Please help me deal with my dog dying
December 22, 2022 1:51 AM   Subscribe

I need resources for dealing with the devastation of my dog dying within the next few months.

My dog has cancer and is going to die, probably within 6 months.

I don’t need any advice about treatment. I’m confident that she is receiving the best available. I know that dogs have no concept of past/present/future. I know it’s not fair to keep her alive if she’s suffering; I will do the right thing by her. I will try to enjoy her and make her remaining time as happy as I can. Please assume that I know all these things and I don’t need any advice about logistics.

I need help dealing with this emotionally. I need books or podcasts or meditations or…just anything really, to help me manage my deep sadness. I live alone with her and I can’t imagine that soon she’s not going to be here. The loneliness is crushing me. I’m also in a new job and under pressure there, and I can’t focus, and I can’t afford any time off as I need to pay for my dog’s treatment. I’m scared I’m going to crash and burn.

Sorry that this question is all over the place. I just can’t stand googling and getting all the ‘rainbow bridge’ poems and stuff.

Thank you.
posted by Salamander to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I’ve just been through this heartbreaking experience. The anticipated and ever present awareness of loneliness and a pre-grief ache is something I feel to my core.
I think the Before was worse in some ways than the After.

I thought I’d give up on my own life without my dearest friend, but I didn’t. I put faith in myself as a person who took in a puppy, loved him, gave him a wonderful dog life, the best vet care, the kindest ending (though traumatic, I waited too long even though I followed vet advice, they got it wrong too) and a sweet burial somewhere I can visit. I shed tears still 12 months later, and I’m okay to do that for as long as I feel the deep grief. I’ve learned the only way around, is through.

Emotionally I derived comfort from my dog loving community, they get it. A life with a beloved dog is one of the best joys of being human to this community.

In private I kept a piece of his fur to smell, a favourite toy and a blanket. My jaw ached with grief a long time. I spent as much time as I could with him as his days ahead shortened. I found some people dismissive of pet deaths as real grief, so I truncated their time with me or said ‘that’s not how it is for me, I’m absolutely devastated. Please proceed accordingly.’ I have tears in front of some friends who care for me and I feel held emotionally. Lean into your friendships. (I can be one if online caring helps!)

Permission to deeply grieve and feel everything is something you can give yourself. I just don’t know any other way to go through this experience. You are stronger than you know, and how you feel right now. It was awful to do, but I continued to walk the dog walk walks each day. It’s not a recommendation that I think is for everyone, but I did those walks with my headphones on listening to a book I liked from my time as a lit teacher of adolescents: Winter Dancer by Gary Paulsen about his Iditarod team. His love of dogs and his kinship with them, expressed for teen readers, touched me in the right way and helped me through.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:16 AM on December 22, 2022 [17 favorites]

I think my mom still has her dog's collar, and keeps his picture at her desk. He died in 2002. I don't have deep experience with this on a personal level, so I have no resources to recommend, but I want to affirm that it is normal to grieve this loss. You love your dog and that is a good and human thing.
posted by eirias at 4:23 AM on December 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

Grief is normal and different for everyone. I had to let go of my 14.5 year old poodle/bichon just 3 weeks ago. I'm sad, but also surprisingly happy that he's not suffering. Be prepared for a really mixed bag of emotions. I have so many good memories of the great life he had with us, it makes the pain less bad.
posted by rikschell at 4:49 AM on December 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry for you and your pup.

I hope you will take these thoughts as I intend them, with compassion and love: If the treatments will only extend her life for a short period of time, and present both a financial and time burden for you and may cause discomfort for her, perhaps the kindest thing for both of you would be to forego them. Consider a shorter period of time where you can love and spoil and comfort her and then let her go, versus a prolonged period of grief and stress and worry.

Sending you the warmest thoughts and support for the days or months ahead.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:18 AM on December 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'm so sorry.

Rituals really helped me when my dog died. When a relative's dog died, he sent out a memorial poem with a picture. Someone told me he had prepared this in advance-- well he must have, because he sent it out immediately. I didn't prepare anything, but I knew I would want to do something in the immediate aftermath of her death. I wrote a letter of thanks to all the staff at the animal hospital and posted it with a photo from years ago, a side of my dog they hadn't seen. Later I made a modest donation to a fund for people that couldn't pay their vet bills. I also gave a lot of thought to burial and the memorial marker, and the marker makes me happy to this day. (I was glad I had thought about that beforehand.) Just all those things that keep you busy when any family member passes away.

Later, when a human family member died, I took a walk every day and photographed one nice or interesting thing. I will now do this whenever i lose someone.

Wishing you peace and lots of happy memories.
posted by BibiRose at 5:32 AM on December 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

I live alone with her and I can’t imagine that soon she’s not going to be here.

She will still be there with you. She will always be with you. Your beloved companion will be there in your heart all the time.

That may sound cheesy or something but it's true. The dog of my heart died 8 years ago. She came to me in my dreams last night. I will never be alone, she will always be here with me.

One thing I did when she was dying that helped me to grieve her in a healthy way: I kept a whole grocery bag full of her shed hair.

So keep her fur. Keep her collar and tags. Keep anything that makes you feel better. The most precious thing you will keep is your memories of her.

My heart goes out to you.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:56 AM on December 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

If it helps, the anticipation of loss and grief is sometimes more painful than the actual ending. My dog recently passed, and I think I spent just as much time crying in the week before I made the decision as I did after. The actual day of was incredibly painful, but there was also a sense of relief too. There's a chance that you're in the worst of it now.

I'm sorry you're going through this, I'm sending lots of love your way.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:11 AM on December 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry. I don't think there is any good answer. No matter how long they get, it's never enough.
posted by Glinn at 7:01 AM on December 22, 2022

I am so sorry. This is hard.

Taking care of a terminally sick animal can be very hard so be extra extra gentle, kind, and patient with yourself.

I find this progressive muscle relaxation exercise very helpful when I'm struggling with grief or anxiety.

And listening to Jennifer Piercys Yoga Nidra makes me feel so comforted and soothed
posted by Zumbador at 7:04 AM on December 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry. I am in the same situation. I don't know how much time my dog has, could be a month, could be a year. What has helped me is meditation, I use the Headspace app on my phone, and my doctor prescribed Buproprion, which has helped a lot with the anxiety. I also do whatever I can to make sure he's enjoying his life as much as possible in the time he has left. Hang in there.
posted by mareliz at 8:30 AM on December 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry. This is so hard. I just lost a dog a few weeks ago, and while it was "only" the dog of a dear friend, he was deep in my heart. Is. I may or not be crying a little typing this.

This dog fought cancer for three-plus years (twice the median survival for dogs with his kind of cancer). We tried the whole time to focus on the time we did have left with him, to not let anticipatory grief rob us of the happiness we still had. But...when it happens...I heartily endorse everyone who said to give yourself permission to grieve as hard as you need to, to feel free to limit time with people who aren't supportive, to undertake any rituals that come to you, to save a collar or a blanket.

I hate that rainbow bridge stuff, too. In the end, it's best to think that you will able to offer your dog a kindness most people don't get, which is a quick and painless end surrounded by love.
posted by praemunire at 8:41 AM on December 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

I also have a dog with a terminal illness, but whose timeframe is unknown. For me, it helps to keep in mind that assuring a peaceful passing from this life is the final gift I can give my dog, not appreciably different than the gifts of a secure life, lots of love, good medical care, and so forth. In other words, it's part of the arc of caring for a dog and a piece of the responsibility I undertook when I adopted her. That helps put it in perspective for me.
posted by DrGail at 9:33 AM on December 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

My darling 14 year old Perdita's life ended two weeks ago today. I am going to nth everyone else saying that the lead up is worse than the aftermath. I miss her horribly, but it's also, honestly, a huge relief not dealing with her everyday: morning meds, morning stagger outside, persuade her to pee, persuade her to eat, clean up the inevitable accidents, afternoon stagger outside, evening meds, evening stagger, etc., etc., etc. I had been doing it so long as she aged that I didn't notice how task had piled upon task until suddenly, she was gone and all those tasks with her. It was one of the things that made me realize I had done the right thing and it was not, at all, too early. Her last day was devastating; the next day was sad; every day has some sorrow in it now but it's not the terrible misery I was feeling when I kept thinking, "is this it? Is this the day? Tomorrow? Should I schedule it?" For that misery, that anguish, I don't think there is much you can do but keep your sweet puppy happy, cry and realize that this is a finite time and it's hard. It's super hard. It's so hard but then it ends and the worst part ends with it.

Perdita's collar and her coat are in the dog box and I keep touching them as I walk by. She's at peace now and I'm honoring the spaces she left in my life by thinking of her with love. It helped right after her death to dig up a really goofy video from 2018 and remember laughing so hard - and also remember how much she had changed since then. Sending you all the best; you will know when the right time comes and it will not be too early or too late.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:35 AM on December 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

I lost my final two dogs in March a week apart - one I knew was coming in a pretty specific window, the other (who went first) I did not expect though she was old enough that it could easily gone down at any moment in the way that it ultimately did. We lost their packmate four years previous, and probably let that one go on about a month longer than we should have.

I agree with the others who say not to decide now and force yourself to experience now what you think it's going to feel like after she's gone. It may seem impossible right now, but with a dog with a terminal illness, the worst of it is before they're gone. This part is way fucking harder than picking up the pieces after they are gone. Even if you're still getting to sleep through the night and not having to do a ton of intensive caretaking yet, you are under a 24/7 anvil of stress and anticipatory grief. It makes everything harder. Leave the post-death grieving for Later You, who will be experiencing a simpler form of stress.

You might also just want to have a series of talks with yourself about this is not just about one specific pet, it's also about your entire life changing, and humans haaaaaate change. You've already just had one of the other major life events, a job change, and all kinds of unknown challenges and opportunities arise when you lose your last/only pet. You're losing your mooring, the thing your entire life has revolved around. That's a LOT. It's also full of opportunity, and we don't necessarily love the pressure that comes with that.

You've spoken about how the loneliness is crushing you now, and that's possibly because you don't have anyone to talk to about this or share how you're feeling? Is there someone you know who would get it and be a sounding board for you, so that you can process/unburden a little bit? Feel free to memail me if a stranger will do, but be warned our response to all our dogs being gone was ending our lease and getting rid of almost everything we owned and buying a van and spending a year or more slowly traveling the country, but it had been my entire adult life, nearly 30 years, since I had not had a pet. We kinda leaned hard into that change.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:25 AM on December 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh, I am so, so sorry for you and your sweet pup. You are under an enormous amount of stress. Can you squeeze your finances a little to include some takeout? Or a house cleaner? Do you have friends who can bring you some freezer meals and/or offer you comfort? When I’m really stressed and worried about burning out, I’ll sometimes eat off of paper plates to avoid cleanup. Limit other life commitments to funnel critical energy to more needed areas in these next couple months. Do not feel guilty if you don’t shower every day, miss a hair appointment, etc.. Distill your energy to what matters.

My best friend said goodbye to his dog this year, and it was brutal. He made a small alter for him: a photo, a lit candle, some fur he snipped from his tail, and fresh flowers. He used some quiet moments to sit in front of it and wail with grief. It is ok to be a mess right now. It is ok to feel overstretched, even though it must feel awful.

Finally, you are doing the work you promised your dog when you adopted her. The caretaking and loving you are doing is beautiful, if devastating right now. You hurt so much because you love so hard, and people like you make the world a better place.
posted by missmary6 at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2022

I am so, so sorry.

I lost my soulmate cat almost two years ago and in terms of preparing for it emotionally, I think one of the best things you can do is to start to collect things and make plans in advance for you to remember your pal by and make sure you have them safe, so you're not having to make decisions or write things that can't possibly capture your love for your dog in the height of your shock and grief. Here are some things that really helped me:

- Make a plan for immediate post-death practicalities, like whether you want to get your dog cremated and keep the ashes, even things like paw print ornaments or the like (they can usually do this for you).
- If you're a social media user or other people would be interested in your dog, start thinking about a commemorative post or email in advance (including photos) so you don't have to write it while you're grieving. When my cat died, my social media friends were such crucial parts of making me more comfortable in my grief because it's such a universal experience.
- Collect the photos and videos you have of your dog and ensure they are backed up well so you'll always have them. Consider making them into an actual physical album if they are mostly digital.
- Start writing down things about your dog that you want to remember about them. Memories go - I think our brains do this to protect us - but if you have the things written down it will help you to remember them later.
- Consider having your dog memorialized in some way, like having a painting done of them or even a little stuffed animal of them - some artists do it with the dog's own fur. If there are advance plans needed for that, like saving a bunch of fur, make sure you start now.
- As other said, make sure to collect things like fur and collars and particular favourite toys and think about how you want to keep them for later - a display?

Some things readings that I found really helpful were C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed (kind of religious but this staunch atheist wasn't too off-put by that) and this Reddit comment on how grief comes in waves and how that's normal.

Good luck. This is going to feel unbearably lonely at times, but remember you are never alone.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:20 PM on December 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just went through this and I want to corroborate the many people saying that in a way the anticipation is the worst part. I think the responsibility of knowing euthanasia is an option and that it's on you to figure out the best timing is very heavy.

So although you said you don't want to get advice about logistics, I feel I should ask: do you have a palliative care/hospice vet, in addition to your regular vet? My palliative care vet met my dog a few times in the last six months of his life, in our house. She was able to give me advice about how to keep him comfortable and safe as his mobility decreased, and most critically, because she'd gotten to know him, she was able to confirm my gut feeling that he was trying to tell me he didn't want to keep suffering any more. So much of what makes this part of a dog's life hard is second guessing yourself about quality of life. Having a vet there to say, no you aren't imagining it, he has really changed since the last time I was here, was just a gift beyond measure.

Be gentle with yourself. This is just a hard time and it's going to be a hard time for awhile. I found that for all three dogs I lost in my life so far, it really helped me to write out a funeral style eulogy while they were still around, and just cry and cry while I did it, and then go pet them and cry some more.
posted by potrzebie at 3:15 PM on December 22, 2022

I love this. I lost my best friend (15 year old cat) about 6 months ago and it is like being beat in the stomach, every day, still. I also kept some of his fur - ridiculously soft and I can pet it whenever I want. We kept his ashes and he is here with us every night, I have an artist working on a small painting in his honor.

I'm so sorry. It is the hardest thing. I hope you can spend as much time with her as possible. Sending love to you both.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:56 PM on December 22, 2022

Agreed with everyone above. I’m a dog mom to an elderly pup (the family matriarch) and while she doesn’t have an explicitly terminal illness, she is visibly aging and has several chronic conditions that are worsening over time. All you can do is love them while they are here, and try to be accepting of your feelings, whatever they may be. Grief takes many forms, some of which are surprising.

PS - if you think you might like to get a portrait done, now or in the future, I have someone I can recommend. I’m gifting two stunning paintings to the husband for Christmas, one of each of our weirdos. Hugs.
posted by bluloo at 7:27 PM on December 23, 2022

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