Monday, May 2, 2016

Pet Loss: Afraid to Love My Remaining Pets

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Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learned here.  ~ Marianne Williamson

A reader writes: I had to put my 13 year-old baby Tasha to sleep three days ago. It was so hard. Even my vet and the vet tech cried. It was comforting to know that she was surrounded by love when she went. My problem now is that I have this huge emptiness in my heart and I feel like I can't love my other dogs as much as I used to.
Tasha was my cornerstone: always there for me, always so patient and kind, always smiling. I loved to listen to her breathe when we fell asleep. I have three other dogs and I don't feel complete any more. Tasha was the only one I had since puppyhood. The others were God's gifts to me. All three of them had been abandoned and I found them at different times in my life. I just don't feel the love for them all that I used to. Is it because I'm afraid to love that much any more? Or is it a normal part of grieving that will go away?

My response: Nearly every animal lover I’ve encountered in my pet loss support groups refers to that one pet who was very special, the same way you feel about your Tasha. Some refer to them as “heart” pets. I felt the same way about my Muffin, my cockapoo who was hit by a car in 1986. I still think of him as the dearest dog I’d ever known and I still miss him terribly – and I still think of him as my “heart dog.”

My friend, it’s so important to recognize that our feelings aren’t always rational or logical – they just are – and what matters in the end is how we behave in spite of what we may be feeling at the time. You say that Tasha was your “cornerstone,” which tells me that you loved her dearly and she was indeed your “heart dog,” and I hope you will forgive yourself for finding it hard right now to feel that same level of love for your other dogs.

When my Muffin's accident happened, we still had another cockapoo at home: Raisin, his litter-mate. We adopted them together as puppies, when they were five weeks old, and for the next ten years they were inseparable. But Raisin was my son’s favorite, not mine – and for months after Muffin died I struggled with my secret feelings of anger and resentment: If God was going to do this awful thing to me, how come the wrong dog had to be killed? At the time I felt so guilty and embarrassed and ashamed for feeling that way! But eventually I came to accept my feelings simply for what they were: neither right nor wrong, good nor bad – just feelings. And as long as I did not act on those feelings (by taking them out on Raisin) I managed gradually to work through them, stop blaming Raisin for not being the one who died and let go of the pain of losing my precious Muffin.

You’re also correct in thinking that a part of you is afraid to love your remaining dogs as much as you loved Tasha, because you know first-hand how painful it is to lose a dog to whom you’ve given your whole heart. The pain you’re experiencing right now is the price you must pay for having loved Tasha so much. The same is true for all of us who give our hearts so completely to our pets. All I can tell you is to acknowledge and accept what you’re feeling without judging yourself for feeling as you do. Feelings that are acknowledged, felt and expressed will dissipate and eventually go away – it is the feelings we try to deny and bury and ignore that eventually get us into trouble. Accept that what you are feeling is a normal response to losing someone you loved dearly, and know that you are not alone in feeling that way.

I promise you that the day will come when you will be able to think of Tasha without the wrenching pain and tears. Once again you will feel yourself open to love and intimacy in your relationships with your other dogs, and you’ll be willing to risk loving and losing and letting go again. That’s the way it goes when we animal lovers decide to enrich our lives with animal companions, whose life-spans are so much shorter than our own. We open our hearts and our homes to them, we love them, sooner or later we lose them, then we learn what we can from the experience, and over time we let go of the pain of losing them – and then for most of us, the day finally comes when we feel strong enough to risk doing it all again. That is my sincere hope for you as well, as I wish for peace and healing to your broken heart. ♥

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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