Coping with the Death of a Pet, Our Story
Llorón was "my dog."A year and a half ago I owned 2 dogs, Llorón and Thalia.
I always referred to sweet Thalia as "everyone's dog."
Of course she was my dog but her easy going, lovable disposition often made it feel like she belonged to everyone. She would make herself right at home at the neighbor's when we lived in a duplex, sometimes staying over there for hours. A year later when we moved to an apartment in Miami Beach she would also spend a lot of time with an upstairs neighbor. She was content just sitting with the elderly gentleman upstairs as he watched TV. With Thalia I'd always have to go next door or upstairs and 'get her' to come home, or, when at the dog park I always had to call her to leave.
Llorón was the opposite. He wouldn't let me out of his sight. Where mommy went, Llorón went.
This made our bond very special.
Llorón was a smart, expressive dog. He knew many words and responded accordingly. He was the type of dog that you'd have to 'watch what you say' around him. He would eavesdrop on our conversations to be in on what was happening next. For example, our other dogs (my partner has 2 dogs) get excited each time I put on my shoes if it's right around walking time. Sometimes I am putting on shoes for our daily walk, other times I'm putting on shoes just to go outside with Sam (my human child) or run an errand, etc. While the other dogs are bustling around me, eager to go, even if it's not time to go, my dog, Llorón would sit back quietly and observe. He knew the difference between walk time and just-mommy-goes-bye-bye-time.
Our dogs nap in our bedroom with Sam and me daily, and of course they sleep in our room at night. Anyhow, each day when I'd sneak away from my napping toddler (after napping myself for a bit) Llorón would quietly get up and walk out of the bedroom before I'd even leave the bed. He was tuned in to my idiosyncrasies and the most minor cues. The other 2 dogs would simply leave the room, (noisily) following behind me. -Llorón was my smart, special boy.
|Llorón and Thalia with my Dad, circa 2009|
When my smart, special boy was diagnosed (rather suddenly) with an extremely enlarged prostate (yes, neutered), with a most-likely malignant tumor-calcified-mass around it, I was devastated. Llorón was only 9 years old. By the time I took him to the particular vet that diagnosed him with his incurable condition, he hadn't been eating much for nearly 2 weeks. Day in and day out his ability to eat would decrease. I watched Llorón go from scarfing down his meals to hurry over to try to eat the other dogs' leftovers to guarding his uneaten food from the other dogs (because he wasn't capable of eating it himself). This was my first sign something was wrong. He wanted to eat his food but couldn't. Then he'd eat only soft food... that lasted a couple of days, then only chicken broth... then a small can of salmon and... that was the end of it. He spent a few days without ingesting any food. He couldn't, wouldn't eat. He would still struggle and push desperately to try to have a bowel movement, to no avail. Seeing my sweet boy frustrated, depressed, confused and uncomfortable was nearly unbearable. When I did get the confirmation that he was 'beyond repair' so to speak I knew I wasn't going to let him suffer.
I also knew I wanted him to die at home...
A friend referred Dr. LeMay, of a Friend's Farewell. Dr. LeMay is exclusively an in-home hospice care and euthanasia veterinarian. She works alone and has her practice down to an art form. She is doing what she's called to do on this earth and everything about her exudes confidence and calm. She was a blessing to me, my family and Llorón during this process.
Grieving Vs. Mourning
The healing began for me the minute I decided on in-home euthanasia for my pet.
Was it an extremely hard decision? -Yes.
Did I go through bouts of denial and even tell Dr. LeMay I wanted to reschedule for the following evening? -Yes.
Was I able to follow thru and do mourning rituals that I believed helped me with the dying process? -Yes.
About a half an hour before Dr. LeMay's scheduled arrival I put on soft music, burned lavender oil, went outside to my neighbor's garden and made a small, beautiful bouquet of end-of-summer, beginning-of-fall flowers to place on Llorón when the time would come. I picked a few additional yellow mums and scattered them around my living room to recognize Llorón's passing as an end to his suffering.
As Dr. Wolfelt educates readers in his book, When Your Pet Dies, "Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone we love dies. Mourning is when you take the grief you have on the inside and express it outside of yourself. Mourning is the outward expression of grief."
When I read those words (that book was given to me by Dr. LeMay as part of her services), I knew I had started the process of mourning my pet a little before he was even gone. I learned this is healthy. That book has helped me a lot.
Do I still go back and forth between grief and mourning?Absolutely.
Do I still have very difficult moments in which I feel my stomach just drops due to the agony and shock of losing my dear friend? Absolutely... I am in and out of the grief phase several times daily.
But I do recognize that any outward expression of my grief... like writing this blog, or a poem, or writing Llorón's name in chalk all over our front porch (as Sam scribbled along) or crying, screaming, cursing the Lord, hitting the wall (all of which I did when Llorón passed) are strides in my healing process. Grieving alone and/or in silent is not good enough. -Not if you want to ever overcome the intense sorrow and dismay you feel over the loss of your pet. You must mourn.
This is something I instinctively knew and did, as I'm an extrovert by nature, but I know and understand many people are not able to move into an 'action phase' with their grief... that they must push themselves into mourning the loss of their pet rather than being stuck only in that state of heart wrenching, unbearable grief.
So, so far, choosing a dignified death for my pet, one that was peaceful, comfortable and easy for him was key to my coping with his departure.
Reading a book written for people suffering the loss of a pet has been key to coping.
Outwardly mourning my pet has been key to coping.
Talking to other pet owners that have endured the loss of their beloved pets has helped a lot too.
My Pet's Spiritual Transition and How I Can Help:
When our pets are alive we take care of them. We feed, nurture, love and exercise them. They depend on us to meet all their needs. They are a big part of our world as humans but, we, as their humans are their world. They don't really even get to make decisions. We decide when they eat, when they walk... they do decide when to sleep, I'll give em' that!
As humans we become acclimated to caring for our pets; it becomes second nature. We take the responsibility seriously and provide for our pets with love and joy. So when our pets are suddenly taken from us we panic:
-But my pet must miss me now, wherever he is.
-My pet needs me to care for him or her.
These are issues I've struggled with. And this touches on a very intimate topic, what we believe happens after death,,, but it's a topic I feel needs to be touched on when we lose a pet, someone so dear to us.
Losing pets has helped me live and grow spiritually time and time again. Losing Llorón forced me, once again, to ponder the great unknown and search within and without for answers.
I believe that when our pets die, or when humans die for that matter, they transition back and forth between the earthly and spiritual realms.
Let me elaborate on that, even when we move to a different house it's a big change and there's an adjustment period. We may find ourselves driving to our old house after work from habit oppose to heading in the right direction, to our new house. We may instinctively reach to the right for the toilet paper instead of reaching in front of us since the toilet paper was to the right in our old house. So, why then would moving to a new realm of existence (solely to a spiritual realm) not be slightly confusing at first and, take some getting used to?
This is my belief, it's certainly not based on science, it is based on several different things I've read but primarily it's based on what I feel and think.
Llorón still spends some time here in our house, in my car or on our walks with us and he spends other time in his new home, wherever that is. That's what I feel. I know he misses me just as I miss him.
To help Llorón and myself deal with this enormous transition I treat Llorón as if he's still here some of the time. When I'm alone in my car I roll the window down for him and imagine him very clearly sitting in the passenger seat inhaling the outside autumn air. When I'm walking my dogs or doggie customers (I'm a dog walker) sometimes I close my eyes and envision and invite Llorón to walk along with us... he likes to walk a little ahead though to sniff everything first! After I get Sam to sleep each night I still sit on the floor next to where Llorón would typically sit and I pet the area where he would sit, I kiss his head and tell him how much I love him and how well he's doing.
Does this seem silly? -Maybe to some.
Do I do these things in front of other people? -No (only in front of Sam a little b/c he won't remember and he already knows mommy's a little loca anyway!).
Is this helping me feel close to my pet's spirit and helping Llorón ease into his new spirit-only-life? Yes, I believe it is.
Sometimes I even bid other spirits to meet Llorón by envisioning them together on the other side (of course I did this with him and Thalia before Llorón was even gone).
For some reason a girl came to mind today, I read about her a couple years ago- she had been jogging in a wooded area with her dog and was murdered. Her dog, a black lab mix, was later identified at a nearby animal shelter by his microchip. Out of nowhere I remembered that young lady and thought, she'd be a wonderful spirit to meet my Llorón, she's a dog lover, and is a young and active woman. I blessed her soul and prayed to her, introducing her to my pets that have passed. I also did this with a friend's soul, Tina, that passed on earlier this year. My dad told me he believed our ancestors that have passed take care of our pets on the other side.
Whatever you do or don't believe, these are, at the very least, interesting ideologies to ponder and can help you in your healing... and your pet in his or her transition.
Your deceased pet had it better than many, and this I know
Enough with the guilt. I feel and felt guilty too... I should've taken Llorón on more car rides. We should've taken him to the park more and so on. Personally I've felt the most guilt about how much the relationship with my pets changed after my child was born. Once you have a child you simply don't have as much time or energy to put into your pets and that's sad in a lot of ways; kids, especially when they're little, require just about every last drop of energy you possess... and then some! -It is what it is. I didn't think this would 'happen to me' but I don't think there's anyway around this fact of life.
But in reality my dog had a good life here with me. He enjoyed our daily walks, his two meals per day, his treats each time I left the house, his mutual pet companions here at home, his little family.
I'm sure you provided a loving home for your beloved pet too. I'm also sure that, even though none of us are perfect, we did and do love our pets and did provide a home for them. Right off the bat that makes your dog or cat one of the lucky ones.
Need I remind you that approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year (taken directly from aspca.org/pet-statistics). Of those, approximately 2.7 million are euthanized yearly, approximately 31% of dogs entering shelters are euthanized and approximately 41% of cats entering shelters are euthanized (taken directly from aspca.org/pet-statistics). That number used to be much higher and is going down steadily each year, thanks to people spaying and neutering their pets and more people choosing to adopt pets. That being said we're still living in a country that, on average, has to kill more than one in four of its shelter pets due to the simple fact that: no one wants them. They don't have homes. They don't have anyone to love or care for them.
Are these dismal facts supposed to make you feel better? -No, they should make you feel worse in the big picture but in the small picture, speaking solely to the memory of your pet that is, they should make you feel better, knowing that: your pet really, truly did have it good thanks to you!
Your pet was one of the lucky ones, I can't say it enough.
Why was this pet "owner surrendered?"
What does it say in his record?
Where did this cat come from?
Learn the stories of the less fortunate pets in your community and I assure you you'll begin to get a better grasp on the bigger picture. You will also inevitably feel better about the life your pet enjoyed here on earth.
If you choose to to do this it will be hard.
Working through your sorrow and grief is hard, it's extremely hard but it must be done if you want to grow, heal and provide a loving home for another pet in need one day.
Give Yourself Time
There's no pause button on life. When we lose a pet, a faithful, loving, constant companion, we're still expected to work, bathe, cook, clean, go the the grocery, etc.
I know there's definitely no pause button or day off from being a mother!
Attempting to patiently and lovingly mother my child the day leading up to Llorón's euthanasia and the days following it proved very challenging. I had a very short temper with my son at times and even felt resentful towards him; I couldn't spend the quality time I wanted with my pet because I had to well, be a mother to my 21 month old son. I know Llorón understood and I was indeed at his side every second possible in those last days. When a pet dies although we can't avoid some basic obligations we can cut out some regular 'clutter.' For example, I haven't been on facebook since Llorón passed (I typically check it and post petitions, etc daily). I haven't checked the news at all since Llorón passed. I typically read the news 20 minutes or so nightly before I go to bed. I'm already depressed enough so I don't need to read any bad news about how messed up the world is. I'm not being as diligent now about household chores, typically I do the dishes and/or sweep floors nightly once Sam is in bed and I've been more lax on that over the past week.
So I'm giving myself a little extra time to be with Llorón's spirit in my solitary moments, to read my book, "When Your Pet Dies," to write, to visualize my pet happy, peaceful and healthful in his new spirit realm. -This is what I mean, literally, by give yourself time. Use the time to mourn and be with your pet's spirit.
Healthy Grieving and Suffering Allows Us to Learn and Grow
We are here as human beings to live, learn, grow and nurture- ourselves and one another (one another refers to animals and plants too).
When we get stuck in our grief, when we don't take the necessary steps, in our own time, to work through the emptiness that plagues us due the loss of our faithful companions, we stay... well... stuck. The opportunity for growth, healing, learning and nurturing is lost. In death there's great sorrow and emptiness but there's also some hope. Maybe you can't tap into that hope the first few days, weeks or months following the death of your pet and that's O.K. but you must know there is hope, somewhere, somehow, and that you will learn to live with the cherished memory of your pet. You will always love your pet and that keeps your pet alive in your heart and soul. -No one can ever take that away from you.
As the quote on the back of Dr. LeMay's card says, "Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how" by James Russell Lowell.
-I hope this post helps someone else enduring the loss of a cherished pet.
|My big, forever, baby boy, Llorón and me.. I miss you forever. I love you Llorón.|