Pet loss has been on our minds lately and so this week we are sharing some behind the scenes on a tradition that has really helped us process the grief that we have when we lose a beloved pet.
Let's start by agreeing on this: Losing a pet is simply devastating.
There is no other way to describe it. It is extremely hard for animal lovers like you and me. One of the difficulties in owning dogs and cats and any pet that is part of our family is that we are loving a creature that we know we will likely outlive. Further, our bond to them and our love for them is often equated to that of our love for a beloved family member.
If you take that one step further, the closest relationship it resembles is that of a parent-child relationship, and even though there are many different feelings and opinions on that, this still closely resembles that bond. And so that bond that we have for them is extremely deep.
When I lost my best friend Frodo who was a westie I had for 15 years, I was distraught as are many of the pet parents I speak to who have just lost a pet. In the most recent podcast episode on Pet Loss, I talk about after losing Frodo, I struggled a lot for a long time feeling lost and incomplete. And so, remember if you're going through that, you are not alone and it is 1000% ok to grieve. Pet loss grief is very real grief that unfortunately, doesn't really get the recognition that it should in society.
So let's talk about the tradition my fiancé and I have after we lose a pet. I am sharing this tradition in hopes that it will help you because it has helped us process a lot of the tough feelings we are having and also help us feel less alone. One of the things about grief is that it can be so isolating, and this tradition helps reduce that. Here is our simple process.
1. Set No Expectations for Yourself the Day of: The day that we actually have our dog euthanized, we are a mess. And we're allowed to be a mess. And we don't really plan anything for that night because, to be honest, there's just no functioning like a normal human that night.
2. Clear Your Schedule for the next week best you can: So after the day we lose them, we clear my schedule. I generally do whatever I can to get off work. I will call in, trade shifts, request PTO, whatever it takes because, to be honest... I will not be able to focus like I should, the next day especially but also the next few days. Your ability to do this will depend on your workplace and job but, just do your best here.
3. Plan a Special Night: After, I clear my schedule- my fiancé and I will usually plan on a night a special night for us to spend together to talk about the pet that we just lost. And so, I'll use Frodo my 15.5 yr old westie and soul dog as an example. I lost Frodo on a Wednesday, and on Friday night, my fiancé and I decided to plan our special celebratory night for him. So what we usually do is we end up picking a night that works for both of us and then we head to the grocery store. At the grocery store, we've got three things that we're looking for.
The first thing we find is dinner. It can be a fancy dinner that we want to make that night. Or we can just do a frozen pizza, it doesn't really matter. It's whatever you're in the mood for.
Next, we pick a bottle of wine. Often I'll look for a drink that reminds me of my dog, usually, it has something like Naughty Dog in the title because we always tease our dogs that most of them are naughty. Once we pick our bottle of wine.
The third part is the most important part of the tradition, which is we buy as many flowers as we can carry out of that store that represent that dog. Usually for both Frodo and for BonBon, those flowers were these white roses. So we would buy as many as we could, and carry them out of the store.
4. Celebratory Dinner and Share: After that, we head home and we will spend the night making our dinner, having some wine, setting up the flowers. Then, we will sit and we'll have our dinner talk about all the things that we miss so much about that dog that we just lost. We share about the amazing things we learned from them and the joy we had from simply having them. To be honest, we're both usually bawling during this dinner as you can imagine, and that's totally okay. And we're allowed to say anything that we want. I often keep a lot of feelings to myself and I remember telling my fiance how empty and lost I felt without Frodo. Frodo had been with me for 15 years. He lived in five different states with me, saw me through breakups, vet school, and even my father getting sick. There's nothing that dog wasn't there for in my life. And being able to share that with someone was such a relief.
The end of the night usually ends up with us watching Netflix. Usually, we're still crying. It certainly is not glamorous but it is honest. After this, we actually will meet up once a week during that first month or however frequently we need them to share our struggles. Over time it gets easier.
One thing I really love about this tradition is that those beautiful flowers that we picked for our l celebratory dinner of that pet, are around the entire rest of the week. And as many of you who have been through this before know, that first week is so hard. And those flowers are a beautiful reminder of the beautiful dog that you just lost.
Does anyone else have a tradition they like? Thinking of you all. Please share in the comments!
For anyone struggling with pet loss or looking for group or private support, please consider joining us at the Pet Loss Community which was founded by myself, Dr. Lisa Lippman, and clinical psychologist Dr. Katie Lawlor. We are here for anyone that needs us!
by Dr. Monica Tarantino DVM
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