Monday, July 26, 2021

Pet Loss: Coping with Multiple Losses

[Reviewed and updated April 9, 2022]

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

A reader writes: I am crying as I write this because I had to put my beloved dog to sleep a week ago today. My other dog also has health problems and has been ill the whole time we went through the trauma of losing our ''girl'' last week. Tonight we had to take our other dog, our little boy, to the vet's. The vet is ''guardedly'' optimistic, although my dog has kidney problems, but has now started being sick to his stomach. I feel like the whole world is crashing down upon me.

I am an only child, I'm 53 years old and my husband is 74. Both my parents are gone, and I have no children of my own. My ''children'' have been my dogs. I virtually have no family, and many of my friends have moved out of town or are so busy with their jobs that I never see anyone. I lost my ''daughter'' a week ago today, and if bad news comes tomorrow about my little guy, I just don't know what I'll do. My husband and I bicker all the time because I can't cope anymore with the sadness, although he has loved both dogs, too. I can't sleep, I can hardly eat, I can't shop, and I'm falling apart. I found my beloved father dead of a massive heart attack on the floor three years ago, and I've never quite recovered from seeing the sight of his lifeless body.

If you know of anyone who has had to go through losing a pet and dealing with another very ill pet at the same time with the fear of losing that pet as well, please let me know.

Sorry to ramble on, but I need to talk to someone.

My response: I'm so sorry to learn of the death of one of your beloved fur babies last week and the serious, life-threatening illness of your remaining dog. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you, and how lonely and empty your home must feel without the presence of your "daughter" there with you. Not only must you cope with your grief at the loss of one, but also with the anxiety and fear that you may stand to lose the other dog as well.

You also say you've never quite recovered from finding your father dead of a heart attack three years ago. I'm not sure what that means, but I can tell you how important it is that you grieve each of these losses (including the pending loss of your other dog) as separate and significant. The degree of grief we feel when we lose someone we love is in direct proportion to how attached we were to the one who died and to the role the loved one played in our lives. You know better than I the nature of your relationship with your father, but even if you were very attached to him, you may find that the loss of your fur babies is hitting you harder, and that in itself may be upsetting for you. The reason it hits so hard is that our animals occupy a much more intimate place in our lives than many other family members do ~ you may have slept with your dogs, sat with them in your lap, spent many hours stroking, petting and grooming them, looked forward to being greeted by your dogs when you got home at the end of the day, and so on. Not so with your father. Pets weave their way into every aspect of our daily lives, usually far more than our fellow humans do!  

(I remember years ago that when my beloved cockapoo Muffin died, I had the distinct feeling that some people were thinking (even if they didn't say so), "Geez, Marty, you didn't react this way when your father died!" But as much as I love my father, he was not someone I took to bed with me every night, or the one I snuggled with on the sofa with every evening as I watched TV, or the one who kissed my face and licked away my tears when I was upset about something, or the one who went nuts with joy when he heard my car in the driveway and wagged his tail so hard he'd send himself flying off our deck, landing in the shrubbery. Muffin was glued to my side like a second skin when I was home, and I could not say that about any other living creature, including my father. I loved my father as much as any daughter can, and to this day I miss him terribly, but my relationship with him was DIFFERENT from the relationship I had with this dear little dog, and the role that Muffin played in my life was DIFFERENT from the role my father played. I did not apologize for that ~I simply knew it, understood it and accepted it ~ and if other people did not understand and accept it, then I considered that to be their problem, not mine.) 

Since you really loved your dogs as your "children," every part of your daily routine was probably intertwined with that of your dogs ~ and suddenly all of that is gone, or about to be lost completely. That's why grieving is not a single event ~ rather it is a process which must take place over time.  And it's not something you get over ~ rather, it is something you get through and something that you learn to live with. 

I hope that you will spend some time reading some of the articles I've listed on my Pet Loss page, because the more you understand about the normal grief process, the less "crazy" you will feel, the more you will know what to expect and the better able you will be to handle your own reactions to these losses you've endured. (See especially Anticipating the Death of A Cherished Pet.) If you need more than that, I urge you to find someone you can talk to, either in one of the many chat rooms or message boards on the Internet or by calling one of the many pet loss support telephone help lines (see my Helplines, Message Board, Chats and Pet Loss Counseling pages for lisitngs). You might also contact your local library, hospice, mortuary, church or synagogue and ask for information and referral to whatever bereavement support services are available in your community. Most communities offer grief support groups at no cost, both in the day-time and in the evening, at various locations. If doing this research feels too difficult right now, think about asking a friend to do it for you. Grieving is hard work, but you don't have to do it all alone. There is a great deal of support out there just waiting for you to find it.

Please know that you are in my thoughts, and when you feel ready to do so, I hope you will let me know how you are doing. 

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Image by Lenka Novotná from Pixabay

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