I'm mourning a loss, my dog, for the first time, what should I expect?
February 27, 2018 12:49 PM   Subscribe

My 9 year old dog died at home over the weekend. I'm single, not terribly close with my family, and have never been able to sustain a relationship more intimate than a close friendship for very long, so this loss feels very big and very scary. I know it's only been a few days, but I'm already finding myself surprised at the things that are turning out to be harder than I expected. What surprised when you were grieving the loss of a pet?

My dog was 9 and had many many expensive health problems over the course of his life. At 3 he had brain surgery for an abscess, at 4 he was hospitalized in ICU with pneumonia, at 6 he developed a condition that required fluid be drained from his chest every other week for 6 months. In the last year he developed a digestive disorder that caused him to lose protein from his blood and was on a bunch of expensive medications. A few broken teeth, a special diet, and normal routine care meant that this little nugget cost me upwards of $20k over the years. I can objectively say I gave him a life that almost nobody else would have been able to. Still, with his most recent illness (pneumonia) I brought him home from the hospital because he wasn't improving after a week and it had already cost several thousand dollars and I just hit my limit. I feel guilty because it was, to a degree, only money that brought him home. He died five hours after I got him home however, so I suspect that he would have declined just as quickly in the hospital. Intellectually I know I did the very best for him. I'm really very happy I brought him home and he was able to see his people and die in my arms rather than scared and alone, but I can't help but second guess whether he would have bounced back with more time.

I always thought that sleeping alone would be the hardest thing to handle, but it's turning out that for a quiet dog my boy was awfully noisy, so now that all the snorts, and scratching, and squeaks from destroying toys are gone the silence is awful. I'm struggling with a few other things too, we moved into my apartment together 8 years ago when he was a puppy so I've never known this home without him. On every inch of floor I can see him, sleeping, eating, playing, watching me. I still hear him bark at the door when I turn my key in the lock.

While I understand about the stages of grief, the two grandparents I knew while they were alive had long illnesses and senility that took them away from us emotionally long before they died and that was quickly followed by the practicalities of settling the estate. I never really grieved them too much and I now have happy memories of both from their younger and healthier years. This loss feels so much bigger and scarier. I get that the first days will be an utter mess, but I'm afraid of the weeks and months to come.

Sorry for the ramble, but there's a degree of embarrassment I feel about being this messed up by a dog dying. My close friends get that he was the primary relationship in my life, but even the ones that are good with death (and there are too many who are REALLY bad with it) aren't much help.
posted by bernie60676 to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
For me, it was like this: The spaces where my dog used to be, are empty now. To exist in a home where so many formerly dog-filled spots are now empty, is so very difficult. He should be there, and he's not.

I rearranged my furniture and bought different bedding, to make things look different. I basically tried to fill in/change the look of all those empty spaces, and re-train my mind away from expecting to see him there.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:55 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

I lost a very special cat two years ago -- almost to the day, in fact. It was hard for a really long time. For about the first week after, I cried every day at least once, and honestly I'd still suddenly find myself crying really hard, out of nowhere, for a few minutes at a time, for some months afterward. I think it's like any loss, in that it doesn't ever totally go away, and progress is really uneven, and you'll slowly start having a string of days or even weeks where you still miss him, but fondly rather than sadly, and then all of the sudden you might have a day where you get really sad and miss him again. Even now I'll still tear up when I think about my cat, but it's mostly happy, even if I cry a little bit?

I don't know. Feelings are weird. But! Don't be embarrassed. A close friend is a close friend -- the species doesn't matter so much.

I don't know if you want advice, but I would say, for me at least, finding another pet right away wasn't the answer, even if that's what some people advise. I was scared about ever having another pet, because I felt like it was too special a relationship, and I knew I couldn't replace her. Eventually, another cat did show up, and she is also special, and is in no way a replacement... but I definitely needed the space to mourn, and I'm glad this current cat didn't show up until I was ready.
posted by halation at 1:05 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

As weird as it sounds, I got a cat. I've never been a cat person and I have always been allergic to cats. I found a hypoallergenic breed and she came to live with me as a kitten, right after my dog died. Many years later, she is still with me. I'm still not a cat person, but she's ok. I've since gotten another dog but it took years. I couldn't bear the thought of not having my dog and there was no way I could bring myself to get another dog.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 1:06 PM on February 27, 2018

there's a degree of embarrassment I feel about being this messed up by a dog dying

I haven't yet had a dog I'm close to die, but I'm watching a couple of them get older with trepidation in my heart. I just wanted to say that you shouldn't feel embarrassed at all. For many people, a dog is a daily companion. You sleep together, sometimes eat together. It shows you affection every single day. It's an engine of joy in good times and a comfort in dark ones. You probably spend more and more regular time with such a dog than you do with all but immediate family. It is a completely legitimate loss and you should feel no shame over grieving it deeply.
posted by praemunire at 1:06 PM on February 27, 2018 [12 favorites]

I'm sorry about the loss of your little nugget. I am almost 2 years out from my Max's loss, but if you get me really talking and thinking about him, I can still cry like it was yesterday. He was part of my household and family for 13 years. What surprised me is how much of a presence in my life he had, and the time I felt like I regained when he was gone. For his last few years, there was special food to prepare and medicines to give, and slower walks and extra poking to make sure he was breathing.

Also, if you had him licensed with your township/city/etc, be prepared for the renewal to come in the mail, because they won't know he's gone. That was a gut-shot.
posted by kimberussell at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2018

What surprised me was the fact that while I thought I'd need to go a long while without a pet, to thoroughly grieve, what I actually discovered was that my home didn't feel like a home without a pet in it. So I adopted about two weeks later. It went a long way toward making me feel better.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:16 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

When King died, I curled up and cried bitterly for days, I would randomly burst into tears. I'm sorry for your loss.

I'm going to encourage you to find another pet soon, a rescue that is in good health. Beta fish are very interactive and live a long time. There is no reason you must live with empty space in your home or your heart while you grieve.
posted by jbenben at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2018

I just lost my 14-year-old Caye last Friday to CCD (canine cognition disorder) - basically doggy dementia. In just two weeks, his illness progressed very quickly and I made the horrible decision to let him go. I'm still very raw and hurting inside.

For most of his life, it was just the two of us. His death coincided with a difficult move cross country, and then a move into my new apartment. I am still unpacking and finding "remnants" of Caye - old blankets, toys, dishes, etc. I am still a little embarrassed at how I am grieving - the other day, I picked up his pawprint and saw the little imprint of his fur on his paw, remembered myself desperately kissing his paws as he slipped away, and I lost it.

I joined two FB groups where those with dogs who suffered with CCD could help each other - I have found it to be very comforting to grieve with strangers who won't judge you for your tears.

Finally, I have slowly been donating many of Caye's items to local rescue groups. I love knowing that Caye's legacy will live on to help others who needed rescuing, just as he and I needed each other.

I wish you peace.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:19 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

My cat died several weeks ago, on New Year’s Day — more accurately, I had him put to sleep when his kidneys gave out and it was clear there wasn’t anything more I could do to provide him with a good, worthwhile extension of life. I have mourned for the loss of my family due to estrangement, but never previously mourned for the death of anyone close to me.

My immediate grief looked like my being wracked with sobs under the covers one or two nights after he passed, but it also has looked like a consistent inability to establish any kind of routine since then. (I am very routine-driven and that is very abnormal for me.) I did go out and adopt new cats within two days of Nemo’s passing, because those empty spaces I_Love_Bananas talked about were making it impossible for me to do anything. It has been very helpful to me to immediately establish that new relationship, if only to remind myself that I am in fact a great cat parent and was able to make the right decisions for Nemo, even if they were the hardest for me.

My point is, grief looks like a lot of things, so just be kind to yourself over the next few months and let your friends support you. I’m so sorry for your loss.
posted by zebra at 1:19 PM on February 27, 2018

Oh yes, the DAILY ROUTINE disruption. One of the first things that I realized on my first work day back to the office was how much extra time I actually had. For years, that little beastie was my wake up call at 5:30 AM on the dot. I spent about 30-45 minutes each morning feeding, walking and hanging out with him. And then he was the reason I came home - I rushed home every day so I could let him out, go for a nice walk, and then feed him.

Then I realized I had no one who cared what time I woke up and no one who cared when I got home. Wow - that hurt.

I'm learning to take that extra time and treat myself to sleeping in a little bit longer or wandering around the city after work to check out things I couldn't do before.

Change... it's hard.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:24 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

My boy Shaggy died just about a year ago,, in March 2017. We adopted him as an older, ill dog in 2011, spent about a year and a fortune on patching him back together, and then he died very quickly last spring from cancer.

I knew I would miss him but I guess I was surprised at how devastated I was. I have other connections, my husband, another dog, my family, but my dad has been very sick for the past few years and work has been hard and Shaggy was very special to me. He was so loving and goofy and fun. I was so so sad without him. I am not a crying type person but I still cry about him being gone, as recently as a week or two ago.

I wanted space to really grieve and take time with my sadness, but my husband was approached about another rescue dog that really needed a home just a week after Shaggy died. I did not want to take in the rescue dog, but I agreed that we could. It was really too soon. I was pretty resentful about the decision for about six months. I'm attached to the little guy now, but I wish we could've waited.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:26 PM on February 27, 2018

It is a completely legitimate loss and you should feel no shame over grieving it deeply.

Seconding this, hard.

Our animals allow us to connect with them -- and ourselves -- in deep, direct ways. These relationships are filled with unconditional love, joy, companionship, nurturing, comfort, and empathy, which are among the most profound emotions we can experience. It is absolutely natural that you are feeling real loss. This means your grief is real, and grief always takes time to process. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. Take care of yourself during this period, and try not to second-guess/minimize/criticize your feelings as you go through it.

Sending hugs, if you'd like them.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sorry for the ramble, but there's a degree of embarrassment I feel about being this messed up by a dog dying.

There is no reason whatsoever to be embarrassed about this. You loved this dog, yes? Then that means that you lost someone you loved, and that hurts. You are going through grief. Everyone goes through grief differently, in different ways each time, but grief is grief. You'll be reminded out of nowhere suddenly and it'll take you by surprise, and then minutes later you'll have different emotions entirely. Grief is like that; it's like your emotional life was supported by a bunch of different things, and the buttress that was your dog isn't there any more and the whole thing started falling over, and right now you're in the process of rebuilding things without that piece. You'll have false starts and backtracks and days when everything's fine and it'll go all over the place a while. But the fact that it's grief for a dog doesn't make that grief any less worthy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:00 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

>Sorry for the ramble, but there's a degree of embarrassment I feel about being this messed up by a dog dying.

You can safely chuck that. A creature with a personality, that you can have a personal relationship with, is a person. Not a human person, perhaps, but I don't know why that shouldn't be a point in their favor. There are a GREAT MANY human persons who compare poorly to dogs.

Gus died this past September. A ten-pound dog whose absence filled up the whole house. Grief is grief.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:02 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

My best-bud The Baron died about a month ago and reading your questions immediately brought me to tears.

The Baron and I never had an argument. The Baron never let me down. The Baron was a Good Friend his whole life. If your friend was the same way than I think it actually makes perfect sense that the grief is so acute.

The fact that you had a financial limit is not a failing on your part, just a reality. And being a sick, scared dog is a noise hospital where people do things you don't like to you for reasons you don't understand is also something that you can't be blamed for wanting to spare your dog.

I'm very sorry for your loss and I think it sounds like you were deserving of the love, friendship and companionship your dog bestowed upon you.

I often tell people that when a good dog dies, if they could, they would will their cozy place and wealth of toys and food and love and friend to a dog in a shelter. Don't rush yourself but think about if getting another dog would help.
posted by Saminal at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your loss. Please understand it is nothing to feel embarrassed about. I mourned my dog much more intensely than I mourned close relatives. I think the kind of relationship you develop with pets just leads to an entirely different realm of grief.
I "got over" previous beloved pets by adopting replacements, so I know the new puppy strategy can definitely be very effective. But when my last/best dog died, I just couldn't. I had to move out and reshape my life completely so that the giant dog-shaped hole in it could be filled with equally grand things. A friend of mine also recently lost her last/best dog and she dealt with the grief in much the same way, selling her house and going on the kind of adventures that weren't possible when she was a devoted pet owner.
OK, so moving out might be an extreme solution. But I found it really comforting to turn the grief into motivation to take my life into new directions and embrace the freedom, rather than try to fill the silence. I wish you the best.
posted by Freyja at 2:24 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

The quiet in my house was unbearable. Perhaps I could have gotten over that silence given more time, but I immediately found another dog so I had some comfort in my grief. I know that won't work for everyone.
posted by freezer cake at 2:31 PM on February 27, 2018

Admit that your dog was an actual friend and understand that anyone mourns the loss of a friend. You may do weird stuff like stop in the middle of a block to cry for a minute (I did this periodically for about a week with my cat) and anyone who has lost a pet will 100% understand. Vent to friends, who won't mind. I have half a mind to say "ditch anyone who does mind" but the point is more: avail yourself of people who get it. If you don't find them in life, maybe find them online. Venting won't make you feel great, but you'll feel worse if you don't do it I think.

Maybe try to view the magnitude of the loss as perfectly rational. This was someone you saw probably every day for nine years.

It really will ease up. It may be impossible to think about having a dog again right now, and that's fine and understandable, but one thing that, one day will make this loss alright will be a new friend. It won't feel like you're dishonoring your recently lost pal by loving a new one; it'll feel more like an affirmation of that love.
posted by Smearcase at 3:27 PM on February 27, 2018

I'm going to pick one question out of this post, and answer it:
What surprised me when Tigger died (who had been with me for 17 years and was the bestest cat ever) is that even though I'm not religious, I found comfort in an afterlife-of-sorts fantasy. Specifically, I imagined my old friend living happily in a secret underground den, in the spot where we buried him; he'd have a little stove to curl up in front of, he had a cosy cat bed, and he'd be safe and comfortable where no one could see him or hurt him and he'd lie in his bed by the flickering light of the stove and he'd just purr contentedly and sleep forever.
I know this is pretty ridiculous and even childish. And yet it helped me to imagine him that way.
I was also surprised at how often I felt the need to talk to him. And doing that was somewhat comforting, too. I'd just tell him that I missed him, but it was fine, he could just sleep, he'd earned his rest. I also told him that he would never have to leave us and that he could stay with us forever, sleeping beneath the rose bush (that I planted on his grave).

Okay, now I'm crying.

I'm trying to tell you that I found comfort in unexpected things, things I had no idea I would ever do, and that I would not have thought would work for me. But they did, and they still do.

You lost a great friend, as I lost mine; in mourning them, we honour them. There's no shame in that. It's been years and sometimes I still tell Tigger 'slaap lekker, oude vriend' (sleep tight, old friend) when I look at that rose bush. And when it blooms, I tell myself it's Tigger, saying hello.

May you find comfort, too. And may the memories of your dear lost furry friend make you smile one day.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:31 PM on February 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm very sorry for your loss. You express so well what it's like coming back into that space your dog inhabited. It's really hard.

Someone once suggested to me that a big part of losing someone is the loss of who you were in relation to that person, whether it's son, daughter, sibling or whatever. I think that applies to pets as well as human beings-- maybe even more. Who you are in relation to your animals is in some ways the very best person you can be.

What's surprised me over time is the degree to which those I've lost seem to be still with me, in a sense. I don't believe I'm going to meet up with them after my own death, or anything like that. But I feel as if they are around, somehow. That feeling was not there at first, but it came and has developed and deepened over time. I'm not sure what it's to do with, but must be something about how big a piece of my life they affected. Your friend has been a big part of your life too, and that doesn't just go away.
posted by BibiRose at 3:40 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss.
I know that it's been addressed repeatedly above, but I'll nth it because it cannot be said enough that there is nothing embarrassing/strange/etc about mourning this loss this much. Even when a pet isn't medically complex, it's a wake-to-sleep relationship that you don't really get with other people. I think what surprised me the most was how adrift I felt; I'm not a very self motivated person, so losing the routine of getting Sophie out and fed and snuggled kept me from staying in bed until it was time to work. I don't know if this is relevant to you, but you had mentioned that he had had a lot of issues over the years-with our chronically ill girl, not only do I have the dog shaped hole in the apartment, but it feels...very odd not to have that tension that was always in the background, that worry about her even when she was at her healthiest. I hesitate to say get or don't get a dog, only you know how you feel about that, but I've started volunteering at a local shelter; it lets me get some puppy love without feeling like I haven't worked through her loss yet. Be kind to yourself, you sound like you're very aware that you gave him a great life. Hold that close if the what-ifs show up.
posted by jacy at 4:01 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The six months after losing my boy were a period in my life when I would be washing my hands in the bathroom and glance in the mirror and see that the entire front of my top was soaked with tears. I cried all the time. He was like a part of my body, there with me all day, every day, and our desires were always perfectly aligned--he was always happy to do whatever I wanted to do, and I wanted to do what would make him happy--so after losing him I felt like I was walking through life on one leg. This is just to tell you that love for a dog can and frequently does exceed love for other humans. Don't feel ashamed. You loved him, and love doesn't just shut off like a faucet when someone dies.

There were a few things I did that helped. I was having trouble sleeping, so I bought all new bedding, and it helped me turn that corner. The worst part was that I knew that every day would take me farther from him, and I would start forgetting things, so I wrote down every memory as they ran through my head, which was really therapeutic and actually turned into a huge project at a time when I was tormented by the feeling of needing to DO something to fix this, and there was nothing to be done. It was good to have something to work on that honored our relationship and let me dwell on it as much as I needed to. And then 9 months later I got a puppy. He hasn't been a magic cure for grief, but he makes me laugh and keeps me very busy.

Don't rush yourself, and don't let anyone else bully you into feeling like your grief is somehow wrong or going on too long. Feel free to MeMail me if you find yourself feeling isolated with this.
posted by HotToddy at 4:16 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Just want to add my voice to the chorus. There is no right way to feel, and there’s no sense in criticizing yourself because it's “just” a dog. I lost my best cat ever a few weeks ago, and it is hard, hard, hard. In some ways, it’s especially hard because I had to make the decision of when her life would be over, and I really didn’t want that responsibility. Part of me never wants to go through that again, so no more pets ever, and part of me wants to get another cat tomorrow. It’s not really possible to predict how another person will grieve, except to say that it will get better eventually no matter what it feels like now. I’m sorry for your loss. Be good to yourself, whatever that means to you.
posted by FencingGal at 4:43 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is absolutely no such thing as "just a pet". Our pets are part of our families, and we care about and for them the way we would other family members. Please, please don't feel embarrassed or ashamed of your grief.
posted by Janta at 5:15 PM on February 27, 2018

I'm so sorry for the loss of your dog...please don't feel embarrassed at how much you are grieving. It's the loss of a long term, loving, healthy relationship you had with another being who depended on you and loved you. It's totally normal and understandable.

When my cat died, I had had her for 18 years. I had adopted her as a kitten. At the time, this was literally the longest, closest relationship with a non family member I've ever had. That was several years ago and I still miss her.

Time does help. The sadness becomes less. One day you may want another dog, or maybe a cat. Be gentle with yourself right now; you've had a significant loss!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:21 PM on February 27, 2018

Sorry for the ramble, but there's a degree of embarrassment I feel about being this messed up by a dog dying.

There's no shame in feeling sad about your dog passing away. Like others have said, your question made me burst into tears; sometimes that loss feels immediate, even after many months.

The worst part was that I knew that every day would take me farther from him, and I would start forgetting things, so I wrote down every memory as they ran through my head

This is what I was going to suggest. I found that it is really hard to type while crying, but it felt important to write out those memories.

Over and above the pain of losing a beloved pet, there isn't enough recognition of the emotional toll caused by being the caretaker of an ailing companion. From this article:
Compared to participants with healthy pets, study subjects caring for chronic or terminally ill animals scored higher on scales of depression, anxiety and lower on well-being, and a psychometric test called the Zarit Burden Interview used to measure burden in human caregivers (the study authors adapted the test by replacing the word “relative” with “pet”). In itself, the finding that people with sick pets feel more of a burden isn’t surprising — but the intensity of that burden was. “It’s meeting this threshold for what we would consider to be concerning if someone were in a human caregiving relationship,” Spitznagel says.
It's not just that you lost your friend, but you are also likely dealing with the emotional burden of providing the care and making all the decisions for so long. You deserve the same care and time to heal.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:04 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I used to be surprised at the depth of my grief when a pet died. Sobbing for at least a couple of days, profound sadness for a couple of weeks. I've learned to accept that I will be a mess for a couple of weeks, at least. Even months or years later I can think back to those animal friends and tear up (like right now!), but my experience was that time helped a lot with the day to day grief.

They are companions, we miss them. Intense grief is normal. My city has pet bereavement groups, as a gentle example that pet grief is common.

Some people find a new pet comforts their grief, some find they need to not have pets for a while to grieve. My previous cat was a handful, and after she died I needed to not have pets for a while. Then after about 6 weeks my house felt too empty and a couple of rescues needed homes. One has since moved to a new home, and one is sleeping in a basket beside me.
posted by haunted_pomegranate at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2018

Also, if silence is hard to sleep with, white noise might help. There are apps you can get for your phone or tablet.
posted by haunted_pomegranate at 9:17 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry that I cannot read the rest of the answers because they will dig at my grief too much, so apologies if anyone has already mentioned this -- but one of the things that I was HAPPY to not be surprised by because I had just happened to have read about it in a grief related book was the "grief apparition" -- seeing my sweet baby kitty in my home, a couple times, even though she was gone. It was still a shock to my system even though I had known it was a possibility so I mention it here just to give you that bit of a heads up -- it happens and it was a shock.

So sorry for your loss - I used the Grief Recovery Method book for Pet Loss and I cannot recommend it enough - it gave me the space I needed to really FEEL my grief to move through it.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 4:57 PM on February 28, 2018

Response by poster: As always you all offer up such thoughtful and heartfelt responses. It’s really selfless how Internet Strangers take the time to compose these answers, often reconnecting with some of the hardest moments in your own lives to help someone wade through the morass. I can’t chose a best answer because each answer gave me something to take away to help make sense of how I’m feeling. Thank you all.

I think filling this dog shaped hole in my heart with another dog would certainly help me heal faster. But, I love to travel and having a dog with chronic health problems it’s been quite a few years since I could just jet away for the weekend and visit friends. Arranging for a pet sitter who was comfortable with the food and medication regimen and also comfortable taking on the responsibility of possibly making a difficult emergency choice if a health crisis cropped up is hard. Layer on top of that with not really enjoying short trips because the cost/benefit came up short on pleasure and long on worry. I’m going to enjoy being unencumbered for a while, even if it makes the next few weeks and months a bit more difficult.

I’ll close with answering my own question a few days more distant from the sad event; I’m most surprised by how pure and honest the grief has been. If I think about other major losses in life (jobs, relationships, etc. . . ) they’re all freighted with “what ifs” and pondering the competing agendas of the other players. This grief is completely pure. I loved my dog. My dog loved me. He died because he was old and sick and that’s why he’s gone. It’s really allowed me to feel these emotions in a new and honest way and that’s been a pleasant surprise. So, Teeb – you ridiculously expensive bag of farts and love – for that I thank you one last time.
posted by bernie60676 at 10:13 AM on March 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

« Older Help me find podcast episode about jobs that can't...   |   Employer randomly changed contract without asking? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.