I know, the title doesn’t belong in here. Maybe not at first glance.
To be really honest it’s been in my head for about a year, and then sitting in my drafts for about a month, and it’s almost been deleted a couple of times. I know the ‘blogging’ rules: don’t talk about death, ah well.
But just today I learned that a friend had to put their cat to sleep after 19 years together.
So, this is for you and them.
(Started 4th July)
I’ve a real urge to write this today. Sometimes when I sit down to write the mind hooks on a thought and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
I’m not sure if it’s after a conversation on Facebook the other evening about a pet therapy dog called Dexter.
Or because a friend has been told by their vet ‘it may be time to start thinking about what’s really best for…’, in other words: it’s time for you to make that so-called humane but completely inhuman decision about your dogs life.
Maybe it was the guy I spoke to, just a stranger, out walking his new puppy last night who started crying whilst explaining he needed another dog as he went to pieces, losing his best friend in the world two months ago.
Perhaps the truth is it’s nearly two years to the day when I lost Maya and I’m just plain old feeling it. And for some reason all these little events are happening, who knows, does it matter?
That Which I Feared, Is Now Upon Me
Even as I write this I’ll cry and new doggie may glance at me and adopt the, ‘Here we go again, Maya this, Maya that‘ look, and I’ll put aside the thoughts that at some point I’m going to visit this experience again at least five times in the future.
One of my biggest fears was the day when Maya would no longer be in my life.
Out of all of lives fears, that was mine. I don’t know about you, but I would shake my head when the thoughts popped up and shivered telling myself not to go there.
Lesson: Life is weird, it always presents us with what we fear most at somepoint huh?
Nothing prepared me for the loss.
The pain was excruciating, unbearable, it ripped at my core.
That may sound dramatic. I know that.
Maybe it doesn’t to you? Maybe that’s why I’m writing this, I keep saying pet bereavement is so misunderstood, it is, really, it is.
So, this is not a here’s what you must do and this is how you are going to feel at different stages speech.
See, I didn’t cope well.
Look what I ‘do’ for a living, I’m supposed to cope well. I didn’t eat properly for a month and I didn’t sleep a full night for at least two. I would wake up, go outside and just sob. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t understand why the whole world wasn’t as upset, bothered or cared as much.
I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see her life as valuable like what I did.
I didn’t understand why the people closest to me would assume me to be ‘okay’ after a couple of weeks.
But they didn’t live with her for 13 and half years, 24/7.
Oh She Had a Good Life
When Maya passed away I was delivered, perhaps like you, the oh she had a good life, she lasted well, it’s not the same as a human bereavement, that is much worse and other standard one liners.
Today, I’ll still question that if you don’t mind. Here’s why…
If there is anything my line of work has taught me is I can’t judge or pass comment on what one person puts more value on than another. I just don’t have that right. Nobody does.
If people are saying these things to you, forgive them.
They are usually delivered because they don’t know what to say. Many people can’t cope at times of human bereavement and they may not even begin understand why losing a pet carries the same grief. Forgive them.
They probably never will understand. That’s not blaming them or judging them.You need to grieve, not worry about the opinions of others.
But there are people that you can surround yourself with, which I didn’t know of at the time (see the end of the post) who will understand your pain and loss.
Personally, losing Maya was worse than any human bereavement I have experienced.
That’s really difficult to write and admit, because I know some may read it and think that a) I have never lost a human being close to me, which I have and b) that I can’t compare the loss of a pet with the loss of human.
It’s just my truth.
You may feel that same guilt, about not feeling the same way towards a human loss as you do your pet. I’m, kind of, smiling. Let’s face it, there aren’t many humans in our life who’ll never grumble at being in our company 24/7, or that we give them permission to sit at the end of the bath, while we’re in it, watching us soap up.
There aren’t many two legged beings, which will dive on us as soon as we enter a room, leave a room or just sit in a room.
Not many humans will instantly spot danger and growl to warn us, lick away tears or miss us, even for a minute.
So forgive yourself.
Give yourself permission to grieve over the loss, and there is no comparison between human and animal bereavement, a pet passing triggers the same feelings as human, the cause is different, the emotional responses aren’t.
If it’s stronger for your pet, then so it is.
Funny, I used the word ‘passing’, it’s such a gentle word huh?
It gives the picture and visual of moving gentle along, like swans on midnight moonlit lakes or passing clouds, drifting in and out, silently. And yet we both know different, the words that are used generally aren’t gentle when it comes to a pet and their death, they are awful. And perhaps that’s where the misunderstanding begins, there are no emotions attached to these words.
Put to sleep. Euthanasia. Lay Down. Put Out its Suffering and Misery. Destroyed.
Maya died at home, in my lap, 3.am on a Monday morning. There was no one else around except the other animals in the household. From the time I noticed she wasn’t herself until that morning was 5 days.
She got tired.
It was her heart.
She started to lie down in strange places, knowing she wasn’t ‘herself’, I took her to the vets and they told me her heart was beating 5 times as fast as it should, leave her for x-rays.
Picking her up they said ‘she has heart failure‘. They didn’t say how long she had, whether she would get better, they said leave her a week and bring her back in. (I think a little anger still resides there!)
Sunday, she deteriorated, so fast. Call to the emergency vet, and I was told to up her drugs. She picked up.
Then at 2am, I was sitting with her on my knee in the garden, begging her to get better but she was exhausted.
It was just time.
I made the decision to ask the vet to come to the house and give the jags with the lethal barbiturates that would ultimately stop her heart beating, I was going to kill my dog.
Yes, I know some may say it’s ‘the gift we can give our pets’…
Yes, the logical part of my brain got that, my emotional brain didn’t.
Coping With Unnatural Decisions
I’m sure we all wish and hope that our pets will pass away in their sleep, that the choice will be theirs, not ours.
Just gently drifting off, but the reality is usually very different. I don’t know about you but I battled and fought like crazy, to do everything to prolong a life, so that they could be in mine just a little longer.
Coming to the decision is incredibly painful, and confusing, we know as human being ‘taking another’s life’ is just plain wrong, we’re taught that from a very young age.
I know that teaching refers to another human beings life, however when it comes to our pets, it can feel like we are ‘taking it’. It’s unnatural. It’s not an everyday choice or decision.
If you had to, or have to make that choice, know that. It is not natural. What you did, or sadly have to do is not a choice we make every day in life, it’s very rare. You have no point of reference. You won’t know what to feel.
Maya had other plans. She went in her own time. She didn’t wait for the vet.
Like we will do at the end, she lost all control of her bodily functions, as I held her, us both covered in her urine, sick and excrement, she looked at me and gasped, exhaled, eyes still fixed, and exhaled again for a long time, for the last time.
In that moment, there was no pain or fear.
She went. Her body remained. But she was gone.
The pain begins…
Was she in pain? Did she suffer? Did I do the right thing? Why did I not call the vet sooner?
So much guilt. And the guilt is all part of the process of grief.
Then…why just 5 days? Did the vets make a mistake? Who can I blame? Why didn’t I see anything sooner.
So much anger. And that too is part of the process.
When’s The Right Time to Let Go?
With every fibre of my being, I promise you’ll know. And it won’t be your decision. Your pet will ‘tell’ you. For non-pet owners (if you’re still here), that may be hard to understand. It’s not a sixth sense or strange phenomenon.
Those 5 days before Maya died I was like a mad woman, determined that I would do everything to make her better. Phone calls to specialists, visits to vet hospitals, research into her condition, second opinions, emails to America asking for advice from the ‘top’ cardiac vets.
She was going to get better. It wasn’t her time, but the truth was it wasn’t my time; I wasn’t ready to let her go.
Helpless, would be the word I would use.
She got worse and there was nothing I could do, I had no power or control over what was happening, nothing was preventing the inevitable.
Coping With the Pain Today
The last thing I’m going to say to you is ‘time is a healer’ or ‘it’ll get better’.
When you lose a pet, or any form of grieving, time doesn’t play out as it usually does.
It’ll get better, it might, but again what gives anybody any right to say this is how it’s going to be for you in the future?
I know I only have my own personal experience, however for me (and I know now, many others) the loss is made worse by the misunderstanding.
The pain is raw.
It hurts, bad.
In the initial days and weeks, it roots itself deep. It ‘feels’ like life will never ever be the same again.
And that is true, it won’t. It will be different.
Any permanent goodbye is going to change your life. Any goodbye where you played a part will change you.
Even when a two legged being passes, the support is generally available.
Not everyone you know will have met your pet. So you may not know what to do with the grief and pain.
Does the Pain Go?
Ah, have you heard of the Stages of Grief, psychotherapist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, she proposed there were five stages:
Denial – (my crazed moments, this can’t be happening)
Anger – (why now, how can it be 5 days etc)
Bargaining – (I’ll give anything to have her live 5 more years)
Depression – (days not eating, not sleeping)
Acceptance – (I can write here now about Maya)
Here’s my addition:
Time, ignore it; time only exists because we have clocks. Grieve hard. Allow it to go through all the stages, in your own time.
For me, I prefer to think of the stages as a circle. There are some days when the memories occur, or something triggers an emotion and before I know I’m having a sob. It’s only because I miss her, missing your pet is allowed. Today, tomorrow, 10, 20 years from now.
Think About Everything in Your Life Where Your Pet Was Attached
I miss her because Maya and I shared our lives for 13 and half years, she was the constant in my life.
She was ‘there’ during homelessness, the loss of grandparents, shitty relationships, breakups. I was 25 when she arrived, and 38 when she died.
I didn’t think twice about the 4k pet bill to fix her legs.
She was a pet therapy dog, there for others when their end was near. She came to work with me, she only needed to sit next to someone for two minutes before they were leaning in to her taking what they needed.
She was a only a dog. But she was my dog.
Through this bloody awful time I learnt a huge lesson about living:
- It’s short.
- There are times when the external world will leave us helpless, with no control, no power.
- We can’t change events that are inevitable.
- We can’t change the minds of people who don’t want to change their minds.
- That what we fear most usually has to be faced at somepoint.
- There are lessons in the worst moments.
- There are moments, when ‘life on our terms’ is not possible.
Please leave with one thing, all around the world there are people who know the pain you are feeling.
They can’t help you with yours. They know it’s personal.
We know you’ll have to find your own way.
We won’t rush you.
We won’t talk about rainbow bridges or running free, we know they sound good, we secretly hope that they are real, we just want you to know that your pet mattered to us.
Please feel free to share below
If you need to reach out (no matter how long ago it was) here’s a few links: