I had a dog named Moo. The operative word there is had. One week ago, I would have used the present tense. Within hours of her death, I penned this tribute which has helped many people get on their own paths to healing. Perhaps it can help you, too. That post was her eulogy, but I felt that I needed to do more to process my grief and to help others, so I’ve written this blog post below.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a grief counselor or therapist. I’m just a dog mama who experienced traumatic loss of a beloved pet. I’ve written the article below conscious of how others feel but it may be triggering. My intent is to help you cope with your loss as I cope with my own. Each of us grieves in our own unique way. Behaviors or thoughts that you may think are abnormal may seem perfectly normal to someone else experiencing grief. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, no standard measure of time that delineates “too long” versus “not long enough.” Reject the notion that it is “just a dog” or “just a cat.”
There is only one absolute. Losing someone or something that you care about is painful; it’s important to be aware of your feelings and it is essential to work through your grief.
“How lucky am I to have had something that makes saying good-bye so hard.”~Winnie the Pooh
Let’s dig in. On Valentine’s Day, I had to do the unthinkable. Call it the ultimate act of love for my forever Valentine. Call it horrible. Call it the right thing to do for an animal that was suffering after a grand mal seizure. I had to put down my beloved Moo Moo.
Misty-Moo, or “Moo” as she was affectionately known by all my family and friends, was a Treeing Walker Coonhound. She was a gorgeous rescue hunting dog that moved with grace and pointed with such poise and perfection that she could have been a show dog. But that was not her path. Her tattered ears and other scars acquired during her years of captivity would have disqualified her.
I consider myself to be one of the most resilient people that I know, but losing Moo broke me. I’m gutted. Shattered. Insert [horrible feeling] here. That night, as I was losing her, I had a surreal and extended full-on panic attack. I gasped for air like a fish out of water and clenched my heart to prevent it from bursting.
Nine years ago, we found each other in a period of transition, both of us aching from the ripple effect of a violent past and eager to embark on a new journey. A new adventure; one that would be safe and where people would be kind to us. Indeed, our relationship was very much a case of “Who rescued whom?”
There are reminders of her everywhere that I look. No matter how often I cleaned, her short little white hairs got stuck into the fabric of everything – metaphorically – also woven into the fabric of my very being. When I went into the garage a few minutes ago, it was the first time that she wasn’t baying – anxious that her mama had left her behind. When I came back inside, she wasn’t there waiting for me as she always was, hyperventilating because she was so giddy with joy to see me again. Earlier today, I recorded a podcast; it will be the first of more than 150 that doesn’t have the distant and faint sounds of her howling and yelping from upstairs, distraught that I’ve abandoned her to go into my basement office to make a “quiet” recording.
When I adopted her, she was malnourished at 28 lbs; at her health and fitness peak running with me, she was 55 lbs and shredded with every muscle visible and her white fur sparkled in the sun. Her fancy coats and leashes – a different matchy-matchy set for every season and week of the year – were likely the envy of all the other dogs in town. The flowers on her leash made everyone smile as we’d run or, as she aged, walk and then ultimately, limp passed. The massive collection of gear and outerwear that I amassed over the past decade makes the void seem even bigger.
On Day 1 without Moo, I shut down and was emotionally unavailable. That was a dark place to be and I wallowed there, all day, Monday. Fortunately for me, I am blessed with supportive family and friends who were texting and calling to check in on me. I sobbed openly – and often – perhaps even making those who called uncomfortable, but it was impossible to hide how I felt. I was destroyed.
I spent hours pouring over the thousands of photos that I had taken of Moo. It was almost an impossible task to select my favorite Top 25 to add to her tribute post on my Facebook page. Pets are family, too.
For more than 14 hours, I didn’t leave the couch – the couch where I laid beside her bed night after night for months, trying to nurse her back to health and to be there when she’d wake up throughout the night feeling anxious or needing to go outside. Our bedroom is on the third floor of the house and navigating all those stairs in the middle of the night when I was groggy and trying to carry a shifting 42-pound ball of fur was too risky for us both. So, we stayed on the main floor. Weeks earlier, I sprained my ankle and twisted my knee when I slipped carrying her down the stairs into the backyard in the middle of the night – but she never hit the ground.
On Day 2, I became aware that I had to dig myself out of that dark place. I missed the joyous sound of the “Mooster Rooster” going off at 4am. I walked over to one of the numerous photos of her in our house and touched it, pretending to stroke her ears. And I touched the precious fur that I had collected from her before she passed, stored safely behind the picture frame. Touching her fur was both calming and upsetting at the same time. The fur made the memory real, but it also reminded me that those few strands of fur and memories were all that was left of her.
I buckled. Nauseous. And I quickly moved away from the photo.
The house seemed unbearably and unnaturally quiet. Each time that I thought of her, as in 100 times per day, I was overwhelmed by a visceral feeling of nausea. It took enormous concentration to regroup, to not give in to feeling faint and to pull back from the edge of vomiting. Eating had lost its appeal.
Day 3. Sleep had eluded me again. I kept replaying her agonizing last few hours. They were traumatic for her. And for me. Instinctively I know that the Mooster Rooster sound I heard at 4am that morning was my imagination playing tricks on me, but part of me wanted to believe it was a sign. I also knew that I was supposed to default to happy memories of her when thoughts of her horrific last few hours kick in, but I could not do it. They haunted me and amplified my grief.
I went into the car – the last place I held her when she was conscious. I saw her white fur on the back seat. I grabbed a few strands and put them into my purse, sobbing openly. I turned on my music which was in shuffle mode and “Lullaby,” (Billy Joel) then “Gone,” (Madonna) then “Gone Gone Gone” (Philip Phillips) and “Good-bye” (Gord Downie) randomly played one after the other. I didn’t even know those songs were on my car’s playlist which holds over 2,000 other choices. Freaky.
On Day 4, my first thoughts of the morning were of Moo. I was consciously trying to replace the dark memories of her last few hours on this Earth with the joyous ones of the past decade. I was doing laundry, and, as weird as you’ll think I am after sharing this, I held the shirt that I was wearing when I put her down. I could still smell her. I inhaled, slowly, and then inhaled again. I used that shirt to wipe my tears. And then I washed the other clothes – leaving that shirt in the basket to smell it again a few more times later that day.
The ocean of tears swelled, and I couldn’t stop myself. I sobbed uncontrollably as I gingerly placed my shirt into the washing machine. It was time. I had to let go. And then I really lost it.
Hours later, I walked over to one of her photos. For the first time since she died, I came to terms with the fact that she was not coming back. She wasn’t in the backyard; she was gone. Forever. I picked up her photo and I smiled. Warmth radiated from my heart. I imagined myself holding her and I had a few moments of peace, a brief respite. Moo was with me: I felt her presence.
The memories and feelings – good and bad – are never erased. They’re simply stored away in the manner that allows me to think that I’m in control of when they are reactivated. But that’s just it; I’m not in control. I don’t know when my snowglobes will be shaken, it’s unpredictable. At this moment, her snowglobe is still – each memory of Moo a glittery flake motionless on the bottom of her snowglobe. And then the word motionless triggers me and the flakes begin swirling. I sign off here, in tears, hoping that my journey of grief has normalized yours and given you some hope that you CAN get through it. It just takes time.
TIPS TO COPE WITH GRIEF
- Remember that your journey is your own – take as long as you need to
- Ask for help – reach out to family, friends and professionals as needed
- You can’t run away from your loss or ignore it – you need to work through it
- Focus on positive memories
- Identify your triggers
- Reassociate a trigger with a positive memory
- Distract yourself with activities that take your mind off what pains you
- Be true to yourself – if you need to cry, then cry
- Try to do something that will spark joy
- Accept that grief is deeply personal and you will eventually move forward
- Moving forward does not mean that you have forgotten, abandoned or been untrue to whatever you lost – it just means that you’ve begun to accept the loss
“Dogs’ lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price.”– Dean Koontz