Since my dog passed away eight weeks ago, I’ve received several types of questions and messages. Caring friends and strangers offer their condolences, share their own path of pain, and extend words of comfort. Others want to know how I am surviving the death of my dog.
For people who want to know how to survive and make it through each moment without a beloved pet by their side, this article is for you. For those who wish to know how I am holding up after the crushing sudden loss of our Cocker Spaniel, this is for you, too.
It doesn’t get easier, it gets more real. The more time that passes from your dog’s moment of death, the more real it becomes. Perhaps some of what I’ve experienced can help someone else, so here I go.
I am dealing with two things: his death and his sudden passing without warning. He wasn’t sick and then he was gone. If you want to know how my dog died, I wrote an article called Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs: My Dog Died Without Warning. I’ll also share a ton of resources that I wrote and others authored to help you through your grief journey as well.
The death of a dog or any beloved pet is a journey. They’ve traveled from one place to another, whether you believe in heaven or not. Your dog went from this world and his body to another space, place, location, or for some, just not on this earth. I won’t sugar coat it: he’s dead.
You, the survivor of his death, are on a journey, too. In Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom, I explain how grief is a suitcase. Some days the grief fills a carry-on bag and other times it’s the size of a Samsonite gorilla-sized suitcase.
Most pieces about pet loss reiterate the same things: There are stages to grief, you need to go through them, and one day the pain won’t be as intense. Phooey.
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Things I Experienced When My Dog Died
He’s never coming back and until I die, I won’t be with Dexter again. That is the hardest, most gut-wrenching honest reality I’m dealing with. The logical part of me understands he isn’t here, I can’t hold him, and we can’t share this life together again.
Logic sucks sometimes.
I’ve read that grief is love with nowhere to go. I partially agree with that. For me, grief is love shattered and scattered across a universe where your dead dog resides.
The First Two Weeks After My Dog’s Death
In no particular order, here’s what I experienced the first two weeks after Dexter’s death:
- Intense heaving and crying
- Inability to sleep
- Clutching his blankets, toys, and beds over and over
- Pacing the house and remembering every step he took, what he did in that spot, and all the memories we made
- More intense heaving, crying, sleepless nights, and overwhelming feelings of shock
- Forgetting a lot: I can’t even recall certain days and nights after he passed – it’s a blur – perhaps a means of protecting myself from his traumatic passing?
- Refusal to leave the house
- Sudden and unexpected bouts of sadness
- Laying on the couch or in bed for hours and then days
- Staying in my pajamas
- Skipping showers
- Attended online group pet grief counseling offered by the facility where Dexter died
- Made an appointment with my in-person grief counselor who helped me in the past
- Losing my appetite
- Screaming into a pillow and losing my voice
- Wrote my dog’s obituary
- Included Dexter’s obituary in my Christmas cards that were premade while he was still alive
- Sent out thank you notes
- Fell and hurt my leg quite badly
- Fell on ice and injured my wrist
- Felt helpless to help my wife grieve as I was lost in my own shock and trauma
- Respecting my wife’s choice not to publicly grieve
- Taking some time off from client work
- Ran a Christmas card exchange through my Club Cocker Facebook group
Do you notice the wax and wane pattern of super-low lows and struggle to try to gain a sense of dealing with my dog’s death? As I write this, I notice it, too. Grief can really mess with a person’s mind, well-being, and ability to function.
Who Helped Me When After My Dog Passed Away
Things happen when someone dies and the world moves forward in spite of your grief. The world can’t stop for my shattered heart but I wished quite often it would.
If you are fortunate to be loved by others (friends, family, and even complete strangers) in real life and on social media, magical things happen.
In no particular order, here’s what others did the weeks after Dexter’s death:
- Sent gifts, cards, flowers, notes, condolences, food, and more
- Sent photos of themselves with Dexter
- Sent memories they experienced one-on-one with Dexter
- Called me
- Emailed me
- Made tributes to Dexter
- Shared their own stories and challenges with pet loss
- Asked me where I would be if Dexter never came into my life. Very deep, very profound, and I am very grateful.
Complete strangers changed my trajectory of grief. I blamed myself in the first few weeks after Dexter’s death. How could I have missed something as gargantuan as a large bleeding liver tumor? I poured over his photos, his videos, and notes I make regularly about his health in the DogMinder.
Nothing made sense. I clearly missed something and now he’s dead.
Complete strangers reached out to me on social media and snapped me back into reality. Dear friends reached out to tell me the truth. Expert veterinary nurses and veterinarians explained the vile nature of hemangiosarcoma and its ability to evade diagnosis until it’s too late.
If I tried to list each person who contacted me and my wife to extend love, kindness, information, and condolences, I’d be writing for days. My life is devoted to dogs and their people, and my career is in the pet industry. People are a part of my every day online and IRL comings and goings and they got to know Dexter.
I feel like I lost a best friend.
I am mourning his loss more than I did when a relative died.
I never met Dexter but my heart is broken and I can’t stop crying.
Those are a few of the many things people shared.
Things I Tried And Failed At After My Dog Passed Away
There are many things I tried when my dog died, of which I failed miserably. Maybe you are in the deep throes of grief and just want a way to stop the pain. I tried diversions such as:
- A jigsaw puzzle (I used to love them as a child). Fact: I do not like them anymore.
- Taking down the Christmas tree and decorations. Fact: Everything is still up.
- Visiting friends: Stupid COVID. I thought being around my best friend and snuggling her dog would help. My wife is immunocompromised and we won’t take the risk despite our vaccination status.
- Taking a walk outside. Major epic fail. Every step I’ve taken over the past 30 years or so has been with a Cocker Spaniel by my side 90 percent of the time.
- Staying healthy. Both Darlene and I became very sick with upper respiratory tract infections/strep throat, some sort of funky cold. We went to get PCR COVID tested and were negative. Twice. Two home COVID tests were negative. Grief annihilated our immune systems.
- Looking at photos and videos of Dexter. It made his death all too real so I couldn’t do it. Darlene feels the same way.
- Begged for the heavens to send him back to me, even if for a little while. Grief makes you say and plead for so many things.
Things I Tried and Succeeded At After My Dog Passed Away
- Helped other dogs and pet parents in need.
- Helped to find a retired show dog a new home.
- Embraced and leaned on my wife; I cherish her dearly and deeply forever.
- Realizing grief has no fast forward button (thank you, dear grief counselor)
- Read a ton of books. One after another. Mostly dog books.
- Allowed myself to cry but not to the point that I get myself sick. I don’t want to get that sick ever again.
- Starting to look at his photos and videos again until I feel it’s too hard to bear.
- Planning our next steps in his honor, memory, and legacy
- Getting back to my studies and building a second online pet-related business. I am a bit behind on that since Dexter’s death, but I need to focus on something besides grief.
- Realized grieving 24/7 is very unhealthy and can not only make me sick but stop my heart. Yes, pet death can cause a medically broken heart.
- Attended group pet loss online until I realized it was doing me more harm than good
- Ordered a very special piece of jewelry to honor the love of Dexter and our first Cocker
- Binge watched several television series
- Started self-care like showering, changing into everyday clothes and getting back to work. I work remote and always will, so I had to adjust to his lack of presence by my side.
- Talked to an animal communicator for an hour over the phone (a gift from a friend)*
*Note: I was raised Catholic but am now simply a spiritual person. I do believe in God and an afterlife. I never spoke with an animal communicator before, but wow is all I can say. She said things, knew things, and shared things that only she would know.
Could she have Googled me first? Sure. Did she? I firmly believe she did not. She knew things that are not online and floored me. I may or may not book another appointment. I need to decide if it will help my grief journey or make it worse.
Next Steps Since My Dog Passed Away
I am at peace that we did the right thing for Dexter and got him to a facility (finally after three hours) where he needed to be. He passed on his own in the moments before the veterinarian inserted the needle. On his terms.
A good friend of mine says you will eventually have laughter through the tears. For all my tears, and I’ve cried a river, there has been laughter. There has been hope.
I haven’t moved his toys, bed, or any of his things. That won’t happen until someone is there to physically fill those areas. I’ll leave it at that.
I realize each dog is my heart dog. I love each one the same, and I pray for each one to live the longest, healthiest, life as humanly possible.
I love who I am in the company of dogs.
Something my grief counselor said to me snapped me into reality a bit. She shared a story with me about the death of her Yorkie dog. She loved that little dog and they went on vacations together, and the dog became a source of comfort when her daughter went off to college.
However, my counselor did not bring her dog to work every day with her. She works in an office as a counselor. She misses her dog immensely but she wants THAT dog back.
Whenever I’ve had a loss in my life, I’ve visited this counselor, let’s call her Julie, to talk. I call them my “tune-up” sessions. Grief isn’t a one-and-done thing, so I am proud to understand talk therapy helps me when grief strikes.
After hearing my saga and the traumatic nature of Dexter’s death, she said to me, “Carol, you are a dog person. I miss Mitzi and don’t want another dog. I want Mitzi. You, however, are a dog person.”
I want my Brandy back.
I want my Dexter back.
I know that won’t happen.
I am a dog person. I married someone who feels the same way. My heart beats dog®. I’ll leave it at that.
Messages From My Deceased Dog
Since Dexter died, I wondered if he would somehow connect with me or send me a message from beyond. I’ve had several massages over the years from our Brandy Noel and knew somehow Dexter would find me again. My heaven is a breath or a whisper away and not a place way up in the sky.
The way our deceased pets communicate may not come with honking horns and flashing lights, but the signs are there. My first Cocker Spaniel connected with me from the Rainbow Bridge.
I truly believe in what is called “postcards from the bridge,” where a loved one who has passed on sends you a message or sign or “postcard” from beyond (the rainbow bridge, heaven, etc).
I hadn’t been eating too much since Dexter died, and Darlene suggested we get Chinese takeout food (something we haven’t had for a while). Dar drove down to get the order.
Whenever we get Chinese takeout, she always made sure to get three fortune cookies: one for me, one for her, and one for Dexter. We would tell him, “Okay, time to pick yours.”
We would set the three cookies down and he would ‘nose’ the one he wanted and that was his “fortune.” He also loved to eat the fortune cookie too, like a typical Cocker.
So Dar opened hers and read it aloud, I opened mine and read it aloud, and then I opened Dexter’s fortune cookie and this is what was inside:
So yes, one of my postcards from the bridge. Thank you, Dexter.
Books About Pet Loss
I purchased and received several books on pet grief that I highly recommend.
Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of Your Canine Soul Mate by Roxanne Hawn
Signs from Pets In the Afterlife by Lyn Ragan
Pet Jewelry and Pet Loss Memorial Keepsakes
I plan to get a tattoo of Dexter’s likeness in a very special way once COVID isn’t as much of a threat. In the meantime, I’ve purchased or have been sent a few pet loss keepsakes and pet memorial jewelry.
I recently purchased this ring and I am waiting for it to be shipped. It is available on Etsy. You can choose from a variety of flowers and colors. You send a lock of your dog’s hair and the Etsy creator crafts the hair into a beautiful resin ring. I sent both locks of hair from both of my dogs.
I purchased this beautiful collection of wooden blocks that when stacked appear to be books. The books are stamped with your choice of symbols and names. A gorgeous way to honor and remember your loved ones.
I gifted this to my best friend, Christine, when her dog Coco died. It is a beautiful vase that has slots for flowers. You can have it engraved.
I purchased this high-quality concrete memorial stone for my friend, Ellen, on the passing of her beloved dog, Zola. She keeps it in her outdoor garden. It can be personalized with your pet’s name.
I purchased this to place between the two urns of Brandy and Dexter. I keep a small battery-operated votive light on in their memory.
View all of the items in my Amazon pet loss memorial shop.
When To Get Help If The Grief Is Too Much
Do not try to go on this journey of pet loss alone. It’s overwhelming and I highly recommend reaching out to a professional or online group if the feelings become intense.
If feelings of suicide emerge and you begin to feel unsafe, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Seeking help is never a sign of weakness, but a strength.
Quotes For When A Dog Passes Away
I highly recommend you purchase a notebook or some sort of index card holder and jot down or cut and paste helpful quotes in it. When you are in the throes of grief and it has you in a chokehold, you can open this book and take action.
Here are a few you can print, cut, and get you started on taping them into a binder or journal:
Grief is not about letting go, but redefining and holding onto your pet in your mind and heart in a certain way.
Love never ends. Death takes the body. Love remains. ~ C. Bryant
“It is heartbreaking. It is traumatic. It is all of the above. But you know what? They give so much love and companionship that I’ll do it again. I will continue to have pets. That’s not going to stop me.” ~ M. Simpson
His absence is so big it’s like he’s here. ~Patrick Ness
Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. ~V. Harrison
The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love. ~H. Stanton Zunin
With their love so pure, dogs must go to heaven. They run free and wait patiently for your hearts to merge once more.
Everybody is born so that they can learn how to live a good life and love others, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long. – Pet Loss For Facebook
I also stumbled on this comment in response to a New York Times article about pet loss. It hit me right in the heartstrings and gives me hope.