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Grieving Your Animal Best Friend

01/09/2017 07:18 EST | Updated 01/09/2017 11:24 EST

You feel gutted, alone and adrift. You have permanently lost your bestie. The one with the wet nose and playful ways. The one who snuggled on the couch, hogged a part of the bed or could send you into fits of giggles.

Some people look at you like you're crazy. They moan, "It was a pet. What's the big deal?"

The big deal is this:

Pets are family, too. They know your moods and humors more surely than some of your human friends. They have been present when you dissolved into tears, felt hurt and alone. They have been faithful, loving, present and full of the rare gift: unconditional love.

grieving a pet

There are real connections between animals and their humans. Think of the soldiers and their four-legged partners in combat. Think of the blind, the seizure-disordered or those with PTSD with their service animals. Think of the unreachable child who responds to the gentle, unconditional attention and patience of a dog.

Do not be fooled. The love between an animal, be it four-legged, winged or crawling, and its human can be profound. And, it is most certainly real.

There is the story of John Gambill who once nursed a wounded goose back to health. The following year, the goose returned with a dozen other geese. The next year, over one hundred geese returned. Gambill created a winter sanctuary for the geese where, it is estimated, over three thousand geese were able to winter in safety. When Gambill died, hundreds of geese flew into town from their sanctuary and they circled round and round the hospital and honked their goodbyes.

There is the story of a man whose dog had died. Years later, he is driving at night down a tight, mountain road. The man is convinced he sees his dog in the middle of the road. He stops, pulls over, gets out of his car and follows what-he-believes-to-be his dog. The dog leads him to a spot where the man sees that the mountain road below is blocked by a huge boulder. If he hadn't stopped, the man would have driven down the mountain and, most likely, gone off the edge of the road and down a cliff. The spirit of his dog saved his life.

How do you grieve your pet? How can you say goodbye to such a deeply-connected friend?

old dog

You grieve your pet the exact same way you grieve any loved one. You cry; you laugh. You remember the moments, how you came together, and the good times and the tender times you shared. You try to make sense of this gaping hole in your life and, most especially, in your heart. You are asked to accept what you rigorously do not want to accept, but know to be true.

You might have been called to make the toughest decision. Was it time to end the pain? Had the quality of your animal's life eroded so egregiously that there was no longer any real choice save for you to kiss your Sweet One goodbye?

You might have lost your pet to an accident by car, fire or aggression. The loss is sudden and unreal. You have had no time to wrap your head around the reality that has been presented to you.

Everyone expects you to simply get on with life. You can't. You are deep in sorrow.

Here is what you can do: Take the time you need to grieve. Talk to like-minded friends who understand the depths of your pain. Express your feelings. Consider a ritual or a funeral; create something to memorialize the passing of your Sweet One.

"You must feel the feelings. This will open the door to healing from the loss of your four-legged (or winged or crawling) bestie."

Grief, be it for your human or animal loved one, is a form of love. Grief is an acknowledgment and honor of an important relationship. Take the time you need to walk through this new reality without your beloved pet.

This is a seminal life moment. Be present. Be conscious. And with great gentleness allow yourself to feel all of your up-and-down, back-and-forth, happy-and-sad feelings. It is the only way. You must feel the feelings. This will open the door to healing from the loss of your four-legged (or winged or crawling) bestie.

And, one day, the pain will lessen and the happy, goofy memories will bring you much comfort and a smile.

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