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Does Love Go On With Memories?

by Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC

Even after death, the relationship goes on. This is an idea that brings comfort to many. You have your animal companion in your heart, a part of you, and as you go on through life, and think of your friend, the relationship continues to develop.

Your perspectives change, your appreciation may increase, and the love is always there.
eskie in snow
Whenever we get a big snowfall, my husband and I always think of Buddy, our American Eskimo mix, who loved to run out into snow showers and scoop up the soft snow on his nose, and then roll around in it, making snow-dog-angels.

When our kids would go to the sled hill, Buddy would go, too, running up and down the hill, greeting every man, woman and child there joyfully, beside himself with happiness.

When the kids would be shoveling, Buddy would be right there, lying in the snow, soaking in the crystal white ambience.

When the children would make a snowman, there would be Buddy, running in circles, playing, and guarding “his kids.”

“There was never a dog like him,” I say, whenever we get a good Chicago snowfall.

“There will never be another,” my husband says, looking out into the snowy yard that Buddy would love to dive into.

“What a great dog,” our (now grown) children say, remembering the sled hill.

And although we loved and appreciated Buddy at the time, I think our understanding of his special qualities continues to grow as time goes by.

We remember when we first got him as a pup. We had stopped in to a local shelter “just to look,” and came out with what looked like a little polar bear cub. He grew to be a strikingly beautiful dog, with a swagger and a smile that would make you think he understood full well what a charismatic impression he made.

eskie in grass
He was gentle and tolerant, and tuned in to the emotions and needs of his human family.

Even now, five years after his death, I feel a warmth in my heart when I think of Buddy. I feel his support, his sense of fun, his unwavering optimism that each day was going to be a great one, and each motion I made might result in something good to eat, or an adventure of some kind. And for Buddy, any time spent with his people was an adventure.

Even now, I think of Buddy as one of the important beings in my life, one of those milestone influences whose message of love and support stays with me always. He gave his full attention to making us happy, and we were his sole purpose in life. He was with our family during the growing up years of our children, and in my mind he stands for everything that was fun and beautiful and full of heart about those days.

I feel that even now, his message to me is, whatever you think it’s all about, think again: it’s all about the love.

Thank you, Buddy, for being who you were and are. Love you.

Please write your memories of your animal friend. What are the memories that still bring warmth to your heart?

joydavy2013

Joy Davy, M.S., L.C.P.C., N.C.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
15 Spinning Wheel Road
Suite 417
Hinsdale, Illinois  60521
Phone:  630-935-7915

website:  www.joydavy.com

please see my Pet Grief Blog:            http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

 

Why Don’t Other People Understand?

by Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC

If you had a close bond with a pet, and he or she has passed away, you may find yourself feeling that a part of you is gone.
man n dog

Sometimes, it’s hard to find anyone who understands. The people who are closest to you may say the most foolish things.

They try to put it in perspective when they say, “It was just a pet.” They try to be helpful when they say, “Get another one.” They don’t know that these are the unkindest things they could say, because remarks like these show that they do not understand the depth of your attachment to your friend.

For you, “just a pet” does not describe the relationship you had. Your animal companion may have accompanied you through many stages of life, and was often your best support.

Many people say that their pet was truly their best friend, and that they would actually have preferred to spend time with their pet than with most people they could name.

Often, pet lovers identify so strongly with their pets, they feel that they have lost some of their identity when their pet passes away.

As for “getting another one,” when your heart is broken, this is probably not what you want to hear. Someday, when you have healed, you will think about that, perhaps. But people who want to rush you into replacing your irreplaceable friend are not helping.

When they exclaim, “What? You’re still upset about that animal? It’s been (x amount of time)!” here is something you can tell them: “I have lost a member of my family. I don’t expect you to understand, but I do expect you to respect my feelings.”

Do not allow anyone to rush you through this grief, any more than you would be rushed through grief following the death of anyone else important in your life. Allow yourself to go through all the stages of reaction to death: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance.

If you feel that you are getting stuck in the depression stage, by all means, seek counseling with a professional counselor with an understanding of pet grief.

You have the right to grieve, and you have the need to grieve. You have had an important loss, and need time to work through it.
woman n cat
Helpful ways to mourn are to have some kind of ceremony to say good-bye, and to make a memorial for your pet. You may want to make a scrapbook, or put keepsakes such as tags, collar and favorite toy in a decorative box.

When you are feeling low, remember how your animal companion comforted you. What would he or she want you to feel now? Realize that you have your friend in your heart, internalized, for the rest of your life, and that love remains with you.

joydavy2013

Joy Davy, M.S., L.C.P.C., N.C.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
15 Spinning Wheel Road
Suite 417
Hinsdale, Illinois  60521
Phone:  630-935-7915

website:  www.joydavy.com

please see my Pet Grief Blog:            http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

 

Why Am I So Devastated?

by Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC

For those who have the privilege and joy to have such a profound bond with an animal friend, the loss of that friend can be devastating.

sleeping w dog

The connection we can have with our companion animals is so deep and multi-stranded.  As I work with people who have had to say good-bye to this connection, I am touched by the eloquence of expression that the bereft find when describing that tie:

“He was my greatest support.”

“Many boyfriends over the years said to me, ‘OK, it’s me or the dog,” and I always told them, ‘It’s been nice knowing you.’”

“No other animal can ever complete me the way Maisie did.”

“Everyone in the neighborhood knew Jasper and me; we were always seen together; now I feel like I’ve lost my identity.”

“She saw me through so many milestones of my life–college, relationships, jobs; when I got her, my hair was still brown!”

“It’s like I’ve lost a part of myself.  It’s somehow worse than when I’ve lost people that I loved. Now, how can that be?”

headrest

There are many reasons why this bond is so deep and so different from the other bonds in our lives.

First, there is the aspect of physical touch.  Many people touch their dog or cat far more than they touch any human being.  Your pet may sit on your lap or rest his head on your feet while you work at the computer, watch TV, or read a book.   As you stroke your pet, after 3 minutes you experience a release of oxytocin in your brain.  This is the hormone that nursing mothers have, the one that nature uses to give us a feeling of connectedness, to make us want to return and experience that hormone release again.  It gives a feeling of peaceful relaxation and well-being.  While you get that release of oxytocin, so does your pet.  One thing that grieving pet owners miss the most is the physical touch:  “the curliness of his fur,” “her little weight in my arms.”

Second, there is the routine, every-day togetherness.  When you get up to go to the coffee maker, when you stand in the kitchen preparing food, when you sit down to eat, there is your friend.  You may take your pet for walks or car rides.  You have a pattern of feeding, possibly medicating, and playing with your pet.

 

kitty

Third, if your bond was deep, you probably communicated regularly with your animal friend, verbally or non-verbally.  You may have talked to your animal, and he may have seemed to understand you.  “That dog understood every word I said, I truly believe that.  I just talked to him and I could tell by the way he met my gaze, he was taking it all in.”  “My cat knew what I was feeling. She would come to me when I was sick or sad, and just give me her peaceful presence.  She knew.”  When that source of communication, that feeling of being understood by another is gone, it is a lonely feeling.kisses n pit bull

Fourth, our relationship with our pet is simple, even while being multi-stranded.  It is simple because, unlike human relationships, it is completely clean of judgment, grudges, criticism, insincerity, deception–in short, it is free of all the negative complexities that we may experience with people.  It is what it seems to be:  pure love and devotion.  That’s why we prize it so much.

cat and man

Fifth, and last, our animals depend upon us completely.  Some people view their animals as their children.  “They are like kids who never go through a disagreeable adolescence; they keep loving you and needing you, and they don’t leave home.”  This dependence meets our instinctive need to nurture.  The shadow side of this dependence, however, is that we feel totally responsible for their well-being, and often, we are even called upon to make the very difficult decision to euthanize them when their lives have become a burden to them.  That decision is one that leaves many people stricken with guilt and second-guessing.  “Did I wait too long?  Did I selfishly let him suffer because I couldn’t let go?”  or, on the other hand, “Did I  move too quickly?  Could she have had one more good week?  Was she ready to go?”

raven and man

Considering all of these various ways of connection we have with our pets, it is only logical that we would feel pain and grief at  the loss of that connection. Of course, not everyone is so deeply connected with their pets.  (See my previous post, “The Unique Bond.”)  But for those who have the privilege and joy to have such a profound bond with an animal friend, the loss of that friend can be devastating.  While grief is normal, healthy and inevitable, there is always the concern that a deep grief could trigger a chronic depression.  If you are reading this because you are grieving the passing of a dear animal friend, whether recent, long ago, or still anticipated, please do yourself the kindness to acknowledge the importance of your feelings, and allow yourself to seek support, either in a pet grief support group, or with an individual therapist whose focus is on pet grief.

And while, in this post, I have referred to the “loss of the connection,” I would like to invite you to consider that phrase and ask yourself if we do, in fact, lose the connection when our animal friend passes on.  One way of coping with grief is to focus on how we have internalized the loved one, and in what ways he or she will always be a part of us.  Some people believe that death does not end a relationship; that the relationship can continue evolving even after one of the partners has died.  What is your experience, or your belief about the continuing connection between you and your dearest animal friend?

Joy Davy, M.S., L.C.P.C., N.C.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
15 Spinning Wheel Road
Suite 417
Hinsdale, Illinois  60521
Phone:  630-935-7915

website:  www.joydavy.com

please see my Pet Grief Blog:            http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

What Do I Tell My Kids?

Five Ways to Support Children When a Pet Dies

Pet Loss Grief Book for Children

Pet Loss Grief Book for Children

Your pet’s death may be your children’s first experience with loss and feelings of grief. This experience presents an opportunity for you to teach your children to express grief in emotionally healthy ways, free of shame or embarrassment.

Many grief specialists believe that children can learn and grow from the grief if the adults in their lives follow a few key guidelines:

1. Be as honest as possible 

It’s tempting to try to protect children from any kind of emotional pain. Yet, attempting to “soften the blow” by telling children that a pet ‘ran away’ or ‘went to live with someone else’ only creates a different kind of pain. Losing a pet under any circumstances will cause children to grieve and thinking that a family pet ran away may add feelings of abandonment and rejection.

2. Encourage children to view a pet’s body and to say good-bye 

If a pet dies suddenly, it can be beneficial for your child to see the pet’s body and be able to say good-bye in whatever way they are comfortable. This may include touching the pet, holding and hugging the pet, and even spending time alone with the pet’s body. Depending on where the pet’s death occurs, either you or your veterinarian can clean the pet’s fur of any blood, remove any medical equipment or supplies (catheters, tape, etc.) and position the body so it is soothing to see, perhaps curled into a pet bed or nestled into a container that has been lined with a soft blanket.

3. Involve children in the euthanasia process

The key to a comforting good-bye process for children is how well they are prepared to face their pet’s death. Speak with your veterinarian before your pet is euthanized so you are well informed about the procedures your child will witness and about the level of emotional support you and your child can expect to receive.

Children who are well prepared can usually handle the intense emotions that are part of euthanasia. Research, along with clinical experience, shows that it is beneficial for children to say a personal good-bye to a loved one who has died.

4. Allow children to make their own choices 

Children should be allowed to make their own choices about how much they wish to be involved with the process of saying good-bye to a pet. Older children may choose to be with a pet when the euthanasia is performed, while younger children may choose to say good-bye while their pet is still alive. Other children may choose to view a pet’s body only after death has occurred, reassuring themselves that their beloved pet has really died.

Very young children don’t really understand death and have short attention spans. If your young child wants to be included, it’s a good idea to ask a friend to be with your family when your pet dies, so he or she can take care of your young child. This allows you and your older children uninterrupted time to say your own good-byes.

5. Allow time for grief

Since children have shorter attention spans than adults and because they express their grief differently, be aware that your children may grieve the loss in “short bursts.” Children are unable to sustain intense grief emotions for long periods of time. Therefore, it is normal for children to go from crying and being very upset one minute, to wanting to go and play the next. This is not a sign of indifference or poor coping; it is simply they way in which they need to work through their grief.

As a caring parent, it may be tempting for you to try to “cheer up” your grieving children by immediately adopting a new pet. Sometimes this works and it is often at the children’s own request.  However, while some people are able to bond with a new pet and grieve for the one who died at the same time, there’s no “right” time to adopt a new pet. You want to be sure that your children don’t get the message that a family member who dies is easily replaceable.

While adopting a new pet may help your whole family feel better, grieving together can also bring you closer together. Then, when everyone feels ready, a new pet can join you and find his or her own joyful place in your family.

from Dana Durrance, M.A. Veterinary Grief Specialist and Consultant