My personal story.
My dog Buch could have been twenty-two this May. Regrettably, even if this word is not powerful enough to express my anguish, he passed away at the age of fourteen (and a half, as I like to clarify). Turns out it’s been more than seven years since he crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
Do I still feel like I’ve lost something important and dear? Absolutely.
He’s been the brother, the mentor and simply our beloved family dog. He arrived into my life when I was six years old, and left when I was due to turn twenty-one. I had problems socializing as a child but with him, it was a 100% bond.
Our play time was my emotional outlet. I would dress him up in human clothes and take portraits. My parents had a film camera, the one everyone in the 90’s had, and I was allowed to run photoshoots for Buch. Every snap counted. It was always exciting to pick up printed pictures from the photo processing store. I’m so appreciative of this important collection I’ve helped to create.
Essentially, Buba (as I would call him) was my childhood. He was my everything, my best friend. He was an over-grown red and white American Staffordshire Terrier with an alternative certificate defining him and his line as Pit Bull Terriers. There must have been something mysterious going on with these two breeds back in time. Anyway, we didn’t care much and got used to calling him an AST/APBT mix. He could have been part crocodile or shark, we would not care.
I vividly remember the particular details of his appearance and behavior. He had a pink belly and would love to sleep with his tummy up, sticking his legs into the air, like an upside down bug. When he would get wet, you could see all the black spots he had on his pink skin, before his white chest hair would become transparent. He had a distinct habit of kicking family members on the leg if he wanted something. I can name so many more!
Fast forward to the saddest day, I wasn’t ready for his departure, not at all. His absence from my life was like an amputation. Our family is endlessly grateful to him for waiting for us to come back from a vacation. Because it took three days since our return for him to collapse.
“Buba is actively dying.” That’s the exact conclusion his vet gave to my mother during a phone call. He said it would take him an hour to get to our house and put Buba’s suffering to an end. We have one last hour to be with him. Then his cooling down body would meet mother earth, to gift his bones to the rich fabric of past, present and future that soil carries within itself. I sat next to him witnessing his last breath, stroking his skinny skull-like head. He was nothing like the muscular renegade he used to be. Like a true Bull type, he has never allowed his physical pain to become evident. We buried him within the perimeter of our land, next to a baby pine tree.
His portrait has been sitting on our kitchen table ever since that day. The kitchen is the heart of the house, so that way we feel he is always with us. Dad ordered a custom bronze statue of Buch and now it guards the entrance to our house. I made a drawing of him and it became a tattoo on my left arm, near the heart.
Our younger dog Umka has helped us tremendously in coping with our loss. Despite she herself looked lost for the first few days, she provided our family with all the support she could. We still had to go out for walks with her. Getting used to daily life without Buch was an important but painful exercise that involved lots of tears and self-reflection.
Losing your beloved dog is like getting a bullet. “Empty” is the word you would use a lot the following days.
It is truly amazing, that we went from a point where I couldn’t lift him at the age of six when he was a four months old puppy, to the point that I could carry him in my arms back home when he had no more energy left to walk. I’ve been a part of a complete cycle; the true motion of life.
Stages of pet loss grief.
After your beloved dog has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, you would go through the several stages of grief: from shock and denial, extreme pain and guilt, to anger, depression, reflection and loneliness, then to adjustment to life, finding your new normal way and accepting it. You might experience all of the stages or some.
Grief is individually tailored for everyone.
Do not try to fit the mold, allow yourself to mourn your own way. It is a unique and special journey you have to go through.
You might have to deal with shame and guilt along the way. When you confront a lack of understanding or compassion, you might feel ashamed because of overreacting. But it is very wrong, there is no such thing as overreacting when losing a loved one. Take your time and your way to cope with emotions, even if it means reaching the bottom. Let it all out. It is important to allow yourself to grieve actively. There is no need to build up walls of unspoken, unthought and unfelt emotions. It may sound strange but opening up to grieving is a form of letting go. Still, remember, if the world around doesn’t slow down because you are grieving – it’s ok. Let the world be, you don’t owe it anything. Just because your pet wasn’t in the center of life for other people doesn’t mean you should discount your feelings and pretend things are fine. Nothing is fine when your four-pawed friend passes away.
Guilt is another enemy you will have to confront. I know it out of personal experience, there is no way guilt won’t knock on your door. This form of guilt is painful and makes you feel powerless because you can no longer change anything. That walk you were too lazy to give to your pet, that minor illness you overlooked, that day you allowed yourself to get angry at your dog… All these harmful thoughts would eat the joy out of memories of life with your pet and make you feel like the worst human and dog owner in the world. But do not surrender, my grieving friend. It’s a mind game and you can fight it off. Accept your imperfections, learn from your mistakes, thank your departed friend for loving you despite your wrongdoings (as you may see them now, shattered by sorrow).
During your grieving time, do not forget to look after yourself. Try to eat well, sleep well and choose a calming practice to use frequently. If you need, seek comfort in trusted friends and family. Sometimes it helps to see a counselor or therapist, especially the one that knows the sensitive subject of pet loss grief.
If you have living pets by your side, maintain their schedules and routines. They are probably missing their pack member as well. Animals thrive on predictable routines, so help them by maintaining them the best you can. It will also help you to get used to your new life.
Most importantly, create your memories. Form them into something of your choosing be that a ritual walk to your pet’s favorite place or a memorabilia box. Humans need rituals and memorabilia, it is a part of our long history as species. Rituals make us feel complete and can help to structure our feelings and emotional responses.
Cherish the loving memory of your dog. Allow time for the fire of your grief to calm down and use the warmth of the remaining coals to keep your heart warm.
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