I chatted with a work friend the other day on our lunch break. After updating each other on our personal lives, I asked her how her senior dog was doing. Blue was 13 already, and he had been slowing down for the last few years.
My co-worker’s face softened at my question. “He’s good, but I can’t help wondering what is going to happen once he passes away. I mean, he is my entire world and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same without him. I’ve never bonded this closely with any animal I’ve had…” her voice trailed off. She knew that my dog Neville Longbottom had passed away a few months prior, and I could see that she was struggling with how to apologize for bringing up the loss of a pet.
Without skipping a beat, I stepped in. “Please don’t say sorry for bringing that up. Any reminder of Neville is a reason for me to smile. He was the best thing to happen to me.”
“Wow,” she replied. “Thank you. Can I ask you something?” she hesitated before continuing.
“You seem like you’re in a great place. How long did it take you to get there?”
I laughed a little. I had gotten pretty good at pretending like I was fine. But I was a mess that day, and I’m still a mess now. Losing my dog is a wound so deep, so unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I look forward to the day where I can say that I’m “better”, but today is not that day.
Carefully, I responded. “I’m not really in a good place at all. Not even a little. I had a ‘cry like a baby’ sob session in my shower this morning when I remembered how he used to wait for me on the bathmat while I showered. I’ll probably have another cry fest tomorrow. And I’m okay admitting to you I’m not okay. I feel more human this way.”
We talked about other things, but our conversation came back to me that night as I cried myself to sleep thinking about Neville.
Grief is a confusing process. Neville is the first pet I’ve ever lost, so I’m undertaking this horrible stage of my life as a first-timer.
It’s been four months already, and I’m at a strange place in my grieving process. I still think about him every single day multiple times a day. When it happens, I get a sharp, stabbing pain in my chest. My eyes water and my stomach hurts. But I brush off my tears and get back to work.
Truthfully, if I sat down and sobbed every time I felt like sobbing, I’d get nothing done. I’d probably lose my job and get kicked out of my apartment.
Because I’d like my life to continue as normal as possible, I don’t sabotage everything I’ve worked so hard to accomplish every time I feel depressed. But no, I am not okay.
I miss him. I wish he was here because nothing feels normal since he left. My home is too quiet and I miss the messiness of a furry friend following me around everywhere. I miss the beautiful simplicity of calling his name.
No one tells you after losing your dog that you’ll ache to talk about him to anyone who will listen because you don’t get to call his name anymore.
After 4 months of mourning, am I ready for a new dog?
I’m not sure. Sometimes I feel absolutely ready to welcome a new dog into my life. I imagine myself choosing an older dog who is having a hard time getting adopted, and I know giving a home to a dog like that would fill my heart with joy. But I’m not sure I want to go through this grieving process in a few years again with a new dog.
I’m confused because I’ve reached this really stressful step where I feel like I’m ready and as soon as I click to submit an intake form to a new shelter, my mind just runs wild with these crazy scenarios:
- What if this new dog doesn’t love me the way Neville loved me?
- What if our relationship isn’t as close? (Of course, Neville and I weren’t best friends right away, and our love took 7 years to grow into what it was.)
- What if I’m not ready at all, and I mistakenly get a new dog while I’m still mourning my best friend? That could be really damaging to my new dog’s adjustment.
I realize I am over-worrying; that is just the person I am. I just hope that it’s clear that I take the role of being a rescue dog-mom very seriously. It’s all of this silly overthinking that has stopped me from setting up an appointment with a shelter for a meet and greet.
If you’ve recently lost your pet
If you’ve recently lost your furry best friend, my heart hurts for you. I know the pain you are feeling and there is an entire community of beautifully broken animal lovers who know that pain too.
Grief is a complicated, tumultuous journey. There is no one-size-fits-all way of coping with losing someone special. And truthfully, the advice I leave here for my readers may not comfort every animal lover. Because we love differently, you and I.
Some people move on quicker than others, but it does not mean that they did not love them enough. Because we love differently, we cope differently. Some of us need a new companion sooner than others. And again, that’s okay. It’s okay to feel ready for a new dog almost immediately.
Similar to how we cannot judge widowed people for moving on and marrying again, we cannot tell anyone that they are a bad person for getting a new pet so quickly after losing one.
No one but us knows how to move on and mend our heart.
It’s okay to be a mess months later, even years later. It’s okay to mourn the person/animal who left such an imprint on your heart for the rest of your life. It’s okay to cry over how much you miss them. There is nothing wrong with missing them, even though you have new pets or a new person in your life. Grief is confusing, and feeling lost is perfectly normal. Find a group of people who have been lost before and keep them around. A healthy support system is a key to moving on and finding happiness again.
Because you will find happiness again.
Do not lose hope. While everything may feel dark, I promise, there are brighter days ahead. You will become another animal’s entire world one day, and you’ll look back at these low moments and feel grateful that you did not give up.
If you are a pet owner who’s never lost a pet
If you’ve never lost a pet before, then chances are you may have already clicked out of this article. I don’t blame you; I hated thinking about the inevitable until I had no choice but to face it. I hated thinking about what life would like without him. Until one day I looked around, and I was no longer a doggy-daycare mom. I was just someone who used to have a dog, once.
Neville made up my personality. Loving him was a big part of me, so it’s only normal that life feels eerily empty without the responsibilities that came with Neville’s companionship.
But if you are a pet owner and you are still reading, perhaps you will hold your furry friend just a little tighter tonight. Maybe you’ll spoil them with a new, colorful springtime collar and take 100 pictures of them in it. I hope you forgive them even quicker for accidentally making a mess on your favorite rug, and I hope you’ll let them sleep with you in your bed tonight even though you are trying to stop that habit. (It’s hard, I know.)
I’m scared I won’t ever know a love like the one Neville and I had. I’m terrified that the bond will not be the same, while cognizant of the fact that there will never be another Neville. I watch the hundreds of videos I have on my phone of him, and I’m reminded of how deep this wound is. I’m also overwhelmed at how emotional I become when I press play and I hear his little barks.
But again, I’m working hard to remind myself of better days.
Am I okay? No, I am not. But I’m not giving up because I know there is a dog out there in a shelter who is scared, lonely, and in desperate need of a human who is going to love them unconditionally. When I’m ready, I’m going to be that human for them, and all will be well again because Neville taught me how to love animals the way I do. And for him, I am eternally grateful.
Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas, NV. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from NAU and her master’s degree in family and human development from ASU. In 2018, she left her career in mental health to pursue a career in writing. She is currently working on her debut novel and a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium to read more of her work.
Image courtesy of Samson Katt.