die but I didn’t want to live in a world where Brandy didn’t walk by my side. The death of my dog hurt more than losing a person.
How Do I Deal With The Death Of My Dog?
An email arrived in my inbox a few months after Brandy died. A woman named Lucy Francis asked if she could have the honor of immortalizing my Brandy Noel in replica form with one of her miniatures. I hesitated.
Did I want to resurface those feelings?
Would people think I was ‘weird’ for wanting to have this forever keepsake?
Would this set me back to day one when I let my baby girl’s frail, disease-ravaged body free to soar and I left alone without her physical presence? None of that mattered, I deduced.
This is a gift for me. Some of us visit cemeteries. Some light a candle in memory of, others we suffer in silence because, after all, ‘it’s just an animal.’ Nod your head if somewhere along life’s highway you’ve had that comment thwarted your way.
There’s no wrong way to grieve, my grief counselor told me.
Some people didn’t understand why I’d need to see a grief counselor after my dog died. Sadly, some people validate themselves by tossing eye rolls and handing out sneers like napkins at a cocktail party.
Okay, let’s do this. I sent a locket of Brandy’s hair to Lucy with some photographs of a life well lived and forever painfully missed.
It costs two postage stamps to send grief these days. Not bad. I figured I would see something resembling my Brandy in microscope thimble-sized form come back to me where I’d keep it in a closet until the day came I could face her likeness without melting into a puddle of hurt.
What did arrive changed me.
Me, who knows all about grief has mastered the art of suffering through it and while not kicking its chokehold on me, overcame and carries it with her like a shield of sorts.
A wounded warrior.
The mail carrier delivered hope. Hope costs a few more than 2 stamps by the way.
Reacting To My Deceased Dog’s Likeness
I called out to my wife to come and open the box for me. This was her little girl, too. I did the same thing as the day I had to let my baby go at the vet. Please don’t make me do this alone.
What surfaced was nothing short of a complete likeness of my Brandy Noel. Her fur intertwined with the process Lucy uses to make miracles come to life. She stands more than several inches high, she certainly isn’t thimble-sized, but the gaze in her eyes, the ever so slight tilt of her head, the love in who she always shall be, those are the magical qualities in Lucy’s work that were brought to life.
Many a tear fell that day and continue to do so. It’s my grief, after all.
“Are you going to sleep with it?” “Put it next to her ashes?”
These are some things people asked me. Contrary to popular belief, no I’m not sitting home with an Ouija board summoning her spirit nor immortalizing her with a dedicatory wing of the house.
But even if I were, am I not a fully functioning adult? I have the right to hurt and deal as I see fit. What is wrong with some people?
My Brandy is home in the closest sense I will ever have her until again we meet. Lucy Francis is a maker of miracles and far above the craft her hands create. She is sort of a Clarence to George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. Well, at least to me. For that, I am forever indebted.
Dog Grief Is a Suitcase
I view my grief as a suitcase. Some days it’s a cosmetics bag full and others it’s Samsonite gorilla-sized.
Sometimes I feel like I’m on a carousel in the airport waiting for the form my grief will take.
Do I wait days or weeks before I tear up and ache so very much or is today a carry-on kind of day where I just take it with me?
In any event, I know my luggage always arrives and never gets lost. I’ve learned the death of a loved one means gaining a new identity. Victim of grief, a survivor of hurt, and eventually carrier of pain.
What I Did After My Dog Died
I was one of those people, by the way, who said, “never again.” As in, “Never again can I get this close to an animal again.”
Thankfully I think with my heart and then ask my brain to double-check my work. I could never not love this way again.
He sits at my feet daily and his name is Dexter.
Will you like Lucy’s work should you choose to have her create magic for you?
More than words could say, yes.
Celebrating the life of a dog with a forever full of nows, that’s the uniqueness of what Lucy does.
“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog that comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be a dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they.”
Anonymous wrote that. I bet they’ve grieved a suitcase full, too.
How To Deal With The Death Of Your Dog
If you are trying to cope with the death of your dog, you are not alone. Here are some of the most popular articles I’ve written on the topic.
Don’t let anyone tell you to “move on,” or “it’s just a dog.” Your grief is unique, just like your dog. I’ve learned many ways to honor her while missing her physical presence in my life.
That’s the worst part: the longing and absence of your dog’s presence. Please check out these resources and know that you are not alone. I’ve learned my dog would want me to be happy until I see her again. Hope teaches me that I will see her again.