Grief isn’t limited to the death of a loved one or dear friend. People grieve all kinds of things—the dissolution of a marriage, the loss of a job, long-ago roads not taken, and the death of their pets.
The feelings that arise from these events aren’t always labeled as grief, but they can be as powerful and intense. They can also exhibit the usual messy ramblings of other feelings sworn to grief like errant knights: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Part of the problem is that the messiness of your grief makes it hard on other people to deal with you. As long as nobody has died, sometimes it’s easier to share an unspoken pact: I won’t talk about my layoff if you don’t talk about what you might have been. The if-onlys hang in the air like old-timey cloth diapers on a clothesline. Which means they’re clean, untouched, and unused.
Except when your dog dies. You might need to talk, and a whole lot of people might not want to listen. Or maybe they’re willing to listen and when you hear the sound of your own voice grieving your dog, you’re too embarrassed to go on.
After all, most dogs don’t have funerals, and if they do, they’re often conducted by or for children. The same goes for goldfish, gerbils, cats, canaries, lizards, and any other creatures humans provide with names, food, shelter, and love.
Getting another critter right away can be pretty much unthinkable. After the death of my daughter, I remember the well-meaning gynecologist who suggested I was still young enough to have another one. I’d never compare the loss of a child with the loss of a pet. But it’s not much of a stretch to understand the horror of that suggestion to someone who actually did invest parental love in a nonhuman but grateful child.
Don’t trivialize your feelings about the loss of your pet by denying them, sharing them with other unable to understand, or diving into full diva mode to express them. Like the word “love,” grief carries more meanings than seems reasonable for its size. Like the feelings that arise from love, the feelings your loss generates deserve whatever personal dignity you can muster to acknowledge and explore them.
God bless grief, and God bless gladness. Please share your thoughts.
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