Tips on Coping with Loss and Grief

When we lost Shinji to cancer, we felt lost. He was seemingly healthy one day and then in the course of five days died of cancer. “His only flaw is like most of furry companions, they do not live as long as we want.” We wrote those words when we opened Moonlight Dog Cafe. His birthday was a few weeks ago at the beginning of April…

We have no regrets. We fed him good food, great supplements, took him to as many places as we could, and took great care of him.

At times we still want answers although we know they will not mean much. Genetics and environmental causes of cancer don’t change the fact that he is physically gone. We were surrounded by family and friends who understood that we needed to grieve but some of them did not necessarily understand the depths of grief we were experiencing.

Some were dog people, others were not. They did not understand why the loss of a dog or cat would trigger such intense emotions.

Before Shinji, we may have asked the same question. However, think about it this way. The quality of love, despair and sadness are the same regardless of the object that these feelings are directed to. If anything, those intense emotions can be rationalized: over the past five years, we spent more time with Shinji than we had with any human (even family members) or animal. We were with him almost 24 hours a day, almost every day for five years planning his food, his exercise level and his mental stimulation. Our point is this – don’t expect people to understand your feelings or how you are dealing with the loss of a dog or cat but they should still respect it and if not that, just observe it.

What do you do when you feel that gaping hole of loss?

Everyone deals with grief differently. I find that even after close to a year, I keep on turning around searching for him behind me. Habit. He trained me well. I used to struggle the most with loss at night because I’m a light sleeper and his breathing was music that soothed me to sleep. Joann was the opposite. Day time was the toughest for her as she spent an inordinate amount of time with him during the day coming up with games to play or bonding in other ways. He went on many window-shopping trips and exploration walks just because she wanted to take him to places he had never been before. He revelled in those moments. Aside from crying (and please give yourself the opportunity to cry if you want) we dealt with grief differently.

I found that I could not look at pictures with him in it. Joann on the other hand found comfort in those. The one thing we did agree on was that we felt we could feel his energy around us comforting us when we first lost him. That feeling is dissipating over time. Sounds crazy right? Well, who knows. The loss of a dog, cat or human is a physical thing. Just because an afterlife cannot be physically conceived or proven doesn’t mean it was only in our mind.

The other thing that helped enormously for us was not reliving what we could have done with him. We said in the beginning that we had no regrets because we lived with and through him. We took up weekly hikes, took him swimming and did what he seemed to think was fun.

We fondly recall these memories but do not relive them. Notice the distinction. For me, living should be about the present moment. I did not come up with this principle or hear it from someone else. Shinji taught us both. In his last few days and through out his life, he was always in the moment.

During those last days, we were extremely sad but focused on making his life comfortable. He spent that time seeming to try to comfort us. On days that he felt great, he’d swim or try to run even though he was loosing coordination. He was incredibly resilient. We did not think about whether things are fair or not, or why us. These moments are inevitable. Death is coming to us all as long as there is birth. The past is gone and the present is just that… present. It is the moments between birth and death, which should be filled with living! His last moments with us were at home and peaceful.