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The Healing Power of Pets After Loss

April 10, 2018

When my baby, Lucy, passed away at just a day old, I felt as though I’d become purposeless. Everything I thought I was, everything my life was supposed to be, it all disappeared the moment her heart stopped beating. In the early weeks after she was gone, my husband and I basically shut ourselves up in the house and wandered, lost, through the days like ghosts in a mist. All the joy had been swept out of our lives. The one thing that brought any resemblance of normalcy at all in our home through that foggy time was our dog, Waggs.

When my husband Chris returned to work, (I still had many weeks ahead to physically heal) I was left behind during the days to grapple with my grief and new identity as a childless mother. I can say with honesty, that if not for our dog, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. The sadness I felt was crippling, and every part of me wanted to simply surrender to the helplessness of deep, raw grief. Without my baby, I felt as if I’d been rendered useless… until, each morning, I would again recognize that at least my dog needed me. She would come stand by the bed, her tail thumping gently against the mattress, her loving amber eyes willing me to get up. And get up I would, whether there were tears streaming down my face or the emptiness of my nightmares had hollowed me out. When I would sob, sitting in the rocker in the empty nursery fearing I’d shatter along with my broken heart, she’d faithfully sit in the doorway, watching over me. She was always there, without fail, no matter what.

Along with the necessity of taking care of our dog, I slowly began to realize the importance of taking care of myself. In those early days, I truly did just want to succumb to the darkness. I was failing to see the point of a life without my precious child. I couldn’t see any light remaining in my life… I didn’t want to. Waggs gave me no choice. She brought the light to me, even if there was a chance I’d miss it. When I was physically strong enough, we resumed the daily walks we’d always taken before Lucy had gone. On many occasions I stumbled along behind her leash, eyes blurred with tears, wishing I could sink right down into the earth beneath our feet, but we kept walking nonetheless. It was my dog that forced me to put one foot in front of the other, take one step at a time, and begin living through my grief.

I know she’s “just a dog”, but to me, Waggs has been a true friend, constant comfort, and motivator. Though many people have certainly helped me navigate through this treacherous grief journey, I can say with some certainty that it was my dog who pulled me through some of my darkest days. When we adopted that sweet, jubilant creature, with the intentions of caring for her and making her part of our family five years ago, I had no idea that it would be she who’d take care of me. She often still does. When we love our pets, they become part of the fabric of our lives, woven into our most treasured memories, stitched into our hearts. Just as my daughter will always be part of me and there will forever be a void without her, the same is true for our beloved dog. Because, as the tales of great dogs often explain, I didn’t rescue her; she rescued me.

Photo by Joey Banks on Unsplash

  • Jessica Orlaske

    Jessica Orlaske is the mother of beautiful little Lucy Rose, whom she was only able to spend a precious day with after suffering a placental abruption. Though the loss of Lucy has transformed her life into one of heartache and challenges, Jessica continues to search for Lucy’s light in all things and find ways to honor her sweet daughter with love and kindness. She has found healing through writing and sharing her story with others.

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