Pet loss & grief... if you've been there, a few questions for you
November 23, 2015 7:27 AM   Subscribe

It really sucks, doesn't it.

What was one way you memorialized your pet?
What was the one very helpful thing you did to get you through the grieving process?
And finally, we haven't gotten Christmas decorations out yet but half of them are dog related... I don't know how to handle this (we have a toddler so I don't want to get them out and get upset in front of him).

It was very unexpected - she was 9 and appeared in perfect health, but a tumor on her spleen ruptured and more were found on her liver. It was not graphically traumatic and she wasn't in too much pain for too long, but it was still awful. We are getting her cremated and they took paw prints in clay. For a long time I've thought about getting a tattoo for her... but have no idea of what or where (I have no current tattoos, and her paw print would be too big).

I think we are doing a pretty good job of getting through this (we're not going to run out and get another dog and we are keeping it together in front of our toddler who is fine) but just want to hear from others who have been there.
posted by wannabecounselor to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, it's the absolute worst, because it's inevitable that you'll outlive most of your pets, since they have such short lifespans.

We've lost a number of dogs in our family, and we have a wall by the door where they'd be let out in the backyard that contains their collars and tags. It was so sad every single time we had to hang a new one, but as time goes on, it's a lovely reminder of how many great friends we were able to rescue from the pound and bring into our lives.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by xingcat at 7:30 AM on November 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

Get a new dog by thanksgiving. There is a dog in a pound or rescue place that is longing for your love, some pup who doesn't deserve to be there. Or look at Craigslist for someone who is giving up a beloved pet due to age or illness. Let a life in need, heal your heart. I will never, never, forget Stuart the Schnauzer, as long as I live, but there are good dogs out there.
posted by Oyéah at 7:41 AM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry about your pup and your loss. My family is planning preemptively to get tattoos of our sweet girl, who's been with us since my boys were small. They are grown now, and tattoo people, so they will get portraity things done; I am not a tattoo person and will get a very small serigraphish line drawing done, along the lines of Picasso's dachsund. Since you are not a tattoo person, you might want to consider something like that too.

It's ok for little ones to see their parents cry. Loss is a byproduct of love.
posted by headnsouth at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

We took some moments and wrote down everything we could remember that we loved about him. It was startlingly comforting, and although it's been years since, and although I'm weeping a little remembering those moments, I'm very grateful that we did it.
posted by amtho at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Our incredible, lovable lab died the same way -- he had a tumor on his spleen too.

I gathered up my pictures of him and made a little photo book of his life .... from when he was a puppy to old age. We had so much fun together over those 12 years, and the pictures reflected that. The puppy obedience class picture where he won a certificate for being the retrieving champion. A shot of him frozen in mid-air as he launched himself into a pond to fetch a floating ball. Christmases where he curled up next to the tree by the fireplace. Later on, we had pictures of him poised next to our baby's high chair, waiting for any errant treats to fall over the edge. Pictures of family hikes in the woods where I could swear that he was smiling. Later still, our two little girls on either side of him -- he was so tolerant of their shenanigans. All great memories of a life well-lived.

It was a nice way to remember him. We also have a little wooden box with his ashes and the clay paw print.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by Ostara at 7:52 AM on November 23, 2015

I think this could be a great opportunity for you to show that a) it's okay to be sad, and b) it's okay to express sadness. Go ahead and sort through the Christmas decorations and give the toddler a task to "help," and if he asks why you're upset, explain why. What doesn't help during this process is being avoidant or shuffling the feelings away. When I lost my childhood dog (abruptly--she was hit by a car) I wallowed in it, cried, told people around me what happened and availed myself of their sympathy and hugs.

My dad was extra-close to that dog, and he wrote an essay about her. I still cry when I read it. She was a really sweet girl.
posted by witchen at 7:52 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry.

I did the cremation option, and I have my cat in an urn that is not like, super urn-looking, so I can have it where I can see it and not be intrinsically upset by it. It looks like an art-thing, in other words, and I like having it somewhere near.

I found an etsy seller that made little cat figurines (fits in the palm of my hand) and had a little likeness made of him that I keep with his urn. Again, it's not the kind of thing that screams dead pet, but I feel good having it near.

I framed a favorite photograph, and I got a tattoo. It's his name, in white ink, and that's the forearm portion of my right arm. Literally no one ever notices this, unless I point it out. It's perfect because it's where I can see it, but it's not, again, conspicuous.

I hope this helps.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:55 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you are going to get a lot of warm and heartfelt suggestions about coping with your loss and how to memorialize your dog. But ultimately, the only way through it is through it, and nobody else can do it with you. When I've lost pets, and when I look ahead to the eventual loss of the dog beside me now, I think of the pain as the price one has to pay for the years of joy and loyalty that the animal gave. I also think of the pain as a parting gift, a reminder that the joy and loyalty shared and reciprocated has helped to make me more human and whole. Your dog led you to this place, finally, so you can feel this part of your humanity.

Whatever you do will be right. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by notyou at 8:03 AM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

I was four when the dogs my parents had had their entire married life died. I very clearly remember how sad it was and seeing my mom cry. I wasn't scared or traumatized by it, just sad. It's ok for kids to see their parents sad over sad things. It makes them realize it's ok to be sad sometimes and that the world doesn't end when a bad thing happens.

We buried the dogs (they were litter mates and died within a few weeks of each other) in the back yard and planted trees over them in a place where they can be seen from the living room. The trees are still there and growing strong more than 25 years later.

If you rent, or don't know how long you'll be living where you are, consider calling around in your city to see if you can dedicate a tree in a park or garden to your dog.
posted by phunniemee at 8:03 AM on November 23, 2015

I'm so sorry for your loss.

We lost our 4 year old Boxer very unexpectedly to cancer this spring. I ordered a custom drawing of him from LMNOPrint and I just adore it. Looks like she's on hiatus for the holidays, but will be back after the new year.
posted by rinosaur at 8:04 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I lost my 7-year-old beagle in similar fashion a few years ago, and it was a brutal experience to see him go downhill so quickly and be unable to help him. I'm so sorry.

We have some photos, and his tags are around someplace where I don't have to see them too often. He's buried on the rural land of the family we got him from, in a stand of trees he loved to gallop and snurfle around in. We visit occasionally.

I realize this isn't for everyone, but I was shopping Petfinder before we even lost him, and we had another pup a week or so after. We just didn't see a reason to wait.
posted by jon1270 at 8:04 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss. Our 7 year old cat is going through cancer now and it is horrid.

Have you thought of bringing some donations (food, toys) to the Humane Society, or even your vet's office?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:08 AM on November 23, 2015

The price we pay for such loving companions is their short time with us. It's awful. My sweet Lily passed away from cancer 3 years ago and I still get teary when I think of her. I have a picture of her and I put her tag in the frame with it.

I'm also going to advocate for getting another dog. It won't replace the pet you lost in your heart, but it helps so much. And you'll love the new dog for all the ways it's different and similar to the friend you lost.

Nothing feels lonelier than a house without a pet except a house with a hole where a beloved pet once was.
posted by cecic at 8:08 AM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss, I totally understand. I lost my beloved 17 year old kitty two years ago (had her since a kitten) and I still have moments of grief and sadness. But yes, it takes time for that intense pain to ease.

What helped me through those initial moments was to be able to talk to anyone who would just let me grieve and cry as much as I wanted to, just get it out and express it. Also, on the nights that I couldn't sleep or stop the tears, I'd visit the Rainbow Bridge website and was very welcomed by several others who were also feeling the intense levels of grief that I was, so I felt very welcome to express the depth of my grief there (anonymously) and people responded with wonderful words of comfort (and all times of day).

I buried my Myrtle with her favorite brush and blanket. I have several pictures of her, but hadn't figured out what exactly to do. I just keep them near to look at every so often. I also thought of a tattoo, was considering a couple of tiny kitty paw prints on the inside of my ankle, but haven't done it yet. After some time, the desire for the tattoo has worn off a bit, but who knows? I may still do.

Also, I personally would suggest NOT getting a replacement animal/pet real soon. Give your family the opportunity to mourn the loss. I thought about a kitten right away, but decided against it because I worried that I would expect it to be Just Like Myrtle and I didn't want to put those type of expectations on a kitten. My 2 cents, any way. You will know when you are all ready for another furbaby.

Take care of yourself and allow everyone in your family to feel what they need to/want to feel during this time. Again, I'm so sorry :(
posted by foxhat10 at 8:20 AM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

The choice to get another pet soon or not, is very personal and you should do whichever feels right to you. This is a "there's two kinds of people in the world" situation, and neither kind is wrong.

When both my cats died (of age-related illness/conditions) within 6 months of each other, I had them cremated, and their remains were interred in a mass pet grave that I've never visited. I don't even know where it is. I kept their collars. It was the most personal thing to them, because the collars were with them all the time. Eventually, I got rid of the collars and kept their name tags. The tags are in my jewelry box, and I anticipate I will always, always have them. I also have one marble-sized ball of fur from one of the cats that came off on my hands when I petted her for the last time. It's with the tags, and I also think I'll always have that.

About 6 weeks after the 2nd cat died, I had a necklace made by this Etsy seller. It has a tree of life on it, and both their names around it, and attached to the same chain is a grey pearl (for one of the cats -- he was grey) and a wing (for the other cat -- she was my special angel). It doesn't scream memorial -- it looks like a funky piece of jewelry. But I know what it is, and I can wear it when I'm sad, or more often now, when it matches my outfit or I just want to think about how awesome my cats were.

As for the ornaments, maybe you could open up the boxes and look at them first to get through your initial rush of grief. Then later, open them up with your toddler and look at them together and talk about your sadness with him/her. That way the toddler doesn't see you totally bust up, but also has the opportunity to process grief with you.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:34 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

The week my beloved kitty Mini died, I bagged all the cat stuff and put it in the basement in case I ever got another cat. I've since decided not to, but I wasn't quite ready to make that decision right away.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:56 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, I am so sorry for your loss.

I know you said the paw print was too big for a tattoo, but if the idea appeals to you, just know that a tattoo artist will absolutely be able to scale down the print to a size you'd like.

I have similar plans for a pawprint tattoo in honor of my (still very much around and healthy, knock on a whole redwood forest of wood) kitty, and the last time I went in for a tattoo I asked the artist this very question--they do a lot of these, and a good artist will work with you to get exactly what you want and are comfortable with.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2015

I'm sorry for your loss.

When my cat died in November 2014 the first thing I did to memorialize him was to donate some money to the Madison Fund, a fund set up by my vet to help those of her clients who might have difficulty affording vet services. I also framed a couple of good pictures of him, including one of him and me together. The vet gave me a paw print in plaster, and a copy of the Rainbow Bridge poem with his ink paw print on it. I had him cremated, and I keep his box next to the computer where he liked to hang out with me.
posted by Rob Rockets at 9:21 AM on November 23, 2015

Very sorry for your loss.

We had our Eddie cat privately cremated and bought a little brown cat urn for him, which lives on top of a dresser and below a 4-photo frame of pics of him hung on the wall above.

I still say "Hi Eddie guy" when I dust around there. I know it's silly. I don't care.

The sting eventually becomes less acute. Meanwhile, it's 110% okay to cry about it all you need to.
posted by at 9:21 AM on November 23, 2015

I'm very sorry for your loss. I lost a beloved cat a couple of months ago and have memorialized her by painting her picture, which I've since posted on FB. I'm not much of a painter yet but I think I did capture something of her spirit and friends have actually asked if I will accept commissions to paint their pets. She stares at me, framed, from the living room wall. I'm very glad I did it.
(It took two rescue cats to replace her.)
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:22 AM on November 23, 2015

I'm so sorry. We lost our cat about two weeks ago - he was 8 and diabetic and had a hypoglycemic episode while we were away for a wedding (he may or may not have been accidentally overdosed by the pet sitter... long story).

We spread his ashes in a park-like spot he liked to visit, along with a bunch of wildflower seeds (it's a spot that sort of "wild" and not maintained much). We can drive/walk by and see the flowers easily, which I think will be nice. It felt good putting him to rest outside in a place he liked being.

I plan on making a little Amineko in his likeness, though I haven't done it yet. I'm torn between it feeling comforting and creepy! Something about making it with my own hands, I think, is the draw. We also have kept his collar/tags which are pinned on a corkboard in our office area at the moment.

Honestly, the only thing that is making this not absolutely completely devastating is that this cat had already almost died so many times... I'm partially just surprised he did it this time! Because of this we'd talked about his passing and how we'd handle it ahead of time. We'd thought we'd wait a little and adopt an older cat (we were prepared to care for two, and we felt providing that care to another cat in his honor was something he would have liked - he liked other cats/animals!), BUT his sister pretty much "hasn't noticed" and seems thrilled to be an only child suddenly! Not sure what we'll do now. Wait and see, I guess.

posted by jrobin276 at 11:25 AM on November 23, 2015

I'm so sorry for your loss. It really, really sucks.

When my cat died (at almost sixteen, and after about six weeks of illness as well, so it wasn't super sudden, although the illness was), I cried several times a day knowing she would no longer be there. It hurt so much to see her lose the will to live and not being able to help her. I did whatever I could and then decided to end her pain when she had lost the will to live. (On her last night, she climbed into bed with me, though. I'm getting teary-eyed thinking about it.) My father and brother dug a grave in our garden in a spot she liked, while I held her still-warm body. Just when we lowered her into the ground, it started to rain. My father later made a nice tombstone for her and flowers grow on her grave in summer. We also have photos of her around.

I am not religious at all, but I really think she is in a better place now. I also have lots of pictures and memories of her, which are bittersweet, but I'm glad to have them. We thought about filling her space with another kitty who needed a home, but in the end never went through with it. It's been over three years and my mother talks about getting a new cat, but somehow she doesn't. I know lots of cats need new homes, but I can't get one in my current situation, and my mother is stalling at home.

Ever since she died, I couldn't bring myself to eat meat anymore, because it seemed perverse how we treat our pets (being gently put down while sitting in my lap) versus meat animals. Obviously, that's completely up to you, and most people find my reasoning completely stupid, but it's one way in which her death has had a big impact on me.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 11:27 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

There really isn't much you can do to make it feel better right now. It's going to be rough for a while. Everybody grieves differently, so, be gentle on yourself and realize you can't really do anything to speed up the process. I would wait on doing something like getting a tattoo or getting another dog. Those sort of things that last a lifetime shouldn't be done while your head is in mourning. I knew I was ready to find another dog when I was missing having A dog not missing MY dog. I ended up taking a trip to the place my dog was probably the happiest to spread his ashes and that's how I honored his memory.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:21 PM on November 23, 2015

It would have really helped me, as a person, to see my parents having appropriate reactions to grief in front of me as a young child. Instead, when I finally saw them each break down in my teen years, it was very disturbing. It's okay to be sad and talk about being sad with your children.

I hope that y'all find some peace and just know, it may always hurt some, but you'll have so many good memories too.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:05 PM on November 23, 2015

I am so sorry for your loss.

I have had three cats pass in the last eight years, one from old age and two younger cats who died suddenly (cancer and FIP).

I have a memorial tattoo for my elderly cat (note: I have other tattoos). I have the cremation urns for all three. I have the paw prints. When my elderly cat passed I changed my online icons to her picture. This helped more than I can say, honestly - I would login to the online services I was using and see her, and it helped. I also donated her food and medical supplies.

As far as getting another dog goes... another dog will be different and will likely not be a reminder and there are lots of dogs who need homes. If you're ready to love another dog now, that's great, and if not, that's fine too.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:32 PM on November 23, 2015

I lost my beloved 14 year-old Old English Sheepdog last year. Reading this Dog's Last Will and Testament always tears me up, but it also reminds me that Max had a good life, and that he's in a better place, pain-free from all of his age-related health issues.

This essay is also a really great read (via).
posted by invisible ink at 5:12 PM on November 23, 2015

Just to clarify we are not "hiding" our sadness from our son or denying it or lying about and I feel distressed that this was such a focus of the answers. I basically meant that we are not constantly inconsolable while also trying to parent him. We talked to his daycare teacher and did some brief research and read a related Ask (that I can't link right now) and decided we would talk about whatever he asks about, which hasn't been much. Also I appreciate the answer about two different types of people re: a new dog. We are the type that can't imagine a new family member yet since we would unfairly compare and I fear resent for not being like our other dog. It's hard no matter what. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
posted by wannabecounselor at 5:38 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I cremated my little white fluffy angel dog when she passed from cancer. I kept her ashes for about a year, just tucked away & when I was ready I took them up to the local graveyard & buried them with my fathers ashes (we have a family garden plot there) as they two of them loved each other very much it made me happy to think of them together.

We had a tradition in my family of burying the pets/ashes in the garden & planting a bush or tree on them. We had Tiggers Apple Tree, Zacs Rose bush etc. It made them feel like they are really there with us every day.

Don't rush into getting a new dog if you don't feel like it. I wanted over a year before I got my next dog. My MIL rushed out & got a new dog within weeks of hers dying, and now gets mad at it for not being just like her other dog. You take as long or as little time as you need to feel ready.
posted by wwax at 7:31 PM on November 23, 2015

I'm so sorry.

We've lost several over the past few years. We have all of their urns. One thing I have started to do is get canvas prints of each of them for the wall. We miss them all, but a sadder thought would be to never have had them around at all. Having a bright, beautiful picture of a happy moment helps up go past the pain to the happy times we wouldn't give up for the world. Remember that life is going to have happy times and sad times, and you'll get through both. Just as good things come to an end, bad things do as well. It's not always easy but try as you can to hold on to the good moments and let the bad moments slip away. Again, it's not always easy and some people are better at it than others. Time is the great healer when it comes to loss.

As far as another pet - get one tomorrow, get one in three years, don't get another at all, whatever your choice is, it's exactly that - your choice. This is something you figure out on your own as time goes on. We adopt senior rescues, and we never think of a new one as replacing a lost one; we just think of it as a spot that's opened up for someone. We know people that lost one 20 years ago and can't bring themselves to get another. That's OK. If the time comes to get another one, you'll know.
posted by azpenguin at 9:30 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I've been exactly here, several years ago. I had a dog who died of spleen cancer very suddenly. It was maybe three days between when she fell ill and was put to sleep, after years of good health and nothing but indigestion.

I scattered her ashes in a park she loved, so that I would always be able to visit her. I said Kaddish for her (I don't think Jews are really supposed to do that, but I don't care; she was part of my family). I listened to this song a lot.

Be kind to yourself. Cry if you feel like it. I'm sorry.
posted by thetortoise at 2:31 AM on December 1, 2015

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