Monday, June 17, 2024

Pet Loss: Grateful for Comfort and Kinship in Grief

There are] two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.  ~ Edwin Arlington Robinson

A reader writes: Dear Marty, I want to express my gratitude to you personally for the comfort and strength you have given me and others like myself who have lost special companion animals. My cat of eleven and a half years died of kidney disease. We had him euthanized when the disease had progressed to the point where, although he still had his dignity and awareness, he was so painfully thin and weak that we knew he was very tired; he had "fought the good fight," and it was time to let him go. 

In the days immediately following his death, as I searched for comfort from my grief and pain, I came across your Grief Healing blog and read the article, Pet Loss: Is It A Different Kind of Grief?. I can't express how much it helped me to find comfort, strength, kinship, and hope at that time. It was like taking a long, cool drink of water when I was dying of thirst. Time and again I returned to that post and read it over and over, sometimes thinking, "She must be reading my mind," so in tune were you with the feelings I was experiencing: profound feelings of loss, the intensity of the reactions, being totally unprepared for the devastating experience - those mirrored my feelings exactly. 

I also visited the Grief Healing website, and received so many beneficial thoughts there, especially from the collection of poems. I would love to contact some of the authors of the poems and tell them how wonderfully comforting their talented expressions of love for their companion animals were to me. They were able to express with words so many of the feelings I was having in my heart. 

Becoming a member of your online Loss of a Pet forum also helped me immensely. It gave me focus, comfort, strength, and hope. But one of the most important things it gave me was a feeling of kinship with others like myself who have experienced this type grief, and are at a loss as to how to deal with it. I was devastated and in such pain. It was not that I did not have sympathy and support from others. My husband was almost as upset as I was at our cat's death and has been wonderfully comforting and supportive. My other family members, friends who have lost pets, and concerned neighbors have all been sympathetic and supportive. Not once did anyone make light of the loss, make an insensitive comment, or try to talk me out of grieving. 

So, despite all this support, why did I need something else and look for it on the web? I think it was because I needed someone to express, with your special ability, not only all the things I was feeling, but what to do about those feelings. I needed your professional expertise, but also your personal experience with this situation; I think that was one of the things that drew me so strongly - that you yourself had been through this type of loss. When I couldn't see clearly through the grief and pain, your writings and your forum gave me the clarity I needed to understand, to be comforted, to feel a bond with others, and to hope that I will emerge emotionally stronger and more aware and appreciative of the lives and loves I have shared and of those I will continue to share. 

I still have a ways to go in my grieving, but I can tell I am slowly but steadily getting better. To see me, talk with me, etc., one would never know (unless you are close to me) that I was experiencing any grief. It is on the inside that I grieve, because no matter how much family or how many friends you may have, there is still something missing. When you return home and open the door, when you see a certain spot in house, when you get into bed at night and turn off the light, there is an emptiness. There is an empty space in your heart that aches and yearns. 

This is when I am especially grateful for the lessons I am learning as I find my way through this grief of mine. Such lessons soothe and strengthen my soul and give me the joy of a new awareness. I know I have gained much more than I have lost. I know that love is stronger than death and that relationships don't die. And I know that I will make it through this and be a stronger and better person. I owe all this partly to you, but I think I owe it mostly to one small cat who colored my world with joy while he was in it, and left me a new legacy of love and awareness when he left it. 

I feel that merely saying thank you is not adequate for all the emotional support I have received. At a time when the pain was tearing at my heart and soul, and I was trying so hard to understand the intensity of my reactions, your materials gave me what I needed. I was given not only empathy and comfort, but also intelligent, well thought-out advice, philosophy, and inspiration. Along with that came practical courses of action I could take and links to other sites if I wanted to pursue a subject. You see, I wanted to heal, but I wanted to heal with knowledge and understanding, and your writings addressed those issues I needed.

I never realized before how many animal lovers there are that share the same strong feelings, and that those feelings are just as important as any deep emotional bonds. There is room in our hearts and lives for both animals and people. When trying to express his sympathy at my loss of my cat, our wonderful veterinarian said, "When it comes to friends, both two-legged and four-legged, words are never quite adequate." But, Marty, I have to say that your words have proved more than adequate for my needs, and hopefully they will continue to do so for others.

My response: Your beautiful letter warmed my heart and touched my soul. I am so gratified to learn that anything I've offered is helping you through what I imagine is one of the most difficult and painful experiences in your life. You are so informative in your feedback. Since I am such an advocate of online grief counseling, I'm especially pleased to learn what led you to the Internet in the first place, and what you found to be most helpful: "I needed someone to express not only all the things I was feeling, but also what to do about those feelings." Obviously I believe very strongly that, with sufficient information and support, there is much we can do to help ourselves through grief. To be sure, loss creates a deep emotional wound, but it is an injury that can be healed. Your letter is a powerful affirmation of my belief that, with support and understanding, the pain of loss can be transformed into a challenging new beginning, and the grief experience can become a healthy, positive and healing process. If ever I needed encouragement to continue doing what I do, your letter does just that, and so much more. Thank you so very much!

Afterword: When the anniversary of my cat's death came around, there were tears and longing, but I was also able to celebrate his life and all he had meant to me with smiles and wonderful memories. I'm not saying I don't still grieve and don't feel pain at times now. But it's such a different feeling than the one I had in the beginning. The passing of time may have had something to do with it, but your writings were what taught me to understand my grief and manage it. Understanding all those feelings has helped me turn the experience into something positive in my life. I have developed a new awareness of life and those I loved. I realize how we should always make time for those we love, cherish our daily lives and simple things, and that qualities such as kindness, humility, and understanding are the things that really bring us peace and hope and joy. You have given me hope and joy through your wonderful work in helping me find my way on my journey through grief. And how appropriate that is because I always said that this cat colored my world with joy and gave me hope through his love. You might say, that I lost him, and you helped me find my way back to him. You have my heartfelt thanks.

My response: I am overwhelmed by the content of your lovely letter, and I scarcely know what to say, except, thank you! Thank you most of all for having the courage to travel your grief journey in such a meaningful way. Truly from this experience of loving and losing your beloved companion and then finding your way back to him, you have learned some of life's most valuable lessons.  Perhaps that is why this precious cat came into your life in the first place.  Bless you for being such a loving guardian, and for recognizing the many gifts your fur baby brought to you.

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