Monday, January 20, 2020

Helping Elderly Parents with Pet Loss

Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.  ~ Agnes Sligh Turnbull

A reader writes: I was referred to your site in my search for grief counseling on the loss of a pet. I am an avid dog lover and was raised in a house with two parents who taught me the quality of being an animal lover. My question is if you might be able to offer some tips for dealing with my parents who recently and suddenly lost their pet dog. They are in their eighties and the dog was a big focus of their lives. Neither one of them is active outside of the home. My mom seems to be able to verbalize her emotions, but my dad is very upset, has stopped eating somewhat and does not want to see any company at all. Any advice as to what I can say?
Thus far I have only been able to coorespond with emails and get very little response. Any words of wisdom knowing this is a difficlut time for him and wish we could keep him busy instead of homebound where every place he turns reminds him of the dog. Thanks for your help.

My response: I'm so very sorry to learn of the death of your parents' dog, and I can only imagine how painful this must be for both your mother and your dad.

You ask if I can offer some tips on what you can do to help. You might begin by reading my article, Helping Seniors with Pet Loss.

I hope that your parents will give themselves permission to mourn this loss and to experience their grief for their beloved companion as legitimate and real.  Unfortunately many people tend to underestimate the pain of losing a cherished pet, but only your mom and dad can know what this precious companion meant to them, and so only they can measure just how very much they have lost.

Sometimes it helps just to do some reading about this different kind of grief, as it can help your parents feel less "crazy" and alone. See, for example, Pet Loss: Is It A Different Kind of Grief? and Pet Loss: Why Does It Hurt So Much?  (Links to much of what I've written about pet loss are listed here: Pet Loss. Each article includes the date on which it was last reviewed and updated, as well as links to additional resources.) Even if your parents aren't comfortable finding Web pages on the Internet, you can still go there yourself and "copy and paste" some of these articles into your e-mail messages to them.

I don't know if you've ever found your way to my Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page, but I think your parents will appreciate many of the writings they'll find there, too. See especially Martin Scot Kosins' touching The Fourth Day.

I hope, too, that your parents will find a way to memorialize their dog -- such as by planting a shrub or tree in their yard, putting together an album or photo collage, donating a book on pet loss to their local library, or making a donation in their dog's memory to an animal shelter ~ whatever way they choose to do is up to them. What matters is that they find a way to honor their dog's life and remember what their dog meant to them. After all, the love they shared with their loyal companion will always be with them, just as long as they find some ways to keep those memories alive.

Oftentimes as people grow older, it seems as if they are bombarded with loss after loss, and I'm sure some days your parents wonder if they will make it through yet another day, much less feel like getting out of bed in the morning.  But with your love and understanding, they will make it through this loss ~ and I hope it helps to know that they are being held in gentle thoughts and prayer.

Afterword: Marty, thanks so much for getting back to me. I did not mention that I recently lost one of my dogs and still grieve some days, believe it or not. In reading some of your suggestions, it has been a help to me and i will use some of this in dealing with my folks. Reading some of the personal poems and stories has made me cry and I think that is ok even though it is six months later, but it helps me to know I am not alone. Thanks again for your response. It always amazes me how people just come into your life by the process of serendipity. I really needed to read your site, probably more than i realized! 

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