Upon returning to work following the sudden death of my 32-year-old husband, I ran into a co-worker in the hallway. During our first interaction since the untimely death, I was expecting an awkward hug (personal versus professional interaction) and the usual comments – “Sorry for your loss;” “We will all miss Rod;” “Is there anything I can do to help.” Instead, I was dumbfounded when the first words he shared were, “I know exactly what you are going through as I recently lost my dog.”
So my reaction was that I immediately applied the breaks to my vocal chords; kept both my arms secured to the side of my body; and most importantly kept the frozen poker look on my face. My reaction internally was, “You have got to be kidding me — my husband Rod is now compared to a dog whose life span is no longer than 18 years?” In my emotional state of widowhood, how could one compare my husband, the father of my child, my soul mate, and my future to an animal?
Fast forward a few years and now I have a different outlook on what my co-worker was suggesting. Could he have approached it differently? Perhaps. Was he right? Probably.
In my many years of facilitating widow support groups, I am constantly reminded that no two people grieve alike and each grief journey is different based on the individual, the type of loss, life’s challenges, support systems, relationship to the loss and so much more. How could a reaction to loss and subsequent grieving be summarized in only one way when we are all so different? When my mother passed away leaving behind 5 daughters, an outsider would have never believed we shared the same DNA. Our reactions spanned across a huge spectrum. While we all shared the loss of a parent, a few of us wanted to share mom stories, while others thought laughing was rude. Some of us lived far away and did not feel the daily impact of the loss while others did. Some of our children would never meet grandma and learn first hand of who she was.
Now let’s take pets into consideration. Society has a tendency to belittle or devalue the emotional devastation of a pet loss. While the loss is personal, there is no public memorial service, no bereavement leave benefit from work, no designated period of time for mourning which leaves the mourner isolated and silent.
One of my summer guilty pleasures is to watch America’s Got Talent. Watching the auditions recently of individuals and their pet captures only a portion of the relationship of flesh and fur. For some people, their relationship with their pets is no different than our relationship with another person. So why wouldn’t the pain and suffering from losing a pet be any different than a human loss?
Let’s try to imagine the emotions of someone who has lost a pet –- what if their pet met them at the front door when they returned home, slept on their bed at night, ate meals with them and loved them unconditionally offering companionship and love that they would not have had otherwise. Who are we to say how a loss affects someone whether the loss is flesh or fur?
While it took me years to understand the impact of pet loss and the message that my co-worker shared with me during our awkward encounter, I have one request of my readers –- embrace all people regardless of their loss. Listen to their stories, try to imagine their pain without judgment, please do not try to fix them and most importantly be accepting that their loss is real, painful and will take time to incorporate into their daily life.
Updated: July 23, 2016