My dog died and I feel empty. A few months after my dog died, I was standing in line waiting to pay for groceries. The woman ahead of me in line was talking on her phone and blurted those words out. Her agony and sadness pierced through me like knives on fire.
It took me several months after my dog died to try to pretend my life was normal. When Dexter died, I felt invisible. I felt like I was drowning but somehow stuck in the deep end of the ocean. I could not move. Research consumed me. I somehow failed him. How did I miss something with as many letters as hemangiosarcoma?!
Every single grief article spewed out the stages of grief and that my dog was in a better place. How the hell could he be in a better place when the best place he could be is here with me on Earth?
Our dogs cannot be with us forever on earth. We will likely outlive our dogs. A complete stranger felt like dying because her dog died. I wasn’t alone. Neither are you.
I am writing this post for anyone and everywhere who feels lost, crushed, unable to get by, and wants their dog back. If I could deliver on that last part, I’d have done it myself by now.
These are the things that helped me, so please stay with me and read on.
What To Do When Your Dog Dies
If you searched the Internet and came across this article, I totally get what you are going through. If you are rich, poor, single, married, alone, or in a big family–the immense feelings of pain and angst in your chest unite us all.
For every moment of our dog’s life, we choose what they eat, when they go outside if they see the veterinarian, and how they spend their days and nights. Dogs are special beings but they rely on us to be their caretakers and providers of love, care, and nourishment of the body and soul.
Decide where you believe your dog is now. His or her body died, but what is inside your dog lives somewhere. If you are not religious or spiritual and believe there is no soul, then that’s where your dog resides now. Someday you will reside in the same ‘place.’
It is important to decide where your dog’s soul or inner being resides now. In that way, you can connect with his ‘soul’ or ____ (fill in the blank) even though his body is no longer with you.
Here’s the first article to read: What to do when your dog dies
How I Survived My Dog Dying
It’s no secret that my heart beats dog®. I own the trademark, wear the tattoo, and live the life. I never ever imagined my soulmate dog, Dexter, would die so tragically, suddenly, and without warning.
Hundreds of pet parents have reached out to me since to ask how I survived. Rather than tell you what I did to just about get through those soul-crushing days and nights full of agony and devoid of Dexter, I wrote about it.
I know that we will, in most cases, outlive our dogs. Their lives are a brief flicker, a sandglass turned upside down the moment they enter this world (the same holds true for humans.)
Like millions of pet parents, I started worrying about losing my dog and suffered from anticipatory grief. So I wrote about it. And no matter what I did, I knew the day would come when he would no longer walk this planet with me. He balanced me that little dog. He had no idea, or maybe he did, but his presence enhanced mine. The canine equivalent of completing me.
He wasn’t my first dog and he won’t be my last. He was, however, somewhat otherworldly. Everyone says they have a special dog, and they are all correct. Most people who met Dexter felt that special aura only he could exude. He made you feel important, loved, and that who you are in that moment mattered.
His sudden and unexpected death shattered me to my core. I know I am not alone in feeling this way. Millions of dogs are born in this world every day. Millions will die. Tears will fall, hearts will break, and trying to survive without your canine companion becomes a journey into hell on earth.
Here’s the next article to read: How I survived after my dog passed away
The First Few Months After The Death Of A Dog
Those first few months are torture. I cannot say it gets better, and by ‘it’ I mean the pain and agony of living without Dexter by my side. It does, however, get more real. I carry the pain with me and live his legacy. I take all the lessons and love he gave me and decided they don’t end with his death.
In this way, Dexter’s spirit, soul, message, and life live on. You are reading about him right now. He’s wagging and fluttering his canine wings from his spot over the Rainbow Bridge. I truly feel his presence as I type this.
My spouse reminded me to change the channel on my grief when it became too much and I could barely function.
“Change the channel when those thoughts come into your head,” Darlene told me.
You have to grieve. There is no fast-forward button on grief. Eventually, you have to function again, even if you hate that thought. You need to work. You need to live. You need to sustain yourself and those who love you.
Your dog’s life will have been in vain if you decide you cannot go on without him. Think of how your dog felt about you on earth. That doesn’t change because his body is no longer here.
The way Dexter made me feel about myself was gone. I cannot pretend that is here because I know he is not. He is, however, a guiding force and one of the reasons I clawed my way back to a life meant to be lived.
As a writer and a blogger, I find it very cathartic to help others going through the same thing. I’ve been reaching out to people who are also in grief and telling them some of the things I’ve been doing. And I opened my heart to another Cocker Spaniel. I always will. This is who I am.
Each dog is different and they should be. Each life is its own entity. Each dog is my heart dog. This much I know is true.
Read this next: What to do when your dog dies and how to handle the grief
By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to Dexter, how he died is in no way a reflection of how he lived. I used to think that. Then a friend reached out and shared this incredible nugget of wisdom with me. Melissa Chapman, these words are seared into my being forever:
My Dog Died and I Feel Empty: Talking to an Expert
Dr. Karen Becker is one of the most followed veterinarians in the world. She uses a common-sense, deliberate approach to creating and maintaining vibrant health in pets.
She is also the co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Forever Dog. She asked me to be on her show recently to discuss memorializing a dog after death.
Here’s our conversation. Watch this next:
The Miracle of Dog Mountain
One of the places I highly recommend every dog lover visit at some point in life is Dog Mountain in St. Johnsburg, Vermont.
It was a very moving and other-worldly place to visit and sit in peace. It is unassuming and ordinary but extraordinary when you are on the hallowed grounds.
Rather than tell you all about it, read this article next:
How To Memorialize Your Dog
I will never not talk about my deceased dogs. I will never not honor and cherish the life they spent with me. Of all the people on this huge planet, somehow their lives interconnected with mine and they shared time with me.
A friend asked me where I would be if I never adopted Brandy Noel. My life would be completely different.
I thought about Dexter’s life and where I would be had we never met. My life would be completely different.
My dogs are vessels and they guide me through life. I owe it to them to carry their legacy until our souls meet again.
You have so much intense pain and grief because a love that big leaves a planet-sized hole in your heart when the dog dies.
However, love never ends. Not even death can take that away.
Read this next: 30 Memorial Ideas for Dogs
Finally, a tribute to my Brandy Noel on a life well-lived, forever missed, forever loved, and a legacy that will live in my words and actions.
Who are you missing? Tell me about your dog in the comments below. Keep their legacy of love alive.