Just when I thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, it did. On top of the other crappy things that have happened this year, 2020 is now also the year we said goodbye to another dear old dog.
We had hoped to have one more Christmas with our Sophie. One more photo by the tree. One more carefully chosen stuffed animal to give that she didn’t need or even want. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Sure, we probably could’ve waited until January, ’til after the holidays, but that would have been thinking more about our needs, our wants not hers.
It’s often said you will know when it’s time. This makes it seem as if some flash of wisdom comes to you, as if there’s some finite line that separates tolerable suffering from intolerable. Illness and death aren’t that tidy. Not even for the animals we love.
Complete clarity didn’t come for me. I wonder if it comes for others in similar situations. I have a feeling that more often than not, you just do the best you can.
And so, recently Dear Hubby and I made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize our sweet Sophie. We decided to let her go.
Witnessing a beloved pet transition between life and death is brutal. At the same time, it’s a privilege. Witnessing and helping another breathing being’s final transition always is.
Being there at the end for Sophie was excruciatingly painful, but at the same time, something quite special, beautiful even. I’m grateful Dear Hubby and I could provide that final act of love. Just as we did for another dear old dog not that long ago.
My family was lucky to have Sophie in our lives for nearly 15 years. Of course, this still wasn’t long enough, but she was the oldest dog we’ve ever had.
A lot happens in one’s life in 15 years. Good things. Bad things. Important things. Mundane things. And everything in-between.
As I’ve written before, I like to think of my life in dog chunks, a timeline of dog lives intertwined with mine. Each dog that has come into my life has been so much more than a companion, though they all certainly have been that. Each one has taught me things I needed to learn during those relatively brief passages of time we spent together. Each one served as an anchor. A constant. A guide. A teacher. A secret keeper.
Sophie was #2 in my trio of Eye Witnesses and Secret Keepers, a witness to the turmoil that unfolded the very day I first heard the words, you have ‘a’ cancer. Oh yeah, she witnessed a lot that day. And many other days as well.
Thank you, for keeping all my secrets, Sophie. Such a good girl.
In hindsight, one of the most important jobs Sophie had was helping me transition to the other side of adulthood, the side without living parents.
I treasure the memories of Sophie accompanying me on visits to see my mother when she was dying from metastatic breast cancer. (And all the visits prior, too, of course.) Eight years later, once again, Sophie was there while we sat by my dad’s bedside while he was in hospice care.
Pet therapy at such times and in such places is truly priceless for everyone involved.
After each of their deaths, Sophie took on the role of grief witness too. There was much to witness.
I have TONS of happy memories, too, of course. Like the gazillion walks we took together, hardly missing a day. The napping contortions. The snuggles. The road trips. The Christmases. The “tree climbing”. (Sophie, not me.) The laps around the yard. (Again, Sophie not me.) The tail wiggles. (Too stumpy to actually wag). The family dog get-togethers. (My family is bit dog obsessed.) And countless others.
Now, I grieve for you, Sophie. I am not afraid, embarrassed or ashamed to speak of it. By doing so, perhaps I can help someone else who might be grieving for a much-loved pet as well.
Pet grief is real grief too. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Sure, sometimes I feel guilty about grieving so much for a dog, especially this year, considering all the suffering and death happening around the world due to the pandemic, cancer and so many other things.
But grieve deeply I do.
If you grieve deeply for a pet, too, or if you ever have, it’s okay. No need to feel guilty or embarrassed about it. It’s even okay to admit that you’ve grieved more deeply for a beloved pet than for a person in your life who died.
This doesn’t mean you or I value animal life over human life. It simply means the bond shared with our beloved pets was deep and meaningful. Yes, sometimes these bonds are deeper and more meaningful than the ones we have with certain humans we know, be they family members or not.
Yes, the loss is real. The grief is real. The gaping hole in your life and in your heart is real.
So, ditch the guilt here too. I intend to.
Goodbye, Sophie. No more arthritis pain, sweet girl. No more dementia. No more confusion. No more anxiety. No more circling. No more getting stuck in corners or behind doors. No more pills. No more restless nights. No more struggling to keep going when you really didn’t feel up to it anymore.
Rest easy now, beautiful girl. Your work here is done.
You were (and always will be) dearly loved, and you’ll be in our hearts and in our memories forever.
When I think about it like that, I’m not really saying goodbye at all.
Photo below via Best Son-in-law Ever, Christmas 2018.
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Share about a special pet you have or once had.
Have you ever been made to felt guilty (or just felt awkward) about grieving for a pet “too much”?
What tips do you have for coping with pet loss?