If you’ve owned a pet, you can understand the love and joy that is brought by their presence, but you also understand the pain that comes with saying goodbye. It’s a horrible chain of different reactions - disbelief, shock, sadness, emotional and physical pain, where it feels like someone opened your chest and removed your heart, your whole body trembling, and my personal favorite, guilt. Well, at least this was all me on Monday the 18th of November at night when my mom called me to give me the news that my 10 year old baby boy, Fenrir, had passed away.
Now, let's take a moment to focus on guilt.
Although guilt is one of the worst feelings ever, it is completely normal. It's one of the biggest parts of grieving a loved one. For me, it has been the hardest part of the whole journey; because this life is an emotion-filled journey. Even though I am completely conscious and I’m aware that this feeling is normal, that it was not my fault, and that we tried everything to save him, it doesn’t change the fact that in the end, death is always imminent; and it’s almost impossible not to think of the “if only”.
This guilt led me to read several articles on how to deal with guilt after the passing of a pet. They all said similar things - some of the most popular were:
- Spend some time with your thoughts
- Forgive yourself
- Talk about your feelings
- Try to focus on the positive memories you have of your dog and all of the love and care that you gave to them over the years
There is even a wikiHow on how to cope with guilt. Now, you may be thinking, “Well then, are you going to tell us the BEST way to cope with guilt, so we don't have to actually feel guilty or read every article that comes up when we search "how to deal with grief" in Google?”. No, no I won’t. Because there is nothing that I can say that will make all this easier for anybody. We all grieve in different ways and process emotions at different paces, but despite what you may think, these “cliche” articles actually help. So when following the steps above, it’s no surprise that by step 2 I was crying my eyes out... again. But I wouldn’t let that stop me, because it is all part of a process.
The article that has helped me the most I found it on Psychology Today, one of my favorite mental health websites. Their second step, ‘Reflect Upon the Life Shared Between Yourself and Your Beloved Pet’, had me in tears. So, when I started my memory journey, I won’t lie, I cried for 2 hours straight. Here’s the thing though, it helped, it actually helped. After releasing my feelings, I was finally able to look at one of the thousands of pictures I have of him and just smile.
In the end, the most important takeaway is that you don’t suppress any emotions. Pain is inevitable and you must decompress or else you will end up with a horrible headache and will not be able to move on as easily.
It’s also important to remember our other pets can experience grief just as we do. As hard as it may be, this means we must continue to keep going and continue to live our lives, even though we're going through all of this pain and grief. Do your best not to let them lose the sense of familiarity and stick to their routines.
With this type of support, they can be AMAZING emotional support systems. In my case, I have my roommate’s dog, Molly. She is a beautiful mix of Husky with Rottweiler and is the sweetest baby girl you’ll ever meet. Molly witnessed everything, she saw me while I was talking to my mom, hysterically crying that Monday night, but I felt comfort in knowing she was there with me. I could see her, watching me from afar, and I knew she understood my pain because she was whimpering. After I calmed down, she spent the next three to four days with me. If I went to the kitchen, she went with me; if I sat on the couch, she sat with me. I didn't notice this the first day because I couldn’t scratch her head without crying. She reminded me so much of my boy, who was also a Rottie. I only became aware of this when my roommate pointed it out to me.
This is why I think animals are so amazing. They depend on us for the basics, like food, water, and shelter, yet we are dependent on them emotionally. Yes, it hurts to lose our babies, whether they are furry, scaly, feathery, prickly, or even coated with a hard shell, but it makes it easier to cope with our losses if we remember that for them, we were the best thing in their life. We were their human who gave them all of the love in the world, and their gratitude was shown by all of the love they gave us in return. The best part is that we can use this to help better ourselves, all we need to do is be the person our animals think we are.
It may be hard, but try to remember that guilt is something everyone experiences while going through the grieving process, and because we can’t avoid it, we need to learn to cope with it in healthy and productive ways. If you think that talking to someone will help, do it. If reading articles you find on Google will help, read them. The point is that there is no wrong way to cope with guilt as long as you are doing it healthily, and there is no limit to the amount of time it takes for you to recover from your loss.