Losing a pet is a completely different ball game | Sunday Observer

Losing a pet is a completely different ball game

On the first of January this year, I received a phone call from my dad letting me know our family pet, a Labrador named Milo, had passed away. I was in my bedroom working on my college submissions which were just a few days ahead. It was a completely unexpected loss– kidney failure - that we weren’t aware of suddenly took so much joy away from us. Dad needed my help to confirm that he was, in fact, gone and if so to help dig Milos’ grave. I didn’t have a choice. I had to help with his burial. I didn’t want my last memory of Milo to be one of a lifeless, empty body. Milo always had such a big personality that the thought of seeing him as anything other than that was completely unbearable. Moreover, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw Milo, and I kept racking my brain, wondering if he had been sick when I saw him last, or if he was trying to tell me that something was wrong with him. I decided to cope on my own terms.

I cried and my heart ached aloud for the loss of my pet. I loved Milo, truly, with all my heart. He was a huge part of our family–the glue that held us all together in a lot of ways. But, when he passed away, I think my sadness focused more on my family.

After his passing, I remember walking into the house and instantly knowing it felt different. It was cold, dull and silent. Milo was always the first person to welcome you when you returned home and, even if you had been gone for a year, he still gave you a loving and excited welcome. His silly, lovable personality still exists in all of us.

Our pets have seen the most vulnerable sides of us. They have bore witness to our best moments…and our worst. They have seen our tears and know our true feelings perhaps better than anyone else, partly because of their keen perceptiveness and partly because we do not feel the need to hide it from them.

Our pets derive their food, shelter, affection and entertainment directly from us just like children. The deep love and intimacy of that bond does not change as our pets get older. Our pets do not move off to college, get married, and start families of their own. We are their entire world. And, for some of us, they are ours. To lose this very special type of relationship rivals or surpasses bereavement of other types and can constitute a trauma in the life of the human left behind.

When a person you love dies, it’s natural to feel sorrow, express grief, and expect friends and family to provide understanding and comfort.When a pet dies, we expect that our pain will be acknowledged, even if it is not shared, by our relatives, friends and colleagues.We know how much pets mean to most people. People love their pets and consider them members of their family.

Unfortunately, you don’t always get that understanding when a pet dies. Some people still don’t understand how central animals can be in people’s lives, and a few may not get why you’re grieving over “just a pet.” Though the bond between you and your pet is as valuable as any of your human relationships, the importance of its loss may not be appreciated by other people.

The process of grieving for a pet is no different than mourning the death of a human being. The difference lies in the value that is placed on your pet by your family and by society as a whole.

Many pet parents often celebrate their pets’ birthdays, confide in their pets and carry pictures of them in their wallets. So when a beloved pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow. Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you’ve already taken the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies. When a person dies we know we will ultimately have to address their many belongings – cars, clothes, homes, etc. Many underestimate that, though our dog or cat may have had very few belongings, their presence can be very powerful and painful. The sight of their leash, collar, or empty bowls can be excruciating. You have to understand, for many people pets are like family and it hurts to see them suffering and we grieve when they die.

For as many people who don’t get it, there are just as many who do, but this divide poses a challenge when a pet is ill, lost, or dies. On the one hand, there are those people who understand the depths of the loss, on the other, there are those who think you are crazy. Your pet has always been there for you and you probably get so much joy out of spending time with him and playing with him. Your pet never judges you and never grows tired of you. Your pet understands when you’re sad, it senses your anger and fear, and it feels the love you give back to it.

However, your grief may be compounded by lack of response from a friend or family member. Realise that you do not need anyone else’s approval to mourn the loss of your pet, nor must you justify your feelings to anyone. Do not fault anyone who cannot appreciate the depth of your grief for a pet. The joy found in the companionship of a pet is a blessing not given to everyone.

If you’re currently coping with the loss of a pet, I hope my story helps you recognise that not only are you not alone in your personal struggle, but, that there are other ways to get through this. What I think you should do is take the time to write down all the silly, fun and cute things your pet did that you remember. Finding ways to cope with your loss can bring you closer to the day when memories bring smiles instead of tears. Honour your pets’ memory by helping or funding a nearby shelter.

Surviving pets too may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, and suffer lethargy, especially if they had a close bond with the deceased pet. Even if they were not the best of friends, the changing circumstances and your emotional state may distress them. (However, if your remaining pets continue to act out of sorts, there could actually be a medical problem that requires your veterinarian’s attention.)

Sure, it might make you cry to think about those things — but crying is good for your body when you’re coping with loss!So let it out, and in the meantime, think about some ways you could apply your hobbies and creativity to keeping your pet’s memory alive. Maybe you can paint portraits of your pet, or if you have lots of videos of your pet, turn those into a fun home video for you and your family to share.

Just remember: even though your pet is gone, the personality it had and the stories that came from your pet are a part of you, so by keeping those little joys alive, your pet’s memory will live on and whenever you think about your pet, you can laugh and smile, knowing you two had a wonderful time.