The Loss of a Pet and the Validity in Grieving

I always knew this post was going to be a hard one for me, and it’s something that I’ve debated sharing for quite some time.

Despite my generally open nature on Wit & Wishes, there are certain thoughts and emotions that I tend to avoid getting into…even if I mention them, I may not always delve into them.But, this isn’t one of those cases. As I mentioned earlier this month, I experienced loss in the past year. In fact, they were two losses: one in September, one this past April. One was a devastating shock, the other a difficult but inevitable final step. The problem that I’ve had with processing these losses is: they’re not human. As a result, the pain is not as generally understandable as a human loss is.

In this case: my family and I lost both of our beloved dogs, which we had respectively owned (and loved) for 13 and 17 wonderful years, within 8 months of each other. My brother and I grew up with them, in fact, and we got the oldest one when I was merely 6 years old. So, I had never really known a life without them.

Their names were Muffin and Oreo (names that always inspired amusement from whomever asked), and Muffin was the 17-year-old; so we had known that his time would be coming sooner or later for these past couple of years. Oreo, on the other hand, left us suddenly in the middle of the night – while both my mom and I were out of town. I won’t get into the absolute tornado of emotions that coursed through me the night that I came back to the news, but I can say: shock will make grief feel infinitely heavier and harder to process.

Obviously, I have experienced human loss as well, as we all have in some capacity. However, that just made my feelings about this particular loss all the more complicated. Quite frankly, I was intensely grieving – but, did I have a right to?

When Oreo died, I felt incredibly alone: I hated the idea of rehashing the grief with my family, since they were going through the same thing (although we have now learned to lean on each other), and I had very few friends that I felt comfortable telling – especially if they didn’t have dogs or pets of their own. Unfortunately, I’ve found that sometimes those who have not experienced owning and bonding with a pet – be it a dog, cat, rabbit, etc. – will truly think it’s no big deal. Whether it is a general air of nonchalance toward the subject, hollow words of “sympathy”, or simply a blank look when you bring up the loss: it really does not make sense to someone unless they understand or have experienced a bond like that.Which brings me to something that I have reflected on, both after Oreo’s death and leading up to Muffin’s eventual deterioration: Why did these losses impact me on such a visceral level?

Over time, I think I’ve come to multiple explanations for this:

First and foremost, it’s the fact that these two were, essentially, part of my identity. Beyond a few years in early childhood, the names “Muffin and Oreo” were present and active parts of my everyday life, my joy, my sorrows, and my laughter. Now that they have both passed, I’ve realized that I need to give myself time to understand that this chapter of my life has come to a close. It doesn’t mean that they will ever leave my thoughts, or that I won’t pull up a video of them that makes me laugh and cry all at once; but it means that I have to give myself permission to move forward.

Furthermore, let me tell you: our dogs were just pure love. Obviously, dogs are animals at the end of the day, and they will not always get along with other animals, or even other people. But when it comes to you, their owner(s): there is a magical kind of happiness you can get when you have a bond with this creature that considers you their whole world. Happiness that comes from seeing their tails – or whole body – wag just because you entered the room; watching their eyes light up the minute you say the word “walk”; wrapping them up in warm cuddles and seeing them slowly fall asleep; hearing the faint sound of little nails pawing at your bedroom door in the morning to check if you’re awake; or, coming back from a run, sprawling on the floor out of exhaustion, and having a little wet nose come poke your arm just to make sure you’re okay.

Moments like this have repeatedly made my heart fill with love for these two, and made my heart ache when I realized I wouldn’t get to experience those kind of moments with them ever again. But, I feel incredibly blessed to have known this kind of pure love, with no drawbacks, conditions, or judgment.

I know in my heart that these two little souls, Muffin and Oreo, were never “just animals” to me – so ultimately, I have come to accept that my grief is mine and it is valid, no matter what anyone else decides.

I share all of this with you in the hope of three major things:

1. That those of you who have also experienced the loss of a pet, especially a dog, may be reminded that you’re not alone.

2. That those of you who don’t understand the significance of this kind of loss may have a better idea now, and hopefully be able to empathize – even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.

3. That in addressing this grief, I can allow myself to be truly vulnerable. In my opinion, vulnerability leads to connection, strength, and – most importantly – healing.

I decided to post this on the last day of May as a symbolic way of closing this chapter of my life: the chapter where I decided to hide something that has had such a profound impact on me. I hope that with the arrival of June tomorrow, and so much of the year still ahead, there will be far more happy moments than sad ones. And, I hope the same for each and every one of you.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite photos of Muffin and Oreo, below. Rest in Peace, my sweet angels.

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