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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.