This past Saturday my dear Dogo had his last breath surrounded by all his family who will love him forever. Since I was little I have lived with many dogs and it is always painful when they leave. It’s funny but overtime it hurts more and more, yet somehow you expect it to be easier next time. Maybe because I am able to have stronger bonds over the years or maybe because each loss makes me care less about what people will say, and I am less and less ashamed to cry and express my feelings. But I assure you that the joys and love they bring to our lives makes it worth it every time.
Today I am writing this post to honor his memory and to share with you how I process the loss of my best friend, in the hope that it will bring you relief and will help you heal as much as it helps me.
Death takes away the loved one but never the memories, because love and memories are eternal and what we once enjoyed we never lose.
We all go through a loss sooner or later. But only those who have lived with dogs know that they are part of the family. The loss of a dog can represent multiple losses at the same time. The biggest loss is the unconditional love they give us. Losing this connection can be very hard. For some, losing their dog is like losing a child, as they never reach human adulthood. We also lose our confidant, and I know we should not anthropomorphize the dog, but who lives with one and does not have conversations with them? We don’t expect an answer, but they are always there listening and accompanying us. Losing this support system will intensify the grief when our dog is gone.
Everyone grieves in their own way. Some will say they don’t want dogs anymore so as not to suffer again, others will go looking for another one right away. There is no right way to get over it. Each being is unique, don’t try to replace them or make quick decisions. Give yourself some time and you will see that there is a space in your heart saved just for him/her that no one can take away from you.
What is grief?
Grief is a normal and healthy response to a loss. It is accepting that this being is no longer on the outside, a fact that causes us deep pain, but will always be within us.
Death takes away our loved one, but never the relationship we have shared.
Sadness – and anxiety in second place – is the most common feeling after the death of a loved one, together with the fear of facing loneliness. Sometimes feelings of guilt for not having done everything possible, for feeling relief, etc., may also appear.
Grief can go through the following stages:
- Shock and denial: numbness, anger and non-acceptance
- Anger: frustration, anxiety, irritation, embarrassment, shame, guilt
- Depression and detachment: lack of energy, helplessness
- Dialogue: turning to others
Recovering from a loss involves accepting the loss and the meaning of the loss in your life.
There are many types of grief that are not a literal death: a breakup, a miscarriage, abandonment, etc. Whatever it is that you have lost, talk about what has happened to you, seek emotional support, either in your circle or outside. Joining forums or Facebook groups that share your experiences might be an easy start, and don’t be embarrassed to seek professional help.
The function of mourning is to help us separate from the past and grow in new directions. In order to do this, it is vitally important:
1- Accepting the reality of the loss
2- Experiencing the pain
3- Adapting to the environment.
4- Reinvesting the emotional energy in other relationships.
Grief has a therapeutic purpose. It is not at all an attempt to forget the deceased loved one, but rather to reposition him/her in the psychological space and remember him/her in a healthy way, without this memory blocking the way to move forward.
Resigning oneself to the loss is a passive attitude. Acceptance is an active attitude where responsibility is assumed, not for what has happened, but for the recovery process.
We need to learn a new way of relating to the one we have lost, because they will no longer be here in the way we are used to and we need to connect with those memories that will always be in our hearts. Allowing ourselves those memories is what heals us.
To continue loving does not mean to remain connected in pain and suffering, but from love, commitment and surrender to life.
Take time to reflect, whether it’s writing in your journal, a letter of gratitude, a poem, storytelling, or whatever makes you feel good. Try to focus on the positive memories you shared. This allows your body to experience different emotions and helps you move from a state of grief to gratitude for the time you had together. Make sure you don’t use this as an escape route to avoid the pain. You need to experience both emotions in the grieving process. A good practice would be to create an album of memories that bring you happiness, of beautiful moments you experienced together. I myself have spent the whole weekend looking at all the photos and videos of him that I had on my cell phone. Paying tribute is another wonderful way to transform that pain into something positive, into a blessing for others, that can help us heal. Doing something that honors the memory of those who have departed can bring meaning to our lives.
"If it is not in your power to change a situation that causes you pain, you can always choose the attitude with which you face that suffering." Viktor Frankl
Your grief is unique to you, your relationship with the one you have lost is unique, and the emotional process may be different for each person. Give yourself permission to take as much time as you need and better yet erase any expectations of how you should act as you process your grief. But acknowledge that pain. Express what you feel. Relive the good times, share them with your loved ones.
Accept that there will be people who will not understand. Not everyone can understand the pain that losing a dog can cause you. There are people who don’t know what it’s like to live with one or just won’t see their life as important. But those of us who have dogs know that losing your companion, with whom you spend more time than anyone else, can be just as hard, if not harder, than losing a person in your life. Perhaps it’s because not enough support is offered because the loss is not taken seriously. When they invalidate what you are feeling they make it difficult for you to process.
When others explain their pain to us we immediately try to soothe them because we are truly uncomfortable with the other person’s pain, when we just need them to listen or to remember with us and simply share. We need to express and expend that pain. Go through it. Then it will heal.
Those memories will make them stay with you always. That love stays with you.
Everything we love deeply becomes part of ourselves.
You started me on my soul path…
My first steps in canine education, my first trainings and the beginning of my awakening have come hand in paw with you.
Attachment to Pets: An Integrative View of Human-Animal Relationships with Implications for Therapeutic Practice.
The Psychology of the Human-Animal Bond: A Resource for Clinicians and Researchers.
Newman L. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. BMJ. 2004;329(7466):627.
Díaz Videla, M. (2017). Antrozoología y la relación humano-perro. Buenos Aires: iRojo.
Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies, second edition (Columbia University Press 2021) by Margo DeMello.
You can heal your heart, Louise Hay.