I answered a query from Peter Shankman's HARO (Help A Reporter Out). It's a service that links up reporters to sources for stories they're working on. Anyway, I've answered a few queries & then one came in today about grieving the loss of a pet. So here's what I wrote:
2 days before my birthday in January, my dog Barkley, died at the age of 15 & 1/2. I was traveling and knew when I got home that I would pick her up from the kennel and take her to be put down. She had started having seizures and couldn't stand or walk by herself.
6 weeks later, I lost her son, Remi, who was 13 & 1/2. Unlike Barkley, I had no warning and was rushing him to the vet. Congestive heart failure. I had to let him go.
This time last year, I remember sitting outside with them both thinking that it would be my last autumn with Barkley. I had assumed that Remi would live to be 15 like his mother.
I have lost friends & family members--the grief I have felt does not compare to losing my dogs. Barkley was with me at the end of my 20's into my 40's. They both had a life-expectancy of 12 years, so everyday after that I felt lucky to have them. I would appreciate those quiet moments with Barkley sitting under my feet as I watched TV or read. Remi loved to be massaged. During those last few years as they got older, I would often think: There will be a time when they won't be here. So it made me appreciate the moment even more.
I am still surprised sometimes when the grief returns. I have stopped thinking that I should be over it. Pushing it away only prolongs it. I miss the tangibles of being with them. I miss never calling their names in the yard. I miss hearing Remi make his moaning happy sound when I massaged him. I miss Barkley smiling. Yes, she really did.
All those things I miss. Jill Bolte Taylor recounts in her book My Stroke of Insight how when she thinks of her dog she feels the warm fuzzies, but can also go into a sense of loss because he died. It's both: love and loss. All very bittersweet.
So here's my advice:
Be with your pet when it's time for them to go. Don't leave it to strangers, it adds to your pet's fear and confusion. Let them see you last. It's the hardest thing I've had to do, but it was the right and loving thing to do for my faithful companions.
The homeopathic remedy Ignatia is for grief. Take it. It really does help. It works for animals as well.
Recognize from the beginning that the very nature of having a pet is that you will most likely outlive them. Appreciate the time you do have with them. Love them and cherish them as much as they do you.
Doing something creative in honor of their memory helps to channel the grief into something constructive: a scrapbook, photo album, pillow, etc.
Give yourself time to grieve before jumping into getting another pet. The new one deserves your unfettered attention.
It really does get better with time. I think of them and smile. I am so grateful for their presence in my life.