How to Stop Dog Grief

Brandy_Dog
She stole my heart and never gave it back.

The worst part of being a dog parent is knowing you will more than likely outlive your dog. There is no magic way to stop dog grief and if you are a pet parent reading this who has lost a dog, it is with great sadness yet openness that I welcome you to this article.

“Carol, you seem so self-assured and were able to get past the loss of your dog. How did you do it?”

That quote serves as inspiration for this blog post. I never got over the loss of my dog. I never ever forget about her. I cry as hard and feel the angst as much when I miss her as I did all those years ago. I carry my grief suitcase every day of my life.

It occurred to me that since the passing of my Brandy Noel and my “Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom” response to this tragedy, I have not addressed dog grief and loss much.

When a human parent loses a child, we grieve and the pain is unimaginable. The same holds true for pet parents who embrace and share the love of a creature who though not human, lacks the negatives and foibles associated with the two-legged species.

Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom

For those unfamiliar, my “heart” dog and the one whom I dedicate my career to passed away in 2008. I never ever thought I would allow myself to hurt again. As weeks passed, I realized I could never not love this way again and brought a new dog into my life. Dexter is my never again.

All These Years Later

At the time of my dog’s passing I went to a dark place. The pain was unimaginable, unexpected, and I felt as if all the oxygen in every corner of my body had been sucked out of me. I did it, but breathing was an effort for me: It just plain sucked. I could not look at pictures of her.  I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to eat. I knew she wasn’t coming home. Pain consumed me.

I became one of “those” people”: The one who could no longer celebrate her dog’s life, her little things and big things and sometimes nothing in between things. Anger consumed me because I never wanted to be that lady who received “I am so sorry” and “well she had a good life” sentiments often muttered by those who learn a beloved dog has died.

My friend Arlene shared with me that time does not heal wounds; it merely acts as sandpaper and smooths out the rough edges. She is right.

I ache as I did the day my dog died, but it is a carry with me kind of ache. I am sad that time has passed and I no longer feel the 24-7 all-consuming pain that I did the day she died. I equated my love of the dog with the level of my hurt. I know this much not to be true. Thanks, Dr. Phil.

Brandy
My baby girl, forever loved.

The New Kid in the Club

I sought solace in an online pet loss support group. Lighting Strikes, they called themselves. All of us mourners coming together, lost, looking to connect and make sense, share tears, reveal broken hearts, and maybe just maybe someone can say something to make the lack of oxygen feeling go away for a few seconds.

I hated being the new kid in the club of grieving pet parents. I hated it so much, and hate is a strong word. No one asked me if I wanted that label: grieving pet parent. Too bad on me: Life happens.

Being a part of a mourning group proved to be too much for me, as all the reminders of all the people with the same pain in one place was too much for my steamrolled heart to endure. For some it helps, and that is the key: to feel helped. Our dogs lived life in the moment and they would never want us to suffer for their passing.

Next Steps

I sought the help of a grief counselor. Nix that: I sought the help of a counselor who did not diminish the life of a dog, but rather, focused on my loss and not the source of it. I might have screamed in a counselor’s face had I heard, “oh get another one” or “I counsel people grief but not pets.” Thankfully, the first counselor I talked to “got it.”

She never made me feel small, as if this loss was insignificant, and she really didn’t care that the loss was a dog. Loss is loss and if you love someone and they die, no matter what form that someone takes: You grieve.

Going through the process, the counselor hit me with a cold, hard truth: “You need to grieve, Carol. I can’t fast forward that for you.”

She was right. In order to carry my grief with me, I needed to walk into it, feel the flames of pain engulf me, and understand that I didn’t need to let it go, but allow it to become a part of me.

Brandy_noel

Moving Forward

You don’t move on from grief, you move forward with it. There is no fast forward button on human emotion, and in this hurry up and get it done age, that’s what I wanted.

My career is in pet: I mourned who I was and questioned my new identity as dog-less mom.

I was no longer a mom: I learned the death of a child or a pet does not mean I am no longer a mom. That label is for life.

Love never dies: The physical form moves on but the love you share does not die. I love my dog today even more than I did when I could touch her, smell her warm fur, and feel her resting next to my ankles.

I felt like a cheat: I wanted another dog. The entire time my wife and I had Brandy in our lives, we swore to one another we’d never get another dog again. We just knew that someday that when she was gone, our hearts would be broken, and that happened. To devote that much time and love to a dog and then poof they are gone wasn’t emotionally worth it for us.

We were wrong. I could never contain the love I have for animals and cheat myself out of loving a dog. I do love again. I am loving again. I am not cheating: I am embracing the gift of love that lives inside me and giving it to another dog and another and another after that.

Amazingly, I cannot believe this happened: I love Dexter as I love Brandy. Not more, not less. The same.  So love does prevail, you see.

I rescue and I give back and I try to help as many dogs as I can: And I do it in her name. If enough people know about Brandy, then she never truly dies, does she? She lives in my work, in the dogs who are saved because she inspired me. She lives in the love of the dog she sent to us in the form of Dexter.

cocker spaniel

She lives.

I still ache for her and my heart still breaks.

Life’s cycle happens and it sucks and we, the living, are the ones who are left behind to try to make whole the shards of glass our hearts become when death passes through our lives. Being angry and crying and not moving forward isn’t bringing her back and isn’t allowing me to have a life well lived.

I can look at her pictures these six years later, but I cannot watch video of Brandy. Her loss becomes all too real.

I let go of and destroyed the DVD that was presented to me upon her cremation as proof the process occurred. The looming threat that I might decide I could watch such an act scared me too much.

I’ve begun to talk about her and laugh about things that she did and how she and our Dexter are so alike and yet so different.

I will never accept that she’s gone, so take that “stages of grief.” To accept is to condone and I just cannot go there emotionally. I accept I cannot see her and that she lives and breathes through me.

cocker sleeping

Communication

As I’ve written many a time, the greatest miracles in life often come in a form, shape, and a time we least expect them.

On the day my little Cocker, Brandy Noel, was taken away from her illness-laden body and crossed to the Rainbow Bridge, I sat waiting with her in the backyard for what I knew in my heart would be her last moments in the grass, sun shining down on this precious dog. Our vet is about a 2 hour ride from our home, so knowing the road ahead and what lay at its end caused me understandable apprehension and grief.

Suddenly a small white butterfly flew across us and back across again. I knew the road ahead meant I’d come home without her in my arms. Well, to this day, six years later, a white butterfly frequently makes its presence known to me – it will cross my path when I least expect it – and often times right in the spot where one flew over us on that last day of her life. I get chills every time. Just one white butterfly. She does live and I will honor her presence in my life forever.

butterfly

What Should You Do

If you are a pet parent grieving a loss and are reading this post about dog grief, my heart goes out to you. There is no miracle that can happen to turn the time back and make the pain reverse. Loss is cruel, loss is inevitable, and loss will happen.

So live your life with who you have with you now and move forward,but never on, from the one(s) you have loved and are now gone from this world. And if it is too much, seek help: Talk to someone, join a group if you feel that could help, but don’t attempt to hold it in and just “move on” from it.

Religion aside, whatever your belief, we are all united by one common factor: Death will bestow itself upon each of our lives whether we want it to happen or not. Don’t’ we then owe it to those we do love to embrace them each day, love them, and not have a life looked back upon with regrets, what if’s, and had I onlys?

The Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom post I penned many years ago remains a Fidose of Reality reader favorite, and you can click to read it, as well. Today in this moment, the grief suitcase is heavy, its contents large, and yet I move forward with her love safely encased inside.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, our little girl. You are forever missed and eternally loved. Today is your birthday, but I celebrate your life and the love you gave me every moment.

Brandy

Comments

  1. I lost Old Ted three years ago this summer.. he changed and moved me and my life.. I walked my dogs every morning through our woods. A peaceful time for us to be together before the hurry of each day. When Ted was diagnosed with terminal cancer I took each day as they came cherishing each moment left with him.. I wrote this poem one morning on one of our last walks.
    Walking with my Ted
    With each step he touches my heart. Each moment I hold so dear. His love and desire to be by my side is stronger than the pain he feels. An upward glance reminding me of the bond we share. Each moment I have left to walk with my loyal boy does not go unnoticed. The gift of his companionship I am the most grateful for.
    I am not a writer this just fell from my heart that day I watched his little old body walk the path.. I love him this day as I did everyday since I first met him. He was such a dog… I credit him for my business because I loved him so strongly it had to come out and spread over all dogs.

    Lucy

  2. You made me think, Carol. I guess I did the same thing when we lost Xena. The difference was that I had so very much going on in my life at the time that I was swept through each day with the inertia of all those activities that I couldn’t just stop doing. I had a teenager at home, had lost my father recently, and was struggling with so many other challenges. Although I cried for days, there were times when I simply pulled myself up by my bootstraps (where did that saying come from?) and went on with the other challenges of my life without completely addressing my grief. Thanks. I needed that kick in the butt.

  3. I have owned, adored and spoiled Ameican Cocker Spaniels since 1980. Always two at a time. Each of these precious dogs have been the “babies” I never had. I have loved and cherished each one from the bottom of my heart and the depth of my soul. I do have a real human son, Christopher, who is an awesome young man, brilliant, thoughtful and loving. He is married to a lovely lady and has a wonderful family. He is a grown man. No matter how old my Cockers are, they are always my “babies”. They need me, depend on me and shower me with pure, unconditional, heartfelt love. I will never get over the ones I have lost, I think of them every single day and recite their names to myself, in chronological order. My heart breaks again, I will never, ever forget them and I will love them forever. The grief of losing a beloved family member is absolutely devastating. I have lost two of my beautiful boys to hideous diseases and nearly lost my two year old sweet, sweet Toby to an autoimmune disease last fall. Their faces are always with me. I feel horrible that I was not able to help them live longer. My heart is bruised with gaping holes, not only from the human family members I have lost, but my treasured dog babies too. Death leaves a heartbreak nothing can heal. I am very blessed today, to have two healthy, happy, sweet parti boys. They also happen to be litter mates. They are three years old now and they fill our home and our hearts with joy . I go home for lunch every day so I can see them. I wish I could talk to them on the phone. And I am looking forward to retirement so I can spend every day with my beautiful, merry Cocker Kids. I truly hope and pray for all of us to be reunited one day at the Rainbow Bridge.

  4. Mom lost Trine 11 yrs ago next week. She still cries over her, talks about her a lot, we have photos of her around the house. She knew she never wanted to be without a dog, so she got Katie who was there when Trine passed. It was an awful day for both of them, but they grieved together. Mom says at first she wanted nothing to do with Katie because she missed Trine so much, but she was forced to continue life with just Katie and help Katie get over losing her dog sister. Now there are three of us to listen to the Trine stories, and when it is time for any of us to go it will be disastrous again, but for Mom having at least one other dog around helps her. No dog is ever forgotten or replaced. Each has their own life, personality and creates new, different memories. We are all loved the same. Sorry for your loss, Mom totally understands.

    • Would you do me a favor, Emma? Go and give your mom big hugs from us and let her know she is a pawsome dog mom and we love keeping up with all your adventures. <3

  5. What a beautiful and candid way of your loss. I went through the exact same things as you when I lost my Buffa 11 years ago. He still lives in my heart as my two rescue dogs do now. In moving on, I got a border collie mix from North Shore Animal League in NY. She was only 6 weeks old and now is almost 11 years old and starting to show signs of age. I often think that she is going to go too but she gives me so much love and I put that out of my head so I can enjoy the moments in the now as well as with my other rescue dog Buddie (who was abused and starved). These are my kids and I am Papa. Buddy is also the same age as Mandy. Someday they will cross the Rainbow Bridge and will run free from pain and enjoy the never ending journey running through the beautiful fields over the Bridge but will always remember Papa for the love he gave them and Papa will always remember the unconditional love they gave me. You are beautiful Carol. I love you.

    • Awww what a beautiful story. I never saw photos of your dogs; would love to, Mikie. Much hugs to you and your pack and lots of love back.

  6. Happy birthday to your beautiful Brandy Noel. ♥ Every dog and cat that I have loved remains deep in my heart. Each loss was devastating and will bring an “ugly cry” if I think of their crossing. I dwell on the fun and laughter we shared. I’m fortunate because all of my pets have characters based on them in my books. They have their names and personalities, but they were humans “returned” the bodies of dogs and cats. Even though all but two of them have crossed the Rainbow Bridge, they live on and bring laughter to thousands of readers worldwide. It was very therapeutic to bring them back to life and have them talk. I lost Tucker, my 13 yr. old Golden last summer as I was finishing the second book. After two weeks of hysterical crying jags and constantly hugging Bentley, I sat down and thought of all the great times we shared. I finished the book and I know that he would be proud. Even if you never plan to publish a book, writing down conversations and happy memories can help with the grief. ♥ Of course, Bentley is my heart dog, so I will never be ready for him to leave me. Sorry for rambling. ☺

  7. I still have so much grief from dogs I’ve loved and lost. I’m glad that you continue to celebrate Brandy Noel’s birthday and remember the joy she brought you. I know death is inevitable for all of us, and I consider myself lucky that my grief doesn’t prevent me from loving others. I have a friend that hasn’t had a dog for over ten years because she can’t bear the idea of losing another one. I have another friend who has room for 3 dogs. When one dies, she grieves a short time and then adopts another. Her philosophy isn’t about replacing but about helping dogs who need homes. She loves them all and it is beautiful.

  8. Carol, Thanks for writing this. I had to come back to finish it because it made me cry each time I started. It’s written from the heart and I so appreciate that. I lost my Minnie this year and the grieving continues daily. There are some dogs that get you more than other, especially when the death catches you off guard. I am moving and sorting out old photos and have remembered a time when I had a 2 year old die of a horrible illness. My husband at the time and I couldn’t talk about her for years. It was so painful. My Minnie got me into dog training and into this “world of dogs”, so she’s on my mind always. She was one of a kind dog and she’ll always be in my head. Thanks again Carol, it’s good to know that the rest of us are not crazy, grieving our pets passing so deeply.

  9. I kept putting off reading this post but I’m very glad I finally did today. I have 2 dogs that have diseases that will eventually catch up with them – Annie has congestive heart failure and Caspian has syringomyelia. It’s hard knowing they will get sick and I will probably have to make a very difficult decision. I think it is called anticipatory grief. I try to push it aside and concentrate on today. Thanks to medicines, they are happy and look and feel fine. We enjoy every minute together. I’ve read that the hardest thing about grieving the loss of a pet is the fact that our society doesn’t really respect this grief. Thank you for sharing your experience. Thank you for continuing to celebrate your Brandy Noel.

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