Disclaimer: This post talks about pets who have died and may contain material that some consider very sad to read.
It is intended to be hopeful, but if this kind of topic bothers you, you may want to skip this post.
Across my Facebook feed this morning, came a photograph posted by a friend from across the country. Their dog had died, and in the picture was the grave stone, with the kids’ feet visible standing around it. Of course, everyone was expressing condolences, and at the end of her post my friend gave the usual disclaimer we often feel obligated to tack on when an animal dies: “It’s just a dog.”
Clearly, she was feeling the sadness, and wasn’t intending to discount how their pet would be missed. This expression is merely used to keep in perspective the passing of an animal versus the passing of a human. Of course our grieving is not equal in those situations. While the original pet will certainly be missed and we will feel the void long after they’re gone, we can eventually get another dog, while replacing a child or a spouse is out of the question.
This phrase, however, got me to thinking. We’ve lost pets (and by that you all know I mean died, not wandered off down the street; again, another euphemism used to blur the painful reality). Each one is missed, from the goldfish to the dogs and every type in between.
My daughter owned two beloved guinea pigs and the days they died still rank right up there as awful. They got sick and the local vet isn’t trained in treating guinea pigs, and over the course of a week, they were both gone. When the first one died, the second provided comfort for my daughter, and renewed hope that he wouldn’t get sick, too; that hope turned out to be false. The day we had to bury Zeus, we both cried. In fact, just remembering that grief-stricken event makes the same feelings echo through me again. I felt absolutely terrible for a ten-year-old girl who had to say good-bye, long before she was ready.
My mom had a really smart miniature Sheltie named Max, who loved to lick toes, do tricks, and chase cars. Unfortunately, one day he caught one, and it was a very difficult time for my mom and my sisters. There is still a little Max-shaped hole at their house, and it’s not quite the same pulling in the drive without him there.
My own mini Schnauzer Pinkerton, whose adorable mug graces the top of this post, has grown so firmly into our family that I am already pushing from my mind the knowledge that someday it will be his time to go. I know on that day, I will be heart-broken, even though he is “just a dog.” For he is also my friend, my shadow, my alarm system, and a companion to my girls. He listens when I talk, loves unconditionally, and knows when one of his people is away from home too long.
The same holds true for Pepper, the Basset pup who was a surprise to me when she joined us two years ago. While an unexpected addition, she too, has become woven into the fabric of our troop, and she fills that place well with her timidly playful personality. She holds the line of first alert when new people venture onto the property, and is the shop mascot when permanent roommate is building his latest design in the garage.
Pepper, the Basset Hound
So while I do understand why we say those words, I write this to remind myself and all of us who have had to bury pets, that they are worth the grief. They are loved and loyal and part of our lives for the duration of the time we had them. It’s only right to take a moment or a year or however long is needed to be sad.
And hopefully, the point will come when the tears aren’t quite so fresh or so near, when the memory of our little animals brings a smile and a laugh at their antics. Death, while an unavoidable aspect of life, isn’t “normal”; grief over those who have died, is.
So here’s to the pets, the cute, furry or scaly, little creatures who have shared our lives and our homes and our hearts. May they live long, and may we feel permission to grieve when they have to leave us.
Tim, our turtle; while he’s actually yawning,
I love how he looks like he’s laughing hysterically in this photo.