We humans with pets make a rather inconceivably foolish decision: we fall in love with someone whose lifespan is only a fraction of ours, all but ensuring that at some point during our life we will experience great loss. And yet we love anyway. We love with so much of ourselves, that when we lose them, we lose a part of ourselves.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. A pet is not a piece of expensive furniture broken. A pet is not a prized possession or family heirloom fallen down a drain. A pet is family–as much as any human blood relative is.
When my first dog died at only seven years of age, and me at the age of ten, it was the most devastating loss I had ever felt. I held her tennis ball all night, and woke in the morning unable to open my hand as the muscles clenched tight to it, as if I was holding onto her soul, defying its need to be set free.
When my dog Dutchess passed to the other side, she made sure I was nowhere near. While boarding a connecting flight on my way back across the country from being home for the holidays, she took her last breath. When my father called that night to tell me, a part of me already knew. I thought I was fine. I had said my goodbyes. But the next morning, I was unable to get out of bed. My soul wracked with guilt for not being there, my heart hurting so badly I could not breathe, and the tears flowing so freely, I could not see.
Lately, it is my dog’s best friends and my friends’ companions and soulmates who have left this earthly existence. Some went quietly into the night of their own accord; others have needed help to cross over. Neither is any easier than the other. While we may wish that euthanasia was an option for ourselves when the time comes seeing it as a gift, it hardly seems like one when faced with the decision we must make for our own beloved, loyal comrades.
Some of our friends have lived long lives and came naturally to the end of their path. Others were stricken down, snatched away from us like a song abruptly stopped in the middle of the second verse. It seems unreal. No matter when the ending comes, it is always too soon. No matter how many years we have, we always yearn for one more. No matter how many days we have; we wish and hope for just one more.
One does not “get over” the loss of their pet. Just as our pet is a part of us, so is their death. For a strange thing happens when we love an animal. We give them a part of our heart, and they in return, give us a part of theirs. And so we carry with us a piece of them for all eternity. And when they go, they take a piece of us with them. In some way, we are never whole again, and yet we are all the better for it, as we evolve into something greater than a whole—a patchwork of hearts, a grand soul ever entwined with another.
Some believe that animals are able to cross over, walk among the dead, and return. They see ghosts. They sense things on other planes of existence. And so is death the same for them? Or have they just finished their tenure here on this plane with us, and they continue on in all the other dimensions, romping and playing, loving and living one moment at a time?
One moment. Each moment. That is what they give us. They give us their every moment, to prove to us just how important each one is. Every moment of love lasts an eternity. While their earthly existence may be short, living in the moment allows them to live a hundred lifetimes in each trip we take around the sun. But even with that ability, they too, grieve the loss of their friends and loved ones when they pass. They are not immune to loss. It is they who teach us to love with such grandeur, and so their loss is just as significant—if not more—than ours.
We do not know their philosophies or theologies. Perhaps they have none. Or perhaps each one has their own ideas of whether or not there is an afterlife, reincarnation, or simply returning to the vast energy of the universe from which they were, just for a moment, plucked from and lived a moment in a furry body, loved and doted upon by creatures quite unlike them and yet deep down just like them when given the chance.
To all our friends who are grieving now, and to those who have, and to those who will one day, we send our love, our sympathy, and our empathy. The loss of our beloved companions is a loss so great it is incomparable. There is no timetable from which we must cease mourning. There is no set time in which the loss feels any less great. For the loss, like the love, is always a part of you. For many of us, our pets are our best friends, our children, our companions, our partners, our teachers, our everything. And so when we lose everything, there is no judgement on how we handle it.
Our journey is our own—our own just between us and our beloved companions.
I don’t believe any pet wants to leave or is truly ready to go. Which may be why so many need help getting there. They do everything in their power to stay as long as possible, for they know that without them, we are lost. We need to assure them that their guidance, their love has led us this far, taught us this much, and that although we will be in pain, we will carry on, as we carry them in our hearts.
And that they are free to go, to be in peace, to no longer suffer the slings and arrows of this earthly existence, and that one day we shall meet again at the Rainbow Bridge, where our hearts will embrace again.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.