It's 19 days before Christmas and in our Christmas Care Countdown, we reach out to those who have recently lost their dog. The post below shares our own personal loss, and provides guidance to those you may find themselves this year without their beloved friend. Please share if someone you know could use some words to help heal.
Your friend is gone. There is no more presence at your side. The sweet sound of breathing during the long naps is no longer in the background. The eyes that blinked softly, shining with love and pleasure, have been removed. The loud grating silence in your home becomes vast and unfillable. Colours lessen, tender music becomes sharp, the sunshine seems colder, and the loss feels unresolvable.
Coping with the loss of a friend is a painful, tiring ordeal which we all go through. It is part of our humanity to care for and ultimately loose family and friends, including our special four-legged ones.
When Martin and I had to part with dear friends after 14 years of care it was a devastating experience that nothing could assuage. We planned for their departure, torn between guilt and logic, love and selfishness. We arranged for in-home euthanization of our two dear souls whose many painful health conditions had been cared for over several years and had begun to worsened dramatically. Directly after the event, we packed up our bags and drove. We just wanted to be away from the pain. We landed several hours later in Niagara Falls. We sobbed in each other arms, in restaurants, and walking in the cold January with tears freezing on our cheeks. The roar of the falls seemed to mimic the tears felt inside still to come out in the weeks that followed. We agreed that whatever went through our heads we would discuss – no matter how horrible. We helped each other resolve the normal guilt that arises and to embrace our mourning. Going home, and opening the door was one of the worst moments. It was only the passing of time that has tempered the pain that is still tender.
With any grief, we go through a grief cycle, moving from the first few stages of initial loss, anger to guilt/sadness through to sweet denial. It is the latter that help me function through the first 6-months. It took over a year to be able to breathe normally when thinking of our two dogs. Then from denial, you move through a stage of perseverance waiting for the pain to recede and just riding out every bleak day, day after day until it mercifully eases. Hope then blooms and suddenly an hour passes and then another when you just live without wearing your coat of loss. Finally we reach the other side of the grief stage where the pain isn’t suffocating anymore, where the memories are tender but happy. You don’t focus on the seconds, minutes and hours of their passing, but instead you dwell on the joyous times, like the first squeaky toy, the moment they learned the delight of the garden hose only a hot day can bring, or when they figured out how to go through the doggie door you installed.
To help you manage the loss of beloved dog, acknowledge the dog as a living soul who is now departed. Review the stages of grief: Anger, Sadness, Guilt, Denial, Depression, Perseverance, Hope and Rebuilding and figure out where you are in it. It is ‘normal’ to be feeling what you’re feeling. It is also normal to slide backwards and relive one of the stages. And sometimes you get stuck in a loop before something, like time, propels you forward.
Loosing a friend requires a lot more healing time and patience than a person normally allows. Sometimes you may feel you shouldn’t take the time for a mere creature, a dog. But a dog is a being with complex emotions. They are engaged and shape all aspects of our life experience.
Often people going through loss find it hard to put themselves first. I recommend you plan to cope with each day as it’s own event. Determine at the beginning of the day where you are from an emotional perspective, and how much you are able to engage with others. Make decisions for each day that work best for you to help heal. Tell your friends and family to be patient and allow you to work through the loss.
When you are ready, consider writing an obituary for your social wall, or send to friends via email. It is amazing the stories that will come back to you and make you feel better about what your are going through. Consider lighting a candle at Christmas to honor your dog's memory. Honor their memory with doing something wonderful, like volunteering in memory of your Best Friend.
If you loved your friend thoroughly, courageously and passionately, you’ve created a rich tapestry of your life, which is better than keeping your distance and making a life that is basically cheesecloth. Your dog was like bright pieces of wool woven deeply into your life, and gave you the gift of memories and lessons, unbounded by time or space.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.