I still need to finish my tribute to Bubba, and I know the last post will be the hardest to write. With the glow of Christmas just behind us and the hope of New Year's not quite here, it seemed a good week to pay some needed attention to the universal tragedy of pet loss, and the many griefs and regrets which accompany it.
Dr. Patty Khuly, DVM addressed the same need in a heartfelt post earlier this Fall, "Giving Good Grief: On Pet Bereavement Online, One-on-One and in Our Communities." (I very much recommend following her multifaceted veterinarian blog; thanks to Michael Epperson for passing it on.) She mentions an email she received from a pet owner who is traumatized by fear that her beloved cat was in agony when he was put down, and that somehow he might still be suffering while waiting to be collected in the clinic's freezer. Here is part of Khuly's empathetic response:
I used to think clients like you were a little crazy until I experienced the same thing. It was after I euthanized one of my boxers 10 years ago. It was horrible. I couldn't let go of the vision of him inside the freezer. Then came another tragedy when one of my dogs drowned in a pool. Eight years later I still have nightmares of his final moments and horrible, unshakable visions of his body at the bottom of the pool.
She normalizes these reactions as common responses to trauma, and her suggestion which follows to simply share the experience with others who have been through a similar grief is vitally important. Especially when we feel compelled to carry the loss and trauma on our own, because the pain seems to intense to share, or maybe because we're afraid others won't understand how much it hurts to lose a beloved animal companion, or may even communicate (directly or otherwise) that we need to move on to more important concerns.
I learned this lesson this past Fall the hard way, through not truly being able to share my grief over Bubba's sudden passing (even with my wife, who grieved just as much and in a similar way, perhaps because she knew I couldn't bear to talk about it). It even took me three weeks to share the news here on not one sparrow. But I also found myself surprised by a few comforting moments of being able to commiserate with someone else: whether a cousin who took me to coffee after losing a cat in traumatic fashion himself earlier in the year, or a usually stoic coworker who intimated how hard it still was to lose the family dog a few years back, even apologizing to one of my more difficult students for why I'd been so short with him those last days with Bubba.
Khuly concludes with the valuable recommendation to consider seeing a pet bereavement counselor or join a pet loss support group, whether local or online, if you can't find enough of an outlet for sharing your loss. She asked for commenters to leave helpful suggestions below the post. Similarly, I'd love to ask if you'd be willing to post resources which have meaningful to you in your own journey through pet grief.
Beyond that, I'd really like to work towards setting up a more intentional support network within not one sparrow's community, for those who are coping with pet loss and illness as well. I'm leaning towards using Facebook as the outlet (where we currently do have an 'in memoriam' thread on our page's discussion board), so that folks can have more of a fluid opportunity to interact with and get to know each other. But please let me know if you have any suggestions of your own. I'm also hoping someone will be able to take a more active facilitating and perhaps even (lay) counseling role in such a group, someone with a solid grounding in genuine Christian faith and a real heart for hurting people and animals as well.
(photo copyright Dimitri Surkov/123rf.com)