Monday, October 21, 2019

Pet Loss: A Young Teen Loses Two Best Friends

Image by ThePixelman from Pixabay 
[Reviewed and updated October 17, 2020]

The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.   ~ Hilary Stanton Zunin

A reader writes: I am 13 and recently lost my two best friends: a 19-year-old cat named Sandy, and a 3-year-old Guinea pig named Teddy. Obviously, my cat had been with my family long before I was born. I loved her as I loved a family member, because she was always there with a lick and a purr. Two weeks ago, she stopped breathing and we rushed her to the hospital. We figured she would come out ok and come home but she didn't get better. When I came home from school, I knew that by the look in my mom's eyes, she had to put Sandy to sleep. On Friday, my mom and I buried her with some flowers and a can of her food. Then, just when the huge hole in my heart had just about begun to heal, on fateful Friday, my Guinea pig took sick for the last time.

I got Teddy for my 10th birthday. He was the first pet that was ever mine, and I loved him with all my heart. Teddy had gotten deathly sick before (three times), but something told me this time he wouldn't be okay. When I went to clean his cage on Friday, he was lying on his side, not breathing right, not supporting himself, eyes all gummy. I called my mom, and we took him to the vet, where I was told he would probably not live through it. I got a call on Sunday, saying he was getting a little worse. Even so, i expected him to live for at least a few more days. After all, he was a tough little scrapper. Then I came home from school today. There was a message on the machine telling me he had died. 

This is really hard. No one really understands, especially about Teddy. I was the only one who loved him with my whole heart. My mom was the only one who even liked him. Also, no one really wants to talk about it...Every time bring it up, they change the subject. Everyone but my grandma. It felt so good to spill my guts to her on the phone. If you can offer some comfort, please do? Losing my two best friends has been the hardest experience in my short life, in such a short period of time. Please, reply. 

My response: As an animal lover myself, dear one, I’m deeply saddened and sorry to learn that you’ve lost both of your beloved animal friends ~ so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and so close together. I know that the love you received from these two precious little creatures was special ~ complete, uncomplicated, unconditional ~ and I’m sure you were just as attached to them as they were to you. It is because of that deep love and attachment that you are feeling the pain of grief right now. You wouldn’t feel this bad about losing Sandy and Teddy if you hadn’t loved them as much as you did while they were here with you. The strength of the feelings you’re having now is a measure of the value of what you have lost. As the saying goes, grief is the price we pay for love.

I’m grateful that you've written to me, and so pleased to know that your grandmother is there for you and willing to listen to whatever you need to say about all of this. It’s important that you have a safe place to feel, to show and to talk about your pain, and to ask your questions as you come to terms with these losses ~ questions such as, “Why did Sandy and Teddy have to die? Why now? Where do pets go when they die? Are Sandy and Teddy together now? Will I ever see them again? Do pets go to Heaven?” Your grandmother may not have all the answers to your questions ~ and sometimes there just aren’t any satisfactory answers to puzzling questions like these ~ but it’s still important that you ask them and you have someone who will puzzle over them with you.

It’s also helpful for you to think about, talk about, write and/or draw about what was special about Sandy and Teddy, and to think of all the ways that you can remember them. Maybe with your mom or your grandmother you could plant a tree, or a shrub or a rose bush or a flower garden, in your pets’ honor. You could put a photo album or a scrapbook together, or fill a memory box with a few of your pets' toys and treasured objects. You could write a story or a poem about them and post it on a website. (As an example, go to the Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page on my Grief Healing Web site, and read the poem that 11-year-old Katy Riley wrote about her dog, A Poem for Max.) Even though Sandy and Teddy are no longer here with you in a physical way, they will always be tucked somewhere safely in that special place you’ve created for them in your heart ~ and they will be with you in spirit just as long as you keep their memories alive. Do whatever you can to memorialize, honor and remember them, and I promise you that one day you will find that all the good memories you have of your beloved Sandy and Teddy will replace the awful feelings you are having right now.

You might not think that you will ever love another animal as much as you loved Sandy and Teddy, and you might think that you’ll never, ever want to take the chance again of loving and losing yet another cherished pet ~ but that would be a very big mistake, because you would be cutting yourself off from all the warm and wonderful ways that these dear animal friends can enrich your life and bring joy to your heart. Of course there is no way to replace the loved ones you have lost, and certainly you wouldn’t want to get a new pet before you’re finished with your grief at losing Sandy and Teddy, or before you even want or feel a need to give your love to another pet. But there are so many unwanted puppies and dogs and cats and kitties and bunnies and Guinea pigs and horses and goats and birds and Heaven-knows-what-else out there who need animal lovers like you to want them and care for them and love them, my dear! Don’t let this experience rob you of your love for animals and your need to have them in your life.

What you are learning now is that death and loss are natural parts of living. You're discovering that nothing lasts forever, that every living thing goes through a natural process, with a beginning and an ending, with living in between. You're learning that because most pets have shorter life spans than we humans do, sooner or later we’ll all experience the death of our beloved companion animals, and sooner or later we’ll all be feeling the grief that you are feeling now. Harsh as it is, grief is a fact of life, it’s part of being human, and it happens whenever we lose someone we love. But grief also helps us become more sensitive to others who are hurting, because now we know first-hand how it feels to lose a loved one. And it teaches us to cherish those we love, to let them know how right now much we love them.

My prayer for you, dear one, is that slowly but surely your broken heart will begin to heal, and if you remain open to the possibility, the time will come when you’ll feel strong enough to love again, and you’ll feel ready to welcome another pet or two into your life. Until that day, please know that all the animal lovers reading this have been where you are now, we know how much it hurts, and we want you to know that you are not alone. We care about you, we are here for you, and we are holding you in our hearts. 

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