Is there ever really a way to properly cope with grief? The loss of a family member, a friend, a beloved pet, each loss brings a considerable amount of hurt and grief to everyone who was touched by their goodness.
I never thought I would have to say goodbye to my seven year old dog, in the midst of a pandemic, after some of the scariest, yet most special months stuck at home with my husband and our beloved four-legged dog-child, Lucy. But life has a way of throwing curve balls at us. And although quarantine has brought with it a whirlwind of emotions, I never in my wildest dreams thought my perfectly healthy pup would be diagnosed with cancer, given only days to live.
It’s been more than a month since we lost Lucy. And it’s finally time for me to share my thoughts with someone other than myself. It’s time for me to write a letter to the grieving pet owner, a letter to myself, along with all others who have lost a beloved pet as well.
A letter to the grieving pet owner
Saying goodbye to Lucy was by far one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’ve had this post topic on my heart for a few weeks now. As a former journalism major, I find writing out my thoughts and feelings to be extremely cathartic. Of course, it won’t fix the grief or the loss, but it certainly can help.
I know I’m not the only pet parent who has lost or had to say goodbye unexpectedly to a four-legged family member. The best phrase to describe it: a literal heartache from the inside out.
I’ve considered myself fortunate, to not be touched by a considerable amount of unexpected grief up until my mid-20s. But then I lost my grandfather unexpectedly, and my grandmother a year later, and I realized grief comes in all shapes and sizes.
It’s okay to physically show your grief
As someone who doesn’t personally have my own human children, our dog Lucy was as close to a child as you could get! We spoiled her, we loved on her, she loved us unconditionally and we rarely did life without her. She appeared often here, on the blog and my Instagram, and will be sorely missed. Perhaps some might say that a pet is a pet and those boundaries shouldn’t be crossed. But I was made to love, and love hard at that. And Lucy did just the same.
It’s hard to describe the physical shock and dread we felt when we found out something was wrong with Lucy, and later when the word ‘cancer’ was used in a sentence. Just a few of the words I remember saying, “this is not fair”; “she’s been such a healthy dog, what did she/we do to deserve this?”. Initially shock, then grief, then anger, and ultimate sadness when the loss actually happened.
I’ve always been the type to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I can tell you first-hand that I cried more tears in the last precious month spent with Lucy, than anytime in my entire life. And you know what, I’m a firm believer that it was one of the most cathartic things I could’ve ever done. Coping with her diagnosis, treatments, declining health and ultimate loss, didn’t become easier, but it became tolerable.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the outward expression of my emotions, it’s that letting it out really does help. It may not feel like such initially, but it’s so much better, both mentally and emotionally, than to bottle it up inside. As a grieving pet owner, I found this so important.
Reach out to others or find support groups
I will be forever grateful to my family and close friends who constantly checked on us the entire month Lucy was sick, along with the days and weeks after. Even just a simple text saying “thinking about you”, meant so much.
Lucy’s diagnosis was pretty specific, and I actually found a Facebook group that served as a support group for dog parents whose fur babies had been diagnosed with the condition. Of course, reading the posts upset me, but it also made me realize that we weren’t alone. I actually posted questions in the group two separate times, and everyone was so helpful, kind and supportive. I’d highly recommend a support group like this. Knowing that there are other people out in the world going through a similar situation, albeit heartbreaking, can be helpful to your mental state.
Memories help you cope and your pet live on
Probably the most bittersweet of it all, is all the memories we have with our sweet Lucy. Of course reminiscing on these memories hurts, but it also helps with the healing process. Rick and I didn’t talk about these memories or look through photos of her right away, but eventually, and slowly, we have.
There’s actually a framed photo of Lucy on our wall, right above our bed. Rick wanted me to take it down, but I resisted. Lucy slept in our bed every single night. And even though her spot feels cold and empty, her photo has helped me feel like she’s watching over us, and is with us, in some sort of way. Of course, everyone copes differently, but this small thing has brought me comfort.
Coming home after we said goodbye to Lucy was terribly difficult. I highly recommend trying to do something with your time, outside of home, after this. We were so emotionally exhausted that we came home and napped, but we then ultimately got out of the house for a change of scenery. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind”, has never rang truer. It really, really helped.
Of course I still look at the foot of our coffee table and half expect Lucy to be laying on her bed. Or when the doorbell rings, I pause a beat, waiting for Lucy’s bark and preceding sprint to the front door. As painful as it’s been, I will say, each day, the pain hurts a little less.
Lucy truly left her paw print on our hearts. There’s not a day that goes by in which I don’t think about her. But my sweet Terrier-mix lived her life to the fullest, up until she ran across the rainbow bridge, and I know she would want us to continue on. I’m choosing to think she was taken away from us early because she was needed in Heaven to play with all the little girls and boys, to give endless kisses and to chase copious amounts of lizards.
I hope more than anything these words can bring you comfort. Writing this letter to the grieving pet owner has brought tears, been oh so difficult to write at times, but it’s also been extremely cathartic. I hope you can find peace, too.