Written by Ioana Busuioc, February 2019
Losing a pet is never easy, particularly around the holidays. Pets become members of our family, and their support and comfort can brighten the darkest of days. There’s something inherently different about losing a pet, perhaps because much like children, they are completely innocent beings. To this day I have yet to come across a bad animal, the same way I have never come across a bad child. In a loving home, a pet can flourish and offer a special kind of support that cannot be obtained from friends or family. In protecting your pet and giving them a good quality of life, there is an unspoken agreement through which they commit to giving you the same type love you give them, but tenfold.
The loss of a pet can leave an irreparable rift in not only your home, but your soul. When my family lost our beloved Mitmit two weeks before Christmas, I thought my world was ending. It came so suddenly, and the feeling of hopelessness we all felt over not being able to cure her of her sickness put a stop to a lot of day to day activities. Mitmit was my soulmate, and beyond being a family pet, she was essentially a lifeboat for the turbulent seas of mental health I had learned to navigate throughout my teens and young adult life. She was my best friend, and despite the constant changes in life I went through, she was a constant and consistent source of laughter, care, and support. It’s hard to put into words just how special a pet can end up being, but ultimately they become the glue that holds a family together. Pets are there for us throughout hardships and sadness, but they are also there with us to celebrate the happy moments. Every pet has their own unique quirks, and the realization that you will have to face a home devoid of those quirks that had become part of your routine can be beyond disheartening. Whenever anyone came home, Mitmit always ran up to the door, like a dog, to offer a friendly meow and to immediately ask for pets. The first day without her, I realized I wouldn’t have her greeting me anymore, and I wouldn’t be able to call out to her and have her jump on my lap for a cuddle. I felt like our house was simply no longer a home without her presence, and all the things that once brought me joy felt dull and unnecessary without my dear companion by my side. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to eat, or even move from my bed. As a matter of fact, I took a whole week off of work because I physically was unable to function, and I was in tears permanently, to the point where my eyes swelled so much that I couldn’t keep them open. The only periods of respite were when I was asleep, but even then, my dreams were plagued by vivid nightmares and upon waking, I had to again face the reality that my best friend was gone. As the days passed, I felt like there were so many moments I had taken for granted; I wish I had known that Christmas 2017 would be her last Christmas, or that my birthday that year would be the last one celebrated with her, or that I’d never see her roll around in the grass as she did in the summertime. The lesson she taught me is that we really do not know what life holds in store for our loved ones, ultimately we have to be thankful for the time we’ve had with them, and to be able to continue honoring their memories.
As I mentioned, it was quite hard for me to ground myself into reality after Mitmit’s passing. Life felt so surreal, and it felt like time was passing me by in slow-mo, without me being able to move on with my day, or even care for myself. I secluded myself from my loved ones and wanted to skip to the part where I would feel okay. I think deep down I knew that day would never come, not in the way I would want it to. I knew I would mourn for my furry friend endlessly, but I so badly wanted the pain in my heart to stop. I feel very fortunate to have had the support group I had, understanding coworkers, and to have had my family exercise patience and care between the three of us so that we could start to heal. I may not have had the best coping, but I know I did my best, and ultimately taking a week off to mope and sulk ended up helping me, though this may not be the case for everybody. We all cope differently, and it’s important to listen to yourself and take the appropriate measures to begin the healing process after losing a pet. What worked for me, might not work for everybody, but I’ve compiled a list of things to do to at least try to ease the suffering after the death of a pet.
1. It’s absolutely necessary to just sit and have a good cry. I personally am a big crier, whether it’s from actually being sad, or from watching cute animal videos on YouTube, I wholeheartedly have embraced that I am a crier. Crying is uncomfortable but I really do believe when something seriously devastating happens to a person, they can benefit from the unleashing of emotions that is crying. If that means just one good cry, that’s okay, if it means a week of crying uninterrupted, that’s okay too. Nobody can tell anyone how they should or should not cope! Also, it will take way more than a week to heal after such a devastating loss. I’m not ashamed to admit this week, a month and a half after Mitmit’s passing, I cried and held on to her ashes late one night. There is no expiry date on grieving.
2. One of the hardest things to do was take care of myself; like I mentioned, I couldn’t bother drinking water, feeding myself, showering, leaving my bed, etc. There is nothing glamorous about suffering and grieving, and it certainly can take time to regain a routine, but it’s important to recognize that it will get better. My boss called me to remind me to drink water and go for a walk, my mom made me get out of the house to eat some soup, my coworker and friend came to drop off a care package for me, and I had numerous offers from close friends wanting to keep me company. Though I was reluctant to accept help, knowing that I had people there for me pushed me to try to take better care of myself, one day at a time. It started off really slowly, with me only managing to drink water and juice and eat some fruit, but gradually I got out of bed for longer periods of time and started making myself soups and teas, cleaning, doing face masks, and so on. I got back into my normal routine about a week later, but I am very glad I took my time so that it wouldn’t have led to me crashing and burning too early on. Naturally not everyone has the ability to take time off of work or school or their other responsibilities, and in those cases I think it’s very important to at least drink water frequently. Dehydration can lead to migraines and overall grogginess, and that’s the last thing anybody needs when they already feel like they’ve hit rock bottom.
3. Looking at pictures of Mitmit was initially really hard, but after a few days I started compiling photos and videos of her and would look at them whenever I’d get sad again. Mementos are great for keeping a pet’s memory alive, but also to turn to for comfort. We got two paw print prints to frame, a ceramic paw print with her name, her ashes in a beautiful box, and a pillow in her shape with her picture on it. It’s important to take the necessary steps to do whatever it is that will bring you the slightest bit of relief, and for me personally, it was surrounding myself with reminders of her bright spirit and kind soul.
4. Take time for your loved ones, especially family members if they had also experienced the loss of the pet. My mom and I had spent a lot of time together, and still do, and we feel that her memory is preserved in us getting along and spending time with each other. As much as I didn’t want to socialize, I made myself go out for dinners and short activities with my friends and loved ones as much as I could. I knew Mitmit would not want me sulking in the darkness of my room all day, so I made a conscious effort to surround myself with positive people who I knew would be patient with me.
5. Doing some soul-searching was something that I knew I would benefit from when a few weeks had passed. I really felt like a part of my identity was now gone; I was always a “crazy cat lady” among my friends, and now I felt like being cat-less made me less of the person I knew I was. A lot of doubt can cloud your judgment when a pet passes away, but it is important to remember your pet would not be treating you like this or talking to you so negatively, so you shouldn’t do it to yourself. When some time has passed, it would be beneficial to remember the special bond with a pet and know that it could never duplicated. I initially thought I could never own another cat again, and we definitely are not ready yet, but ultimately having rescued Mitmit from a shelter, I know the best way to honour her legacy would be to continue giving other shelter pets a chance to thrive in a loving home.
I would also like to say that while it was incredibly hard to see her last moments, she died in the comfort of her home, on my dad’s lap, with my mom and I petting her. We had called Vets to Go since Mitmit was never very good with car rides and we did not want to stress her out further. The vet that came was beyond patient, her professionalism was evident from the start, and she never made us feel rushed. Thanks to her, we were able to have our beloved Mitmit pass over the rainbow bridge as peacefully as possible, and she herself had stated that there truly would not have been an easier or better way for her to pass away. In her saying this, I found solace, because to me, ultimately, the best gift you can give to a pet, other than a loving home of course, is to be there for them and to make sure they know they are loved when it is their time to go. Comfort in a loved one’s passing is truly the most selfless gift one can give, in my opinion, and my family and I are very blessed to have been able to give that to our dear Mitmit.
It’s never easy losing a pet, especially because for the most part, our pets will not live for the entire duration of our own lives. Most people have many pets throughout their lifetimes, but for those pets, their person or people become their whole lives. It is so important to honor that time spent together, but to also be aware that there is life after loss, and I know in my heart that all departed pets are waiting for us and the day we meet again will be so pure and joyous that it will truly transcend time and space. As Anatole France once said: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened”, and so to lose is to have loved and lived. If you are dealing with the loss of a pet, please be gentle, kind, and patient with yourself above all else, and hug your loved ones a little tighter; we don’t know when anyone’s time, human or animal, will come, so we must make the most out of every single moment while we can. I know I will miss my kitty until the day I die. She was so special, as I know each pet is to their own owners, but I know she is here in spirit, and I will continue to live in a manner that honours her, today and always.
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