While many may dismiss the grief that’s associated with losing our pets as lesser than valid because they’re not human, those who have loved pets and depended upon them for comfort during the hardest parts of their lives know there is a unique grief when it’s time to say goodbye to furry family members.
It’s not just a dog we are losing, it’s another trigger in our grief process as well.
When my son died, I was inconsolable.
I didn’t really ask much of anyone. In fact, I tried to just stop eating and die off. No will to live, I went through the motions and sat nearly catatonic for many of the weeks and months after he died. I couldn’t bring myself to leave my husband though, and so I lived.
If you call it that.
Alongside me was my faithful golden retriever Dixie. Dixie was given to me as a going-away gift from a special class of first-graders I taught 12 years ago, and has had many health trials of her own. A year-and-a-half ago, we believed she was going to die of osteosarcoma, and the day she was diagnosed was the anniversary of my son’s funeral. That time period was horrible, waiting for her to die and reliving so many feelings of grief at that time of year.
But she lived! It wasn’t cancer then, but it is now. And tomorrow is her last day on this earth.
I stumble as I type those words. For many, she is just a dog.
For me and my husband? She was our first attempt at parenting, showing us that if it was blissful ‘raising her,’ how much more bliss we’d have with our children. She was our first ‘baby’ and we treated her as such.
But most, she is a connection to my son. When he died, she was the one who stayed by my side.
She was the one who licked tears and she was the one I cried my heart out to.
She had no choice in becoming my grief partner, and yet…she did so willingly and without hesitation.
What people don’t know when they say things like, “It’s just a dog,” is that not only do we love our pets almost as close to humans as we could, for those of us who have suffered trauma, and recovered with the help of a loyal and loving companion animal, losing them is like a new facet of an old grief.
Dixie knew I was pregnant and stayed close to me, for the first time in her life, really, as she’d always been a Daddy’s girl.
When Matthew died and I sat listlessly and hopelessly staring out windows, she sat at my feet. She followed me wherever I went to make sure I was ok, and she seemed, in her own way, to know that our world was never to be the same.
Now the time has come for her to cross the Rainbow Bridge, and my heart just breaks in pieces again as I realize that losing her is like opening up another layer of the grief from losing him. As time moves on and the world continues to turn, fewer and fewer close to Matthew stay in our worlds. Losing Dixie feels like losing new pieces of him again, and it’s tearing me up inside.
When we first thought we were losing Dixie, a friend who’d been at Matthew’s funeral with me messaged me to share her sorrow over Dixie’s situation. In her message, she reminded me about how I needed to keep things in perspective; to remember that Dixie wasn’t a human, and was just a dog.
Related: The Healing Power of Pets After Loss
I politely reminded her that I realized that–and as she was at Matthew’s funeral, she knew *I* of all people knew the difference between a human baby and ‘just a dog.’ But, I also told her that knowing how horrible his death was–and she witnessed that firsthand–that if losing Dixie was hurting me as much as it was, she could trust that it hurt. Tremendously.
Then I unfriended her.
Because Dixie is not just a dog. She’s a beloved family member who will now get to finally meet the boy that came before and the boy who came after my middle son Luke, and I have no doubt that they’ll love her just as much as we have all these years.
I’m small, but scrappy! I have a fierce passion for my family, friends and life in general…I’m a military spouse who has battled infertility for over 13 years, as well as the loss of two babies gone too soon. I love to laugh, and am grateful for every second I celebrate with the ones I love. You can find me at my blog Lori Does Maryland or on Facebook Lori Mullins Ennis or on The Twitter here Lori M. Ennis