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Lost Family Pet

Dear Dr. C.,

Three weeks ago, our sweet dog, Elly, died. She was a rescue dog from Mexico and my husband and I had her for 12 years. She was our best friend and we took her everywhere with us. She had been sick, off and on for a few months and the vet didn’t really know why. Then one night she was struggling to breathe and we took her to the emergency animal hospital and she died. They gave us her ashes and we have them in our bedroom. But the thing is, I just can’t seem to stop crying and I can’t go to work and I don’t want to have any friends over or go out, and my husband is getting really mad at me.

I know that Elly meant the world to him, too, and it makes me mad that he doesn’t seem to be as sad as I am. When he sees me crying he leaves the room, which only makes me feel worse.

Two years ago my mother died. This is harder. Please help. No one seems to understand. “It’s just a dog,” they say. Elly wasn’t just a dog. She was my baby and my best friend.

Signed: Crying for Elly

Dear Crying,

I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my own dog, Shanti, some years ago and I know how painful losing a pet can be. Different people have different relationships with their pets – for some, a dog is just a dog. But for others, and it sounds like you are one of these folks, the relationship with our pet carries a deeper meaning simply because our connection with them is so deep. When we lose someone where the connection is so strong, the feeling of grief and loss is in direct proportion to that connection. Make sense? So it is no wonder you are crying and feeling as you feel. Elly was your baby and your best friend. Give yourself permission to experience and grieve her loss. It is a testament to your love for her. And remember, the grief process is just that – a process – and it has it’s own rhythm and time frame.

Your letter, Crying, also brings up some deeper issues and I wonder if they aren’t the more important reasons you are having so much trouble with Elly’s death?

The loss of a pet can awaken in us grief for other losses that we have not fully processed. You mention that that your mother died two years ago. I wonder if there are some unresolved issues in your relationship with her? Consider having a few sessions with a counsellor or therapist to explore this. It may be that you are crying for more than Elly.

I also notice that you mention the place Elly had in the relationship with your husband. Perhaps you will have to find new ways to relate now that Elly is gone and you cannot relate through her, so to speak.

It sounds like you and your husband grieve differently. It doesn’t mean he isn’t feeling sad, or that he doesn’t miss Elly. It just means that he doesn’t show it the same way that you do. Some people feel uncomfortable and helpless when they see their partner sad and hurting. They want to “fix” things and they can’t, so they feel frustrated and angry. I don’t know if that is true for your husband. You might ask him. And you might simply tell him that he doesn’t have to try to make things better, he could just help by holding you for a while. Maybe he just doesn’t know what you really need.

Again, some sessions with a counsellor might be of some help just to sort out how you two can move on, together, in a new way.

Meanwhile, have you and your husband had any funeral or ritual to memorialize Elly? For example, you could have friends over and have an “Elly’s Stories” party. People who knew Elly, or who have dogs who knew Elly, could come together and share stories about her. Or, you could take a walk together on Elly’s favorite route with the intention to honor her. You could have a ceremony by the beach, gather some friends and have a memorial. There are many, many ways to remember and honor these beings who have meant so much to us. When we memorialize our pets, it helps take the edge off the loss.

I also encourage you to take Elly’s ashes out of the bedroom and put them in a space, perhaps a mantle or bookshelf, where you can make a small alter –perhaps with her picture, one of her toys, a flower, etc. – as a way to honor her. Then, when you are ready, you can either bury the urn or scatter the ashes in one of her favorite places. These are some of the ways that we can grieve the loss of our beloved pets.

I wish you well as you move through this time of intense pain. It is not easy, I know. You can heal, and you will. One of the laws of the Universe is that all things are impermanent. This grief will pass but your memories and the place Elly had in your heart will stay with you.

Warmly, Corrinne

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