What to do when our dog dies
Today I will start by celebrating the life of Archie, a very special dog of my friend Janet, who passed away a few days ago. When I learned that Archie passed away, naturally I was sad to hear the news. It took Janet and I a couple of days to connect but when we finally did, we had a nice long conversation.
We agreed that there were no words to describe how hard it is to lose a dog and that there are no words that can really ease the feeling of emptiness left behind. In our conversation, we talked about Archie and Skai and how special they were. But we also came to an agreement that the times of deepest sadness make us also feel the deepest love for our dogs and also from others.
As our conversation progressed, I realized that most people have a natural tendency to try to lift the grieving person out of sadness. Quite often, we say: “Don’t be sad,” or “Let’s cheer you up and do something.” People also talk about the afterlife as if it was certain. Many people told me that Skai and I would meet again “for sure.”
And while I do not deny the possibility of the afterlife, I also do not deny the possibility of death being definite, final, with nothingness beyond life or perhaps with something in between. To be honest, there is no objective proof of either.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is just fine to watch for “messages” and symbols from “the other side.” Entertaining the idea that our dogs never really die eases our pain. If we see butterflies, birds, dolphins, dogs, or babies as messengers from our dogs, it can be very healing and make our loss more manageable.
In fact, I have a story like that too. After my brother passed away from a brain tumour in 2005, I‘ve made a wonderful connection with his children, Veronika and Jakub. Through our connection, I was able to see my brother in them, and they have been able to see “bits” of their father in me.
Last year, Jakub had a baby boy, Robin, a month after Skai died, and this year, they came to visit Canada. Robin and I made an immediate connection. How could I not fall in love with a happy, smiley one-year-old? As I got to know him a little more, I felt a familiarity that reminded me of Skai, and I allowed myself to think that Robin and Skai were one.
The whole visit was great and also healing. Robin and I played the same way I used to play with Skai, and by the end of the stay, I would just walk in the room, and his eyes would light up, smiling and waving his hands excitedly. He was so happy to see me.
I shared my story with Janet during our conversation. She enjoyed it because it eased her pain without pushing her grief aside. Grieving is a natural process that should be allowed to flow through. There are times to be sad, and we should not isolate ourselves and others out of sadness. The best way to be with a grieving person is to listen and offer your presence and comfort.
Our society is generally uncomfortable with so-called negative emotions. Parents don’t want children to be sad, angry, or disappointed, but they inadvertently make their children less prepared for life.
If we compare grieving to a physical wound, we know we just have to let a wound heal through natural means. We may be impatient, but we know that wounds need time to heal, and so does grief.
I like to believe that we were born to learn how to love and to be good and that our dogs do not live as long as we do because they’ve mastered unconditional love. It is my experience that, with a natural diet and essential nutrients, we can help them to be healthier and live longer. But, no matter what we do, life is terminal, and learning how to be there for each other at times of loss may be one purpose of life.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM