I’ll be 36 a week from today. In my lifetime, I have lost several childhood pets. They each touched my heart in some way, but honestly, the pets I’ve had as an adult have been much harder losses than any other pet deaths I’ve suffered.
First, I lost Ontaria. She was my first “adult” dog.
I adopted her when I was 18, and was luckily enough to have her for 13 years. She was there through boyfriends, a marriage, a divorce, infertility, and most of the monumental events in my young adult life. I was heartbroken when I had to let her go.
Then came Sydney, Ontaria’s “sister”.
She died on an operating table 4 months after Ontaria and on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. She was never the same after Ontaria died, so I think she was a little heartbroken as well. They were companions for about 8 years.
I was heartsick. My bedroom was silent at night. No random jingling of dog tags, no snoring, no chewing sounds or groans as they shifted in their sleep. The lack of having my companions in the room and the complete silence kept me awake at night and there were many times I cried myself to sleep. I swore off dogs, I just didn’t think I could handle the grief again.
And then this little stinker was born and the moment I saw his face I claimed him.
I KNEW he was destined to be mine. We lost Sydney after he was born and my husband wanted to have a dog too- we also thought a pair would keep down the late night whining and crying sessions, so we added this guy to our home as well.
We named them Pip and Wyck.
We had plans for them, the brothers who would grow up together. The boys, or tinkies, as we called the pair loved to hop in the car together and go wherever we went. Hiking, to the store, to pick up their Dad from work- anywhere we went they went too.
Then it happened. Wyck became sick. The vet ignored me and my warnings that something was seriously wrong. He told me over and over that it was just an upset stomach, but I knew better. Less than 24 hours later, while his Dad was holding him, crying and pleading with him to hang on just a few hours until the vet opened, Wyck raised his head, looked right at me, vomited blood everywhere and died. His death has been very hard for me and my husband. We STILL miss him, however, we’ve been moving forward by following some small steps.
1. Letting go of our guilt
Could we have spent more money, could I have yelled and screamed and stomped my foot until the vet paid attention to me? Could I have taken him somewhere else? Why did I take him to the same vet where Sydney died on the operating table? Oh, yes, I blamed myself for a long time, but I have let most of it go. None of it matters NOW, so I try not to dwell.
2. Regularly looking at photos and reminiscing
While it may seem like a bad idea, we’ve moved forward enough in our grief to laugh about the silly things in the time we did have together, rather than dwelling on the last few hours of his life.
3. Remembering that Pets are a gift you borrow for their lifetime, not yours
With the exception of certain breeds of birds, the odds of your pet out living you are not good. We had to remind ourselves that the moment we let them into our hearts, they were on borrowed time. We always knew we would bury our “kids” and not the reverse. It’s a price you pay for getting their lifetime of unconditional love. It’s a reminder that nothing is forever, and to love as much, as deeply and fiercely as you can.
4. Telling yourself it’s okay to grieve
Many people do not understand pet loss. Every time I have lost a pet as an adult, I stayed home from work and cried. I cried until my nose was snotty, my eyes were red and swollen, and I was emotionally drained. My pets ARE my kids. They sleep with me, we play together, they are happy to see me everyday and vice versa. It doesn’t matter if someone else understands, it doesn’t matter if someone else thinks you’re “being silly” because it’s just a “pet”. You need to mourn, so take the time to do it.
5. Learn to love again
Oh, that part is hard. It’s hard to open your heart and let some furry, feathered or scaled critter back into your life, but it’s rewarding. You never forget the others, but the new ones give you more memories, more laughter and more love. All you have to do is open up and give it back.
Have you lost a pet? Tell me how you made it through your grief!