This philosophy as well as my experience saying goodbye to friends and family who have died, has shaped my attitude toward death and influenced my grieving process. The sadness I felt after the death of each human in my life differed and my experience with each of my pets has also differed.
Loki was my first pet as an adult who died. Loki was 8. For the last 11 months of his life he suffered from immune mediated hepatitis causing cirrhosis of the liver. At the time of his diagnosis we were told he likely had a year to live. So from the beginning we were prepared for a goodbye. We knew our goal for the next year was to enjoy him and give him the best quality of life possible. We did everything humanly possible to minimize his suffering and his medical care was often stressful. He was on as many as 15 pills a day, but not every day, we had charts and pill organizers to keep it all straight. He required first monthly, then biweekly blood work. The last 2 or so months of his life, we had contact with our vet clinic at least once a week. Everyone knew us. Slowly we could see the end coming and he had the best day he had in weeks, followed by the worst night ever. At about 5 am the day he died, he looked at me and I believe he told me it was time. We gave him a last day full of lots of love and I did an entire photo shoot before taking him to be euthanized.
|Last picture I have of Loki, getting a snuggle from the Man and Nin|
When he died, I was profoundly sad. Loki was a wonderful, joyful pup, who I missed with an ache. At the same time, there was a relief from the constant care he required. I did have some guilt over this relief at first, but quickly realized that I shouldn't, - I hadn't realized the stress his care had taken. It took a few weeks, but I felt the deep ache in my heart lesson, and I could quickly remember Loki stories with a smile and a laugh.
It has been 3 years since my 6 year old girl died, and to this day, I can barely think about her because it hurts too much. It is a grief I rarely speak about because it is still raw. As I am typing this, I want to be sick to my stomach, that is how painful it still is.
Gemini was fatally injured in an accident that occurred right in front of me. She ended up with a brain injury and I had her euthanized 5 days later. (All of this is documented in this blog, in pages I will never, ever read again). To make it worse, all of this happened while my husband was away.
I realized shortly after this incident gave me PTSD. Because of this, her death has probably been one of the most influential single events in my life. The first days were so painful. I can't put into words what it was like. Breathing hurt. Showering was the worst thing in my life, I ended in a puddle on the floor every time. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. I could barely get through the day. Slowly, I was able to put this incident in a part of my brain I don't access often. I am sure I only survived this with what I know about cognitive behaviour therapy from work. I was able to use some of the strategies to survive.
|Last picture I have of Gemi, in the clinic before the brain injury was apparent|
However, there are times out of the blue when the PTSD rears its ugly head. This time of year is the worst because it is the anniversary of the incident, but it could be anytime. It often starts with a more generalized anxiety/feeling of panic I can't understand and then I will have that "a-ha" moment when I realize this is PTSD. I am not over it, but I can learn to live with it. I believe this is a wound that will stay raw in my heart forever. Compared to the scar Loki left on my heart.
I am not done grieving for Gemini.
Baggy was our first pet. He had a great long life. He died at 19 and a half, without having been too ill. While we could see him slowing down, there was nothing the day he died to suggest that today was the day. He died the way I hope to, not too ill, at a decent age, sleeping in one of his favourite spots. While I shed my share of tears for my Baggy, from the moment I found out he had died, there was a lightness and a peace. From minute 1, I could smile. Don't get me wrong, I miss him terribly. I keep looking for him. I always have a second look before sitting in his favourite chairs. It is a lighter grief than I have experienced with a pet.
|Last picture of Baggy, he is the cat on the grass, Nin is standing on Man (Nin hates grass)|
Those are my 3 experiences:
Relief and profound sadness
Raw, terrible pain that I am not sure will every go away
Sad but a feeling of peace
I know I will have the opportunity to have at least 3 more grief experiences as Nin, Hailey and Zaphod will eventually die. I wonder how these will be different.
Has your grief been different for your pets?