Monday, January 11, 2021

Pet Loss: Relinquishment Leads to Unresolved Guilt

[Reviewed and updated June 12, 2022]

Every man is guilty of the good he did not do.  ~ Voltaire

A reader writes: I found your site quite by accident and felt I had to write. I am hurting and I don't know how to heal. I am a 60-year-old widow of seven years. My husband died of brain cancer. We had a good life for 23 years, and I was devastated when he died. Not only because of losing him, but there was no insurance, so I was penniless. I had a little Chihuahua named Pepper whom I loved dearly as well. She was such a sweetheart and gave me so much comfort.

About a year after my husband died, I met a man. I thought he was a nice man and that maybe we could share a life together. After a time, we decided to move in together. He knew about Pepper and said it was okay. So I moved in with him.

After I moved in he decided he did not want a dog in his house. In a moment of desperation and because I was trying to please this man, I took Pepper to the animal shelter. When I returned home, the man was angry about what I did because he felt guilty. I was so brokenhearted. I found out eventually what a selfish person this man really was, and the relationship ended.

The problem is that this was almost three years ago, and I am so tortured by the memory of Pepper that I can’t live with myself. I can still see her turning around to look at me, when the man at the animal shelter led her away. I cry for her. I don't know how to heal and I needed to share it with someone who I thought would understand. I need absolution and I don't know where to get it. I don't know how I could have been so stupid. How do I get rid of this pain?

My response: As I read your poignant letter about giving up your Chihuahua in an effort to placate the man you were living with at the time, my heart reaches out to you in your sorrow and pain. I am struck by your comment that you feel a need to share your story with someone you thought would understand, along with your need for absolution (the theological term for forgiveness following confession of sin). I think it took great courage for you to share your guilt about this event with me. I doubt that anyone reading your story would judge you as harshly as you are judging yourself. I'm also quite certain that there isn't a person among us who doesn't feel guilty for something we did or failed to do at some point in our lives. We are all human, and we all make mistakes that we later come to regret.  That is how we learn.

I invite you to read the articles listed at the base of this post, in hopes that their content will speak to you in a helpful way.

I also suggest another way that you might look at this situation. If this had never happened, perhaps you never would have permitted yourself to recognize so quickly what a selfish person this man really was, and you never would have had the courage to end the relationship when you did. In that sense, Pepper literally gave her life to protect you, her mistress, to rescue you from an unhealthy relationship and help you become your best self. It seems to me that by sacrificing herself, Pepper became your guardian angel, and I'm sure she is "somewhere out there" watching over you still.  

It is my sincere hope that one day you will come to forgive yourself and, whenever you think of your precious Pepper, it is love that you will remember most. 

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Image by Kaitlyn Millet from Pixabay
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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