You would cry too, if it happened to you.
“If you don’t mind my asking, do you plan to get another dog soon?"
I wouldn’t have minded had I not been asked enough before to know that it was not so much a question as it was an investigation into my emotional stability. It had been less than a week since Barça died and I hadn’t said much to anyone about it. Truth be told, I didn’t want to say anything because I knew that whatever eventually came out was fodder for judgment, and that’s the last thing you need when you’re in mourning.
No matter how long or short you grieve and no matter how you grieve and move forward with your life, someone, somewhere will inevitably think that it’s wrong. If you plan to or actually adopt another fur baby immediately after another’s death, you’re a callous person who thinks pets are replaceable or you’re teetering on the brink of insanity and making a rash attempt at rebalancing your life. If you vow to remain pet-less for life, you’re probably already unhinged, or you’re overdramatic, or maybe you’re both. Saying something along the lines of, “I don’t plan to adopt right now, but I haven’t ruled it out in the future,” often suggests that you are sane enough to would-be critics… but give it a month or two and if you’re still fur-childless, you are by default the overdramatic crazy person who is taking an unnecessarily long time to mourn an animal.
It took me a while to realize that I didn’t actually need to carefully craft a statement to explain my sadness or make excuses as to whether or not I intended to ever adopt another dog. I just lost the little creature that I loved and nurtured for almost two years of my life, the latter six months of which I spent [somehow] holding myself together while enduring the most traumatic experience of my life so far. I was allowed to take a break from being a puppy mom and focus on myself for as long as I needed. I was allowed to be a little unhinged and struggle to rebalance myself and if adopting (or not adopting) another pup was the key to regaining my sense of self and inner peace, then so be it. I was allowed to ignore others’ opinions on the matter because the only person from who I needed permission to grieve and go forward was myself. And you too, are the only one who gets to determine how you mourn and forge ahead.
Contrary to what some may try to convince you, there are no wrong ways to grieve your pup, but I’m here to tell you that there are at least a few right ones:
You do you… and do it shamelessly. It’s your dog and you can cry if you want to. You can all out ugly-cry, and you can do it in public, too (totally speaking from personal experience). Or maybe you don’t need to cry at all. Maybe you are happy that your pup isn’t suffering or relieved to finally know for sure that they aren’t in pain. Maybe holding a memorial service or spreading your pup's ashes somewhere special will give you the closure that you need, or maybe you just aren't ready yet. Maybe you went to a rescue the next day to be in the company of dogs and one made your heart swell with unimaginable joy – it’s okay to adopt it and love it to pieces. It’s also okay if your heart swells with incredible sorrow and you leave empty-armed. Regardless of what you do, you don’t have to be embarrassed to do it, nor do you owe an explanation to anyone as long as your process feels right to you.
Take whatever time you need. There is not some magical formula into which you can enter the age of your pet, the length of your life together, the amount of love you felt toward them, and the amount of devastation you felt in the wake of their passing that will produce your allotted mourning time, nor the time at which you're ready for a new pet (if ever). Your grief and readiness are NOT on a clock. Technically, you never have to get over your late dog (even if you get a new pup), although no matter what you do, you do need to…
Take care of yourself. You’ve become so accustomed to caring for another life that it’s hard to put yourself first, and it might even feel a little bit selfish. However, the only way that you'll begin to feel better is if you put the effort into bettering yourself. I personally found it helpful to use Barça’s loss as my reason to treat myself better. I vowed to myself that I would not lose myself to Barça's cancer and used that as my motivation to start eating as healthily as we fed her and taking the hikes that I didn’t get to take with her. Three months after losing Barça, I still miss her terribly (and always will), and while I can't claim to feel the best I'e ever felt, I feel much better than I ever imagined I would at this point in time.
Taking care of yourself emotionally is also crucial. Grief can be difficult to process on your own, and if you need help, seek it; don't be afraid to see a therapist or join a support group. In fact, don't be afraid, period. Loss is scary and hard regardless of whether you're dealing with it alone or the support of others, but one way or another, you will get through it and you'll come out alright as long as you do what's right for you.
We welcome you to share your stories of life after the loss of a pet. Was there anything you did that was particularly helpful to your grieving process?