Remembering to be Grateful: The Emotional Process of Saying Goodbye to Your Beloved Pet

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“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

– Charles Darwin

“I have to have it all together,” I thought, as I struggled to look as composed as usual. “No matter what the news is, I can handle it,” I told myself. “You’re trained for this type of thing.” Here I was, thinking I could somehow shove aside my own emotions, as if I didn’t know better. You see, my companion of 13 years, my first fur child, had fallen ill. The little dog that always greeted me at the door, always felt perfectly content hanging out on my lap all day, always got super excited whenever chicken scraps fell from my plate, wasn’t acting like herself. I soon came to find out that she was sick, and there wasn’t much I could do about it besides wait for the test results, which probably weren’t going to be favorable. I promised myself I would keep it together no matter what, but as soon as I got the phone call, I broke my promise completely. That call let me know just how much I cared for this little animal that I could never communicate with directly, but that somehow connected with me deeply from the moment I saw her curled up in a little ball at the dog shelter.

It’s not hard to know when you love and care about someone, but you truly know it, down to your core, when the possibility of losing that person burns through your flesh, crushing your heart and placing your life on hold. I didn’t know that emotions could physically hurt until I lost two close family members a few years ago, and I was reminded again when the thought of losing my dog felt like I had been run over by a bus. “It’s cancer,” the vet said, when I finally got the call. “There isn’t much we can do for her.” This began the waiting game that I find myself in now. Some days I feel relieved, and hope springs through me, making me believe that maybe she can stay with me longer than I expect. Other days I wonder why I was kidding myself and realize she probably doesn’t have much longer to live. I find myself regularly wondering what’s worse: having to wait, or having to find out when her final day will be.

Either way, I’ve decided to practice what I preach and use this as an opportunity to decide how I want to respond and what course of action I want to take. I know it isn’t good to suppress your true emotions, so here it is: I’m upset, torn apart, and scared at the thought of losing my dog. I cry about it, spend extra time with her, and apologize for the times I ignored her once my child came into the world. There, I said it.

Like most of us, I have regrets, I wish for more time and am painfully aware now that I didn’t realize what I had until I found out I could lose it. When I realize this, I can’t help but think, “I’m a walking cliché.” But then again, I’ve always been a walking cliché, filled with strong emotions about losing someone I love. This time, however, I’m determined to feel whatever comes without judgement.

Some people might think I’m silly for caring so much about my pet, but others will understand all too well. I’m taking her to the top animal oncologist, just to make sure I do everything I can; if it turns out that nothing can be done, at least I know I tried—maybe then it will be easier to let go and feel some inner peace, knowing I did the best I could. 

This is life. You live your predictable day-to-day routine, thinking things will always be this way. It’s so easy to forget to be grateful for what we have right in front of us and appreciate what can so easily be taken from us. I’ve received this lesson many times in my life, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time. It’s a reminder that the ones we love may not always be here, and it’s always a good time to work on the relationships that matter to us.

I may not know when the day will come that I have to say goodbye to my beloved pet forever. But then again, we never really know when we’ll have our last encounter with anyone we care about. Although this is a scary thought, we can use it as a reminder to love the people in our lives now—to stay present and remain aware of this important fact of life. Sure, we don’t want to think about this kind of stuff. It sucks. But it can serve to give us comfort within our connections to each other. Fear, anxiety, and pain fade away when we’re in the midst of love, connection, and friendship. We must bring our emotions—both good and bad—to the surface, so that others can quench the thirst of our souls. During this time, my family, friends, and my dog herself are providing me with the comfort I need to get through this challenging time. I know I might break down from time to time, but eventually life will feel simple again. This knowledge gives me the courage I need to face this difficult situation head-on.

If you have a story of losing a dear pet or want to share how your pet impacts your life, please leave a comment.

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