“Relationships are forever. They are eternal. Not just permanent in this lifetime. Once you establish a relationship, it is an eternal relationship.” – Abraham-Hicks
Years ago I was at a workshop, sitting in a circle of women. One of them was grieving a death in her family, expressing anger and isolation.
She said, “…and you know what? If one more of my idiot girlfriends acts like she knows what I’m going through and shares some dumb-ass story about when her stupid dog or cat died, I’m going to explode.”
Of course, that anger wasn’t the truth of who she is. Anyone who has experienced grief knows that she was probably just trying to mask her intense sadness. Anger pretends it can do that.
For some reason, though, I thought of that woman at 1am this past Tuesday.
Atticus, who had been my special pal for 13 years, finally passed away after a long hard final week of a five-month illness. Silently, I assured that woman – wherever she is now – that my heart was shattered enough to satisfy even her needs.
Even though Mr. Patticus weighed in at only 4 pounds at his passing, I felt the grief of a hundred tons of spirit. After all, the sadness of letting go has so little to do with these earthly issues — like weight and form, or human and pet. It’s a matter of the heart. And thank goodness, our hearts don’t know such limitations.
I’ve been so touched by the number of people who have stopped their busy lives to share their stories when they found out about my beloved kitty. I love how common we all are – even the most stoic or the most mental among us can share with stunning detail an instance when they lost a dog, or a cat, horse or bird.
When a treasured pet dies, you may find yourself going through a kind of mental gymnastics – most of which is just a feeble attempt at distracting you from what you’re desperately trying to avoid: the heavy and unbearable sadness of letting go of something so sweet, so precious, and so connected to you.
Most thoughts can be noticed, accepted, or released – yet when you are in the thick of your grief, sometimes it’s hard to remember to do any of those things.
So, the following items are random. I’m posting them for someday. I’m posting them because you might need a friend-in-writing at some 1am of your own. Print this out and save it for that time.
These are pieces of my experience, and pieces of stories from other people. This is my attempt to remind you of the truth, so that you can get back to doing what you are meant to do when you lose a pet – which is to purely experience the release of this being you treasure. In that alone will you find healing.
Guilt will sneak in at unexpected moments, telling you that you did it wrong, that you didn’t do enough, that you caused this to happen, or that it’s all your fault.
Guilt is tricky. It seems like situations cause it to rise up out of nowhere. But really, guilt just hangs around, waiting in the wings – and it waits to find the perfect situation to make an entrance.
In the highly charged situation of a sick pet who doesn’t have a voice, guilt is always available to fill the silent spaces. And it serves no purpose.
You find your pet, you love your pet, and you do the best you can. That’s all you can do.
That’s what you did.
Blame is guilt going in the opposite direction. You’ll want to blame the vet, or the driver of the car, or your boyfriend for taking you out that night when your dog ran off, which wouldn’t have happened had you been there.
Blame serves one purpose: to distract you. It’s not that you aren’t allowed to have moments of blame and anger – but remember that no matter how much of it you experience, eventually the sadness will be what’s waiting for you at the end of that long line of stuff. And you’ll have nowhere else to turn but in its direction.
Blame might postpone the sadness – but not forever.
A friend of mine told me that one of the worst things about putting her cat to sleep was the second-guessing that happened afterward.
Second-guessing is just guilt on Halloween. It puts on a mask called “Rational Thoughts” that offer you all the reasons why you did the exact opposite of what you should’ve done.
Atticus died as I held him on my kitchen floor. During this last hour, I was overtaken by fear. The second-guessing began. Had I made the wrong choices? Should I have had him put to sleep? I didn’t do any of this right, did I?
I was able to catch myself and remind myself that all I needed to do was be fully present to this moment, and we would both get through it. That’s all you need to do, too. Your presence is more powerful and more healing than your untrue thoughts.
When you’re contemplating putting your pet to sleep, and you ask people how you’ll know whether or not to do it, and when it’s time, they will all tell you one thing, “Oh. You’ll know. You’ll just know.”
The truth is that you might know. And that’s great. But you also might not. I kept waiting to hear a “knowing.” But it never came. My homeopathic vet told me that it might never come, and that you just have to do the best you can do.
It’s imperative that you experience life during this time. When Atticus was dying, Spring was in a “Hey it’s been raining for six straight days!” cheerleader-like exuberance, so I made myself go out into the woods with my dog.
I witnessed Pink Ladyslipper in bloom. I smelled the wet ground. I watched some Pileated Woodpeckers going to town on a fallen tree. I met a month-old puppy and reveled in his puppy breath.
It was as if the earth was shouting at me, “It’s all life!”
I didn’t believe it. But it helped me remember that it was all there for me to return to when I’m ready.
Give yourself time for life and remember that, as Eckhart Tolle reminds us, the opposite of death is birth. Not life. Life doesn’t die.
No matter if your dog was only three when she got hit by a car, or if your cat lives to be 29, you’ll want more time. You’ll bargain for it. You’ll pray for just one more year. You’ll swear that you’ll be grateful 365 days straight.
Atticus had a lifetime of me bargaining for more time. Homeopathy pulled him from the jaws of death on several occasions. I was (and am) grateful for all of it.
But it didn’t make it easy to let go when the time came. I still held tight. I even made a few feeble bargaining attempts. But eventually, I had to surrender and focus on gratitude for the years he lived.
Of course, surrender doesn’t make the sadness go away. It’s just that you no longer are clinging quite so tightly.
The truth about time is that it is only ever now. And all those nows that you had with your beloved animal were perfect. But this now is different from those nows.
My mom had two dogs when she was little, and both of them died unexpectedly. One day her dad announced that he refused to allow any more pets in their home because he couldn’t stand to go through any more broken hearts. He managed to hold fast to his rule, and my mom never had another pet in her life. I never said this to my mom, but I find it interesting that her dad died of a massive heart attack at a young age.
You might want to swear off animals forever. You might tell yourself that you can’t possibly go through this ever again. While it may take some time to allow another pet into your life, the idea that you can protect your heart from pain by sealing it off from love is ludicrous. As one of my Platinum Coaching clients wrote on her coaching form last week:
“I’ve spent so many years, pretty much all of my life, working so hard to avoid feeling pain that I never let myself see beauty either.”
As long as we’re on this planet, we might as well experience it, revel in it, take it all in, live big, cry hard, laugh a lot, and love every being that will have us. What’s to protect yourself from?
It’s an honor to love something so much that your heart breaks when it moves to another plane. It’s an honor to be loved back, too. There’s joy to be found – even in your sadness.
Some people will find you ridiculous. You will cancel engagements and get rolled eyes. Your family might whisper about you.
“It’s just a cat.”
“Why all the fuss over a dog?”
Don’t waste your energy being mad. Whether it’s the joy of a pet, or having your own business, or getting fired, or losing a parent – if someone hasn’t experienced it, then they just don’t understand. They will someday. In the meantime, be willing to be judged. You’ve got more important places to put your attention.
Lastly, let’s talk about the moments of sheer peace, surrender, and enlightenment. You will have these, too.
You will have minutes, maybe hours or even days where you feel a deep surrender to the process of life. You will marvel at your clarity, at how you are able to release with love this being that you cherish with all your heart. You’ll wonder if Pema Chodron will be phoning soon to ask you how you do it.
Love these moments. They are truth. But don’t berate yourself if you burst into tears the very next hour, and beg your pet not to leave, and bargain with God to make sure you never hurt again in your life. It’s a part of the roundabout cycle of loss.
The peace will descend again too. It’s who you truly are. And it will return. And it will last longer each time. And your heart will slowly take it in and heal itself into the full joy of being once again.