It kept going through my head. Over and over. Relentless. If I was alone I would shout it out while sobbing. “How could I just leave her there?” I mean, what the hell? I’m going to play God, decide it’s her time to die, then just leave her alone in that room when it’s done? She was always by my side, whenever I needed her, and I just left her. That very evening I was already Googling it: How long will I grieve for my dog?
How long will I grieve for my dog?
I thought if I could find a concrete answer to it immediately I would start to feel better. Like right away. It was an irrational thought. I knew that – I had been through this twice before. But, all I could remember from those times was how I felt when they died. I couldn’t remember when it stopped feeling like someone had ripped my heart out. I needed an answer to that. I needed something to look toward. To be able to check off the days and get to that morning when I would wake up and, magically, be okay. I found lots of personal stories of people losing their best friend. I found articles on the stages of grief. Experts saying that it was perfectly normal to grieve for a dog as much as a human being. The difference being others, especially “non-dog” people, would probably never understand. But, I understood. I was one of those dog people. And like I said….
I’ve been through this before
Austin was my first loss. During my 30th birthday party, someone put their dog in my yard with the others and didn’t put the lock back on the gate. I knew that because as I wandered around aimlessly the next day trying to figure out what had happened, how she ended up in the street and hit by that car, I found the lock hanging in the fence. My three dogs and the other escaped. A neighbor told a party guest that one of my dogs had been hit. I swear to you that I know this makes me the worst person ever, but as I ran to the dark figure laying in the road, I asked God to make it be the dog that wasn’t mine. When I saw it was her, I knelt down by her body, and within minutes she took her last breath. I had never lost a pet before. I had no idea how to get through my mornings without her standing in the hallway singing to me. I cried for so long after her. What I could not get past was the guilt. They were only outside because of the party. She should have been safely inside. It was my responsibility to take care of her.
Next was Harley. When I saw her at the shelter she wouldn’t let anyone else near her but me. She had been abused. I can still remember so clearly how she laid on my chest that first night and I told her I would always take care of her. Harley was by far the sweetest dog you would ever meet. She had, literally, had the sense knocked out of her, but was incredibly loving. She got sick a lot, though. She always leaked. It got so bad that she’d have it coming out both ends all the time. We had to keep her in the basement all night, and most of the time while in the house during the day. The concrete floor was so much easier to clean up. One morning, as I called her up the steps to let her out, she couldn’t seem to get up the stairs. I coaxed, but she just didn’t seem to have it in her. She finally made it and collapsed at the top. I got her outside, knew the steps were not going to happen again, so I left her out in the grass where she loved to find the warmest spot under the sun. I called the vet, made an appointment to get her checked out, but knew what the outcome was going to be. Her tests came back that she was extremely anemic and was most likely bleeding a lot internally. My options were to take her home while waiting on test results that the vet was sure was going to come back that nothing could be done – leaving the possibility open in the meantime for her to suddenly not be able to catch her breath. I didn’t want her to go through that, I let her go. This was my baby I had promised I would always take care of, and I couldn’t even explain what had happened to her, or even understand how this could happen so suddenly. I had failed her.
So here we were, the third time around. Pesci, the best friend I had ever had. She was my first dog. She saw me through my divorce. She woke me up when my blood sugars were too low. She laid at my feet when I was pregnant. Whenever I needed her, she just knew, and was right by my side. She started to get older, movement was getting a little rougher. Arthritis, and most likely, hip dysplasia (she was a Shepard). She started to lose control of her bladder, so I got diapers. Every time she went out, I had to change her diaper. I had 3 kids in diapers at the same time. Everyone told me I would know when it was time. I would think that she was having too many bad days, and then suddenly she would look perkier. I would look her in the eye and say, “Pay-Pay, you need to let me know when it’s time” Suddenly one day she seemed to be following me around a lot more than usual. I looked at her, and the way she looked back up at me told me it was time. She didn’t want to leave me. She knew I needed her, but the pain was just too much. I realized then that I had waited too long. I made the appointment for the next day. I spent every second I could until then just hugging her. I still remember exactly what her fur felt like against my neck, and the exact pressure I would feel on my shoulder when she laid it there.
It was almost 2 and 1/2 years ago that I left my best friend laying in that room. I didn’t love the others any less than her. It was just different. When I was having a bad day, and needed someone, she would just stay by me until it was all okay. She just knew. Now, I had to go through the loss of the one who I needed to get me through the loss. I couldn’t wrap my head around how to get past this. I couldn’t fathom that I would ever feel better. But it happened.
Time does make the difference
It always does. I don’t know that the pain is less, you just get used to life without them in it. I let Stella out to go potty, and I don’t feel that moment of I’m missing something because I’m not changing her diaper. I’m used to feeding just one dog, having one dog to trip over, and one dog to say goodbye to every time I leave the house. This way of life becomes the norm, and that’s what lessons the pain. When you lose your best friend, you don’t think time will change how you feel, because time doesn’t change the fact that they’re gone. It’s the adapting to the new way your life goes without them, that naturally happens over time, that lessons the pain.
When will I stop crying?
This can be the most important answer to anything in your life at this moment. Here’s the best I can tell you from my experience. At first, you may not cry less every day, but you will every week. You will get to where you can say their name, and talk about them, without tearing up. A month later, you will be functioning a lot better. You will still have moments, but you will recover quicker. In the beginning, doing things like putting up their bowl can be really difficult. Pesci’s stayed out for months. Their birthday can be hard, holidays – especially if you have stockings or ornaments with their name. Every person’s way and time limit of handling this is different. I still have bad days when I break down crying because I miss my furry babies so much. But, the initial grieving stage will pass. You will get through it.
My God, the guilt
Not listed as a stage of grieving, the guilt aspect may be overwhelming. Was it something I did or didn’t do? Did I do it too soon, or wait too long? Relationships with your dog are special. I talked about this in Our Better Best Friends. They take care of us, but we are responsible for them. It can be hard to deal with the feeling that you may have failed them in some way. This will have to be part of the healing process, but depending on the level of guilt, you may still be feeling this long after the daily tears have stopped. Try to focus on:
Some tips for healing
As each of my dogs passed, I had them cremated and have them in beautiful wooden boxes. I could not bear the thought of burying them in the back yard and maybe moving one day. I also have a smaller box for each of them that contain favorite pictures, a collar or tags, and special letters. I wrote one to each and it was very therapeutic. Other family members wrote to them, too. With Pesci, a couple of the kids were now old enough to draw pictures to put in. These boxes are in the family room with us, just like they would be if they were still alive.
Allow yourself to grieve. Holding it in, especially if you’re feeling like you shouldn’t be so sad about a dog, will only intensify feelings and make the healing take longer.
Seek out the people who you know get it. The ones who you can talk to about what you miss about them, how great they are, or how you didn’t want to get out of bed the other day if they weren’t there. Refrain from speaking to people who don’t “get it”. It’s. Just. Pointless.
Know that this grief is real, that you have suffered a loss. It is very natural to go through all the steps of the grieving process. If you think you may need to talk to a therapist, THIS IS OKAY! You will not be the first person to do this, or the last. There are even online support groups.
Honor them. As a family we make yearly donations to the local shelter where I got both Harley and Pesci. I write out their names, along with other pets here and gone, and I can associate something positive for the moment. This can be very healing soon after they pass.
There is one particular thing that gives me comfort, while making me bawl my eyes out at the same time. If you’ve lost a furry family member. and haven’t read this, do so now.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….
While looking for this poem to copy, I found this great website that I will be revisiting.
Rainbow Bridge (a place for online memorials)
This is where we’ve ordered our boxes and other memorial things:
We were actually amazed each time we needed to talk to someone about personalizing our order how compassionate the staff is.
As you are wondering, “how long will I grieve for my dog?”, you may get some well-meaning, yet off-putting advice from others. They will be telling you to go get yourself a puppy and you’ll feel better. You might instantly view this as a “replacement dog”, and feel you could never do that. Here’s what you can do. Give yourself as much time as you need, but realize that you are not replacing them. You are just opening up a new spot in your family and heart. I’ve had 4 dogs at one time, and none of them were competing for a spot. What you probably need,though, is time to process. Bringing a new pup home may also bring with it the anxiety of losing them,too. You’ll need to get to where that isn’t uppermost on your mind. Remember, though, if you have children, they may be ready before you are. It might be okay to give in. Seeing them happy with a new dog may speed your healing. If not totally ready for that, read what Tracy had to say about fostering, and it’s healing benefits here.
If you haven’t lost them yet, but think it may be time
Spend every flippin minute you can with them. Do not hold on to them for you. You will only feel worse when you lose them. Trust me on this. As I was grieving for Pesci, I couldn’t get past the guilt that I had let her live in pain for too long.
Get their paw print cast. They make kits for this. I only have one for Pesci, and really wish I had these done for the others.
If you have kids, start preparing them as early as you can, without making a huge deal about it. They will adapt better if they are prepared. But, especially for the younger ones, they may only know to freak out if you’re acting like you expect them to freak out.
It will be okay
I had a dream recently that was very vivid. I was in my room, and Pesci was laying right outside the window in very green grass (which is not accurate in real life). Her fur was a bright, shiny black like her younger days, and her eyes were clear. As I looked out the window, she smiled up at me (yes, she always smiled at me), as if to let me know she hasn’t really gone anywhere. She always wants to make sure I’m okay. I guess that’s why, as I go through my days, I often think I see her out of the corner of my eye. When I need her, I find myself looking to the spots where she loved to lay. I think that’s okay. Pesci and I, we had it like that.
Would you like to tell us about your amazing dog that’s passed, or just vent about life without them? This is the place! Leave your story in the comments below.
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