There’s a Lithub article, referencing the grief people feel on losing beloved animals, a “good grief” as it happens, an inevitability of loss when you give your heart to a companion beast of any stripe and how that mourning can be something of a disenfranchised grief, how somehow you aren’t “Allowed” to mourn an animal the way you mourn a lost human. But those of us who have known and loved and lost such animals know different. They are just as loved, sometimes more. And please don’t even begin on the dogma of whether cats and dogs have souls or whether they can “go to heaven” – if they are denied entrance there then I refuse to either even if I am invited to – I want to go where they went, and that’s final.
My journey through the “disenfranchised grief” began with my family’s first dog, a pure-bred German Shepherd who suddenly BLOATED one day, her stomach distending like a balloon, and there was just this blank pain in her eyes. I was graduating from University; there was a post-graduation party on the day that my father took the dog in to the vet. They did an exploratory surgery and then closed her right up again – she had rivers of blood in her innards, something had ruptured and she had internal bleeding, there was nothing they could do. At that party there was a moment that I felt insanely ill and had to go into a closet to pull myself together; I still believe that this was the moment that she died, that I knew.
We mourned her, and then, maybe a year later, we got another puppy, another Shepherd, completely different in temperament and nature to our Original Dog. This shep was high-strung, practically neurotic, and she was a SHEPHERD if two members of the family started out on the same walk with her and then went separate ways at some point the dog would LOSE IT, trying to herd the family back together where they all should be. When we moved from South Africa to New Zealand this dog had to go into a six-month quarantine in Hawaii before she was allowed to join us again and in those six months (she had lived inside a house on plush carpeting and soft dog beds and had been tossed into a concrete kennel for six months) she succumbed to full on hip dysplasia and arrived back to us in New Zealand completely paralysed and it was a tragedy – we tried everything we knew to make it come good and when we failed my mother fled into her bedroom and cried, and it was I who held her when the vet administered the final rites, so that the last thing she would hear was my voice, and know that she was loved (I wrote about it here). We swore we would never get another dog. Eventually, we did. I wasn’t there when he died, from cancer, but he was such a Good Dog. I remember him with fierce love.
Overlapping with this was the segue into cats. Murphy, who shared the same era as the last dog, eventually travelled with us to a different continent, and ended up a crotchety old diabetic cat who died at age 17, living with my parents. Then I had Domino, the half-blind special needs cat whom I became a “step mom” to when I married her human, and who ended up loving me more than she loved him (which he kind of resented…) Overlapping with her, there were the two kittens – Boboko (cat of my heart) and Laptop (don’t look at me, my husband named her). Boboko left us far too young and broke my heart into a million different pieces; Laptop, whom I had reared from 9 weeks old when she weighed just over a pound, finally died at 19 from sheer complications of old age I guess. Her companion, Blackjack, is all I have left now. I held Boboko and wept when he was put to sleep, and tucked a blanket around him after he was gone, so he wouldn’t get cold; Laptop’s death was sudden and unexpected – she was fine one day and just GONE the next – and I held her too until I saw the light go out in her eyes. Tears, pooling into oceans of grief. I loved them all; they were all a part of my soul.
This is why I can never get a really large dog such as an Irish Wolfhound – I love them and I think they are magnificent but they only live for 8 or 9 years and that is too short a time for the heartbreak that comes at the end of it….
I will never let one of my furry family, MY animals, die alone if I can help it, that is the promise that was made when they came to live with me. But oh, it is wicked hard to lose these litle lives. They are annoying, they are a responsibility and an expense (feeding them, making sure they are healthy, making sure they are safe), but they can derail any plan because their needs come first, and they are so, so, so loved.
Please don’t ever discount the grief at the loss of a beloved animal companion as a “lesser grief”. Love is love, and your heart was given – and it is no less broken than if it had been a human companion who was lost. If you know somebody who is crying over a beloved cat or dog or horse or tortoise who is no longer with them… understand this. They are bereft. Cry with them. Yes, there can (and more often than not there is) another pet who comes into the home to fill that vacuum. But they are a different animal, a different love. The universe has shaken itself and re-settled back on its rattled foundations, but it doesn’t manage to recreate itself completely when this happens. Things will never be the same again. Grieve; the loss is real.
Have some animal pictures.