It can be extra hard to deal with alone
On the 1-year anniversary of the passing of my beloved cat, Murphy, I write to you about navigating pet loss on your own. Have you ever lost a pet? It can be a horrible, heart-crushing event. When it’s their time to go, a huge part of your world goes with them. Not to mention having to deal with all the end-of-life things yourself – the vet appointments, the treatments, watching them decline, and that ultimate decision you have to make, on your own. There’s no way to make any of this better, but there are some things that may comfort you if you find yourself in this predicament.
- Instead of lamenting having to make all the decisions yourself, be grateful for it. I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out. Having to handle the whole situation on your own is the way it’s supposed to be. Your pet is yours and no one else’s, and it would be an injustice to have someone else making decisions for them in their final weeks/days/hours. What if the decisions made are not what you really want and you don’t realize it until later. A whole myriad of things can go wrong when another person is inserted into the mix. Months after Murphy’s passing I knew that I made the final decision myself at the right time, that I handled it myself even though it was crazy hard, and that Murphy wouldn’t have had it any other way. There’s comfort in that.
- Take comfort in family and friends. My friends were wonderful during the time that Murphy was sick and especially after he was gone. I received plenty of phone calls and texts, and even a couple of cards. Some people even came out of the woodwork with such comforting words and caring sentiments that I realized how I wasn’t going through this by myself at all. Yes, I was missing that one person who was going to hold me and tell me everything would be okay, but I had all these other people doing the very same thing. If you feel comfortable, you can even enlist these people’s help with what you’re going through. Ask your mom to go with you to the vet. Ask your bff to help you administer medication. You may not have that one person, but you have plenty of support!
- Don’t romanticize the presence of a partner. What makes you think that going through pet loss alone is so much worse than going through it with a partner? You still experience all the same pain and grief. Yes, maybe the other person comforts you in a way that gets you through it easier, but maybe they don’t. Maybe they actually make it worse because they don’t comfort you the way that you expect. Or they don’t comfort you at all. Or they’re more upset or less upset than you are and that makes you feel bad. Or they get past it faster than you do and expect you to follow suit. Or they’re so much of a mess that you’re the one who ends up doing most of the comforting when you’re the one seeking comfort. There are so many more things that could go “wrong” in a grief situation with the presence of someone else than there are when dealing with it on your own. You’ll get through it on your own just fine.
- Don’t be surprised or angry when the support drops off. In the first days after you lose your pet, people are all over you, smothering you with sympathy and kind words, listening to you cry and trying to comfort you as best they can, and it helps. A lot! After the first few days, conscientious friends and family will continue to contact you and offer support, but it will be less frequent than in the first days. Then at some point, usually after a couple weeks, it’ll drop off almost completely. Then what? You may be left with feelings of abandonment or you may feel like no one cares or they think you should be over it already. None of these things is true. But people have their own lives that they need to attend to and once they believe that you’re not going to throw yourself off a building, they get on with it. This is the natural order of things. If you end up needing more support, tell someone who you know will understand and help.
- Seek out professional help if you need it. If you don’t think anyone in your circle can continue to listen to you and support you, seek out a support group or a professional therapist. Support groups are usually free and there are many online. Don’t agonize alone, there are people out there who have been where you are and want to help you. There’s no shame in it. We all grieve and recover in our own time.
- Grieve at your own pace on your own timeline. No one can tell you how long to grieve. No one can tell you when you “should” be over it. There are no “shoulds” with grief. It takes as long as it takes. I cried every day for six months with Murphy. And then things started to get better. There are people out there who would call this crazy. I call it love.
- When you’re ready for a silver lining, know that you have the opportunity to give another deserving animal a happy home. It won’t be the same, but it’ll be good in a different way. It took me five months before I was ready to adopt another cat. The day I brought Duncan home I literally said to him, “I will never love you the way I loved Murphy.” Thankfully he didn’t understand me! I then spent the next couple weeks doubting my choice and looking for reasons to take him back to the shelter. It had nothing to do with him, it had to do with him not being Murphy. Not his fault and thankfully I got over that. But seven months later, I don’t love him the way I loved Murphy. I love him the way I love Duncan and that’s the way it should be.
- Do something to keep the memory of your beloved pet alive. Plant a tree in their honor, make a photo collage and hang it on your wall, celebrate their birthday or adoptiversary, honor the date of their passing. I purchased a dwarf Colorado blue spruce that I’m going to plant in my yard with Murphy’s ashes. Murphy was my little bitty guy and he was a CO native so it seemed fitting.
Grieving on your own is a tough thing. But having a partner who’s there for you through it all doesn’t always pan out the way you expect, either. Know that you have a support system that’s ready to take care of you when the unthinkable happens and take comfort in that. And know that there are resources available to you when that support starts to fade. You get to go through the process at your own pace without anyone putting pressure on you one way or the other. Even though it may feel that way at first, this is not an insurmountable situation, you can get through it on your own and you will be a stronger person for it afterward!
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