Grief 101 for Companion Animal Caregivers

It’s always a toss-up as to who gets the keyboard for these posts. It’s my darn blog! But sometimes Mum has to write the stuff because it deals with things I just don’t know. This is one such occasion.

Recent events in the lives of my Mum’s friends, has prompted this. Now I am no expert on grief, as I am only 5 years old, and have never really lost anyone close to me – well except for my birth mum and littermates, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But Mum has a lot of experience, so she can write fairly reliably on the subject. So here is my Mum, Barb, telling you stuff I’m not ready to, yet.

Thank you Andy! You are a good boy (mostly) and a generous soul.

Those of us who love animals, and have companion animals, of whatever species, know that losing them is every bit as traumatic as losing a human loved one. I have lost both parents; Dad in 1989 and Mom in 1999. Both deaths had different ‘grief patterns’. Dad had been diagnosed with Cancer, and it was pretty much untreatable. I knew he would die, and my only prayer at the time, was that he would die gracefully and quickly. He did. He continued to live his life to the fullest until the very last months of his illness, and was cognizant right up until the end. He died sleeping and knowing that we had all said our goodbyes and that we loved him. My Mom however, died while talking to me on the phone. I knew she had a health issue – she had told me that there was a possible aortic artery problem. She had chosen not to have some very invasive surgery at the time, as her quality of life would be compromised. In other words, she didn’t want to ‘live longer, live weaker’. She enjoyed her life right up to the very last moment. I know, because I was chatting with her at the time. But it was a horrible shock none the less. She died of an aortic aneurysm. She died suddenly and without a lot of pain and invasive treatment.

I have also lost many pets over the years of my life. These losses were very sad too. People who don’t have pets, or who view pet animals as ‘possessions’ don’t quite get the level of grief that we feel when we lose these friends. In between my parent’s death’s we lost a beloved pet and a friend. Muff, our cat, had been with us since before any of our kids were born. She was about 17 when she died on New Years Eve of 1991. February of that year we lost our friend Betty to cancer. It was a traumatic beginning to a new year.

My friends, 2020 and Carol Wingert, and Tony Laidig all lost beloved pets recently, while in absentia. This was not their choice. It’s just the way it happened. But It’s harder that way, I know. Aside from the normal guilt we feel, we also feel the guilt of ‘not having been there.’ But that’s just the way it is. The reality is, had they been there, the outcome would have been no different. The problem is, in these circumstances, we did not get to say ‘I love you and goodbye’. The natural reaction is to feel guilt.

Sadness, and grief. These are the acceptable feelings. Guilt is not. We cannot choose our own time of death, nor can we choose our pet’s time. Well, unless of course we need to consider euthanasia…The point being, we all die at some time, and we need to live and love as best we can in the meantime.

My grief patterns at the time were very different. I had time to adjust to my Dad’s impending demise. I took comfort in the fact that he  chose to share with me, his experiences and journey’s into death. When he died, it was devastating, but there was a gentle aspect that only knowing, in advance, can bring. With Mom, it was very sudden and even though I knew it was possible, the loss was much more sharp – so much more a cleaving, that my grief was raw, and rending. Betty also died gracefully with her loving family and friends around her until the very end. Muff, our cat that had sat beside each child as they grew up and out of the ‘Kiddy Chair’ through all the Thanksgiving’s and Christmas’s died on New Years Eve, in my arms. She was old, but I was not ready to let her go.

Well, now it’s 10 and 20 years later. I still dream of my parents from time to time. That feels like such a gift. I loved them and even revered them when they were alive. Muff visits now and again too. Now, their visits are lessons.

Celebrate your loved ones and your lost pets. They have things to say to you, even after they’re gone.

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October 2010

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