“Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love, they depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog. It merely expands the heart.” – Author Unknown
Dogs live very short lives in comparison to the human-animal, and yet they give us more in their short lives without saying a word or doing anything extraordinary.
Coping with loss is probably the hardest lesson we learn in life; the loss of a living, breathing soul is the hardest. And, it doesn’t need to be a human soul. When we lose pets to tragedy, infirmity, or aging the loss is real, sometimes overwhelming. Those who have loved a pet, really loved a pet, and suffered its loss understand a depth of grief not unlike the loss of a human soul. Some may be offended by that statement and I won’t apologize for it. Loss and grief are a personal experience not to be judged or criticized by others.
My heart broke into a million pieces the day Harley was hit by a car; a needless, senseless death because of the negligence of a groomer. When tragedy blindsides us the loss feels even more acute. The day we lost her started as a day like any other. Our world came crashing down when we found her lifeless body on the boulevard of a busy city street after five and a half hours of searching. Thankfully, some kind soul moved her tiny body from the street to the boulevard. I was not prepared for the depth of grief that followed, and Harley’s sister and littermate experienced her own personal grief along with us.
When beloved fur-babies cross over the rainbow bridge a piece of our heart goes with them. Unfortunately, many in society are less tolerant of those grieving the loss of a pet. We are expected to return to work, act as if nothing happened, carry-on, business as usual. The grief we experience is real and needs to be honored and respected, grief cannot be rushed. Brushing grief aside, believing we are overreacting because after all ‘it was just an animal’ results in what is known as ‘absent grieving’ and sometimes manifests devastating consequences. People who avoid the process of grieving or believe it doesn’t exist often develop serious physical problems, addictions, or severe anxiety and depression disorders.
Years ago, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Identifying the stages of grief helped us understand grief a bit better, however some believe the process to be linear and it is not. We tend to bounce back and forth between the stages. And, we experience grief in waves; just when we think we are past the worst of it another wave will hit us and the tears fall, sometimes feeling as if a scab has been ripped from a wound.
The final stage of grief is acceptance, but we needn’t race to get there. Acceptance does not mean we have accepted the death and moved on, nor does it not mean the pain will be gone so we can return to life as usual. There is no closure to grief, no resolution, it is now forever a part of our lives. Arriving at acceptance is where the work of grief begins. Acceptance means we are open to the grieving process, open to experiencing feelings and pain, open to remembering the good times, the carefree moments of happier days, open to learning from the process and deepening our compassion toward self and others. There is no time frame for grieving, and we must not allow others to dishonor our grief by telling us ‘it’s time to get over it’.
The good news is the intensity of grief subsides over time. A day will come when the tears don’t flow as quickly and easily, we are able to happen across a beloved pet’s toy or blanket and smile because we learn love never dies…..