Nita encourages those who witness the loss, “Please keep being supportive. Offer presence. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes just going for a walk or sitting together to watch a movie might be enough. Or simply ask “How may I help you through this?” And never say “It’s just a pet…get over it already.”
That will not only not help…it can make the person feel like they are doing something wrong and/or damage their trust and relationship with you. I know several people who have dealt with that. Those people have sought me out for comfort, even if they don’t know me well, because they felt safe to express their sadness.
She continues, “It doesn’t really matter if the pet is young or old…if we have to euthanize them or if we find them or even if they crawl into our laps to die…or if they go off and hide to do it. Or what kind of pet it is. The pain is just as deep. As one man put it…’pick your poison’.”
Another component with pets…is the balancing act; not wanting to give up on our pets too soon (or…lose them too soon) and not wanting them to suffer. From talking with many people, this is one of the toughest and emotionally exhausting. When they are old and/or have health issues…we very often find ourselves in a pattern of ‘checking to see if they are breathing’ and our hearts feel like they stop in those moments until we see their chest and belly rise…then we breathe again before we go about the day.
Another who shared his story is Tom Ziemann, a writer, speaker, minister and manager, who has welcomed many furry family members into his home and heart. Their names were Pony Cat, Tiggy, Winny and Max. It is his dapper Tuxedo cat Max about which he speaks so eloquently. He describes the last day of Max’s life.
“I mourn today the passing of another cherished family member, my poor Max. Renal failure got the best of this gorgeous, beloved Tuxedo. His body finally could fight no more. I was glad I didn’t have to be asked to make the final decision. He looked peaceful when I picked him up from the vet, his body still warm, eyes open.”
He adopted Max from a colleague and there was an immediate bond between them. This cat had a healing effect on everyone who crossed his path and was referred to as “a one in a million creature.”
Since Max’s death, Tom relates, “I realize some people won’t “Get It.”
They can’t understand the sheer heartache about losing a loving, devoted pet. If I hear another callous person say; “Dude, it was a fricken’ cat. Grow a pair,” I’m gonna go off on them. The death of a pet can be just as poignant as that of a friend or family member.”
He reminds us that, “Pets, like friends, offer magical healing on ones’ body, mind and spirit. Studies have shown that the mere petting of an animal releases beneficial serotonin and other healing chemicals into the blood stream. We feel good when we demonstrate love towards anyone, whether they have two legs or four. They have an uncanny knack, and a sense of knowing when we are in pain as well. Dogs are supremely keen in this arena. Death is something each of us must deal with in our own way.”
What complicated his grief is that he experienced half a dozen deaths in less than six months. That included his parents, two cats by marauding coyotes and one to old age.
He says, “By sharing my experience, I hope it will offer some insight and perhaps give some solace and peace to those who have felt death’s painful grasp or may experience it in the future. Times like these are difficult. We must all process and learn from our experiences in our own way. We continue on our course, striving to make our own lifetime contributions.
Coming to terms with my grief is being channeled through cherishing the great memories and remembering the good times. The funny things that I witnessed are the keys for me in facing pain, loss and suffering. It’s been said that grief never truly ends… it changes. It’s a passage we all must endure. Definitely not a place to dwell. It’s not a sign of weakness or even a lack of faith. It’s the heavy price of love and a measure of how deeply we love and are loved. Well worth it.”