Coming to terms with the decision of assisted end of life for our beloved animals is ultimately one of the most challenging things life asks of us, yet it is possible, even in the storm of loss and the wind of departure. Your hair and makeup may not withstand it, and the heart, well, that will take a beating too – but peace with everything that has transpired is ultimately the goal if one is to move forward back into life and living.
Did I make the right decision?
If there is suffering and a poor quality of life and all avenues have been explored for other options of palliative and comfort care and if we are sure there is no cure, then yes, it is the right decision. Sometimes we don’t have all the information. It can be an impossible task to know one hundred per cent, but that part of us that knows, that really knows, that we tap into for life’s tough questions, will let us know what the right thing to do is. Professional guidance is priceless in this process. One should never go it alone.
Where did they go?
Religious and spiritual belief systems are so varied and yet they bring us peace during good and difficult times. Those who do not have any particular belief about life beyond here have a harder time with the loss for most of us want to believe that we will see each other again someday. Until then, we can draw our strength from people and places that allow us the space to express and to grieve in our own unique way.
When will the pain go away?
Self-awareness and time are the two ingredients for healing. – knowing what you need and attending to that and allowing the healing balm of time to do its job are primarily what are important. Time away from work and family can be good, going out into nature, expressing the sorrow through journaling, memorializing with pictures and art can be helpful, as can be performing a ritual or celebration. Talking to people who understand – super important and allowing the emotions to come and go. Giving yourself the freedom to grieve is ultimately what will diminish the pain over time and lead one into healing from the unique loss.
When is it okay to get another pet?
There is human time and there is animal time. The two are not the same. In animal time everything is now. In human time, we split ourselves into past, present, and future. We might feel it is best to wait, others might feel they need to get another pet right away for their own healing and reasons. And in a space of non-judgment, it is all appropriate. But what is good to remember is that shelters are packed, faith without actions dies, love can heal all wounds and animals can’t drive.
Getting the right kind of help
Getting the right kind of help is important because the world seems to minimize the unique grief of losing a pet. People can say “go get another one” or “it’s just a cat”, and this provides little help for the person left behind. They can do more harm than good by potentially causing the pet parent to isolate and hide their grief for fear of ridicule or criticism. There is no half-grief and there is no replacing the loss but help from a trusted professional can make a difference when it comes to unfinished emotional business. We must take refuge in the safety and compassion of trusted friends and family for they can be the tourniquets that can and do heal a broken heart and talking to somebody who doesn’t understand your pain just feels wrong.
The bigger picture
In life it is impossible to know the bigger picture. Why animals chose the time they chose to leave us, why some cures work and others don’t, why they got sick in the first place – these questions are difficult to find answers for, if at all. It might even be worth considering that animals know more than we do about what’s coming and they leave to make room for it. What we can be sure of is that everything is connected – you, your animal, the veterinarian, the healing practitioner, the stranger who lifts you up as you fall crying in the cereal aisle of the market, the neighbor who sends flowers, the aunt you calls from overseas who saw your post online, your boss who tells you to take a few days off, the other animals who seem to move closer to you, cushioning the loss and nature and how it seems to mirror back to you the love that you felt left when your beloved pet departed.
Whether you believe life continues on after death or that this is it, some things are universal – love and loss, healing and time, joy and sorrow. Yet, if we try to follow our animal’s guidance and step into the space between and the coming and going, we are apt to find peace because within that peace there is love and that is what they came here to show us – despite everything, there is love and that never, ever dies.