Pets in Grief – How Walking our Dog Became My Life Preserver

Pets in Grief – How Walking our Dog Became My Life Preserver

July 26, 2017

I think any animal lover would agree how special our pets are. They love us unconditionally. And ask so little in return for their unconditional love and companionship. This is especially true of pets in grief, especially when the pet’s owner is experiencing a period of profound grief. After losing my son Aiden, my dog’s companionship and our daily walks saved me.

My Constant Companion

Pets in grief - how walking our dog became my life preserver
My dog, Banks. I will always be grateful for the love he showed me after losing Aiden. (Photo credit: Melissa Russell)

During those dark months after losing Aiden, I know our dog felt our pain. Before losing Aiden, he was usually a very “energetic” terrier. But after Aiden died, he suddenly had a very calming energy. In the early days after losing Aiden, I remember him curled up beside me on the couch day in and day out. Rarely leaving my side. He knew I was hurting and was showing his love in the only way he could…by simply being there.

He has always been a sweet little dog. But in the months following Aiden’s death he was my life preserver. Keeping me company during some of the hardest days of my life, all while gently nudging me towards healing.

Our Daily Walks Gave Me Routine and Purpose

Shortly after Aiden died, I started seeing a counsellor. I was barely eating or sleeping at the time. I hadn’t returned to work yet. Everything I thought would be filling my life was suddenly gone and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I spent most of the time in a grief filled daze, alone in our house.

One of the first things the counsellor recommended was making a point to get outside every day. For some reason, this idea stuck with me and I committed to it. I decided I would take our dog for a walk at least once a day. That simple act became a lifesaver for me.

Walking Our Dog Became My Life Preserver

When we started going for daily walks, our dog seemed to know how important those walks were for me. Everyday around the same time in the afternoon, he would start nudging his leash hanging on it’s hook with his nose and scratching the front door until I took him for his walk.

I truly believe he knew how much I needed those walks, and was doing everything he could to help me. As though he knew that I needed to feel the warm sunshine on my face. I needed to breathe the fresh air and move my body.

He seemed to know that I was wasting away from the pain and heartbreak of losing Aiden inside our house. And I needed to find the light again. He might not have been able to fix the pain, but he could help me find a way to begin healing myself. Not letting me stay cocooned up, alone inside my dark house. Knowing I needed a push to get me outside. To remind me I had to live, even when it felt like I had nothing to live for.

I walked our dog everyday. In the rain, in the snow, in the sunshine. It didn’t matter. The simple act of walking our dog became the routine and ritual that pulled me back in to the light. It gave me a purpose. Something to do and focus on besides the raw, searing pain I felt.

Pets in Grief

Our animals love us unconditionally. Through it all. The tears, the anger, more tears, the despair, all of it. They don’t judge us, or try to fix us. Our pets don’t ask us to be anything other than ourselves. They don’t ask us to hide our feelings because they are difficult and uncomfortable. Or expect us to move on or get over our sadness.

They seem to know our hearts are broken. And offer us the only thing, and everything, they have to offer. Their love and companionship. Even through the hard moments. Especially in the hard moments. They hold space for us to feel how we feel. They lay down beside us when we need to know we aren’t alone. We stroke their fur and it soothes us both.

Grief is a lonely place

Early after the loss of a child we are flooded with love and support. Meals are dropped off. Cards and flowers are sent. Calls are made to check in. But slowly the rest of the world returns to life as they know it.

Only our life as we knew it before the death of our child no longer exists. That world died the moment our child died. We are left stuck in the awful place of in between. Our old life is gone. But we aren’t sure how we fit in this new life full of pain, grief and sadness. While the world keeps turning for everyone else, our world stopped the moment our child died.

Eventually the meals, the cards, the calls slow down. People return to their lives. Not intending to leave us behind or hurt us, it’s just what happens.

Our Pets are There for Us

But our pets stay by our sides. On the dark, lonely nights when our broken hearts and minds won’t let us sleep. Long after the rest of the world has moved on with their lives. Our pets patiently stay and hold space for us. No matter what we fill that space with. Our pets don’t judge us or try to fix us. They don’t condemn us or make us feel bad for how we feel.

Instead, they are simply there for us, patiently and unconditionally offering their love. Just like my dog was. Doing the only things he could. Keeping me company through the darkest time of my life. And gently leading me back towards the sunlight one walk at a time.

  • Melissa Russell

    Melissa is the mother of three children, two in her arms and one forever in her heart. Her first child, Aiden, died in 2010 at 19 days old. Several days after his birth it was discovered Aiden was missing almost all of his small intestine, and his condition was too severe to respond to treatment. Melissa and her husband have gratefully welcomed two more children into their family since losing Aiden. You can find Melissa at Simple Lionheart Life, writing about creating a simple and intentional life as she tries to figure out the world again after losing Aiden.

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