Grief and Expectations

Sometimes we all need a hug!

Earlier last month I lost my beautiful Bichon Frise Molly. She was 15 years old and had her fair share of struggles during that time. She suffered a Kidney Stone (unusual for a female dog apparently), She had both Cruciate Ligaments repaired, she had to have an eye removed and she had started to struggle with her back legs and waterworks towards the end of her life. Nonetheless, I adored her. She was a happy soul and really enjoyed life. She loved to eat but equally loved to go for adventures in fields and on the beach. I have 15 years on the most wonderful memories of her, I can’t tap in to them at the moment, those that have dealt with grief will understand what I mean.Your mind somehow only allows you to process what you can physically cope with and so sort of drip feeds snippets of anything to do with whomever you’ve lost so as not to overload you. It’s quite hard to explain but it has happened to me every time I lose a loved one. 

What is a loved one and should I grieve for them? 

I remember years ago, I gave up smoking. I loved smoking even though it was the very thing that took my dad away from my family. I suppose I was just like my dad. however, I also knew that smoking would kill me, just like it did my father and his father before him. The odds didn’t look great so I packed it in. I can honestly say, I grieved. I grieved for that hit of nicotine, the feeling when you inhaled, the sense of security it gave me in my hands. The feeling of a fresh packet when I replenished the finished one. Is a cigarette a loved one? No! Should you grieve for a habit? no, especially not that one, but I did. The reality was that I was grieving that person, the smoker, I was forgetting that the person I was about to become was a much better and most importantly, healthier version of me, the smug ex smoker (nothing worse to a smoker). I wouldn’t touch a cigarette now and I no longer miss them so that grief has a different life span. It’s overcoming a habit and realising that you don’t need it. Good comes out of it. It has a positive outcome in the end even though at the time it doesn’t feel like it. 

It’s nothing like losing a loved one, it’s more like breaking up with an unrequited love or a toxic friend. It has a positive outcome but it is still grief. 

So we have established grief comes in different levels for different things. 

For a person who has never had kids and never been exposed to the wonders of parenthood, is losing a beloved dog as bad as losing a child? 

The simple answer, in my view, is that everything is relative. To a mother or father, losing a dog may be something that one expects or one can deal with. ‘As long as the kids are ok, life is ok’. It’s a blip, a sad blip but a blip all the same. ‘We have to keep going for the kids’, ‘Imagine anything happening to the kids, at least it was just the dog’. I know not everyone is like this but I think that’s a fair assessment, having not had kids, I don’t think I can speak with certainty but that the impression I get. A dog is not as important as a child. 

To someone that doesn’t have or has never had a pet and doesn’t care for them, it will always be ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat’. The grief is sadly perceived as ridiculous. not important compared to a human. Difficult for any dog lover to conceive. 

The truth of the matter is, to me, a gay man who has no children (apart from my husband), my dogs are my family. They mean as much to me as my human family do. I worry about them just like any father would about his son or daughter. I love them unconditionally. I can’t say as to whether this love is less compared to that of a human child, it’s not something I will ever be able to compare. But the love I feel is real, tangible and incredibly deep. 

You know that you will outlive your pets but that doesn’t make the loss of them any easier. It’s hard, it hurts and it’s real. It’s also OK to be sad. 

Dealing with the grief. 

No one can really win. You can get upset if someone doesn’t call to ask if you’re ok but at the same time you can get upset if someone calls too soon. Knowing how to deal with someone that is grieving the loss of a pet can be a rocky road but will absolutely mean the world to them if navigated carefully. We all need to feel important to people and to know that our friends and family understand us, that is what matters. At the end of the day, whatever people need, they need. If it’s time, then give them time, if it’s contact, then give them that. The most important thing at the end of the day is that we all need to be understood and heard and to know someone is there.

Making the decision to Euthanise a pet is probably one of the hardest things to do. When dealing with unwell humans, it’s common to hear the phrase ‘you wouldn’t leave a dog like that’ etc. Does that mean you would euthanise them if you could? The truth is, it’s unlikely that people would choose to euthanise an unwell 15 year old human, they would do everything to get them well, even if they are diagnosed as terminal. Pet owners understand that the day may come when this is asked of them but it doesn’t make the decision or the action any easier. It’s horrid to think you have made the decision to kill your beloved family member. Something that is too important to belittle or to ignore. 

The truth is, at the very least, they will need a good friend that understands and most importantly, a hug.