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.
Should you get another pet after the loss of a dog or cat?
Everyone will find different ways of coping and for some, it is giving your love to another animal. We have not been able to yet. Nothing felt right. It felt like an attempt to replace him. We struggled with the question of keeping the store open or not, as he was the inspiration behind Moonlight Dog Cafe. Although we are expecting a human child, the feeling of our loss is ever present despite being happy about the potential new addition to our family. We still cry and have his favourite blankets and toys in our room. After all this time, we are still not ready for another dog in our life but I have come around to being able to look at his pictures without being a wreck. We laugh at how goofy he was and for us, it has been enormously helpful to have his ash at home. His beds and toys are still in the same place they were when he was around and that has helped ease the feeling of being lost.
Things to think of before your cat or dog’s last moments. What symptoms to look for to make that decision of letting them go?
We were extremely grateful to Dr. Richard Calland, who was our stand in vet, in case, we needed to put him to sleep. However, we were lucky that Shinji chose how he wanted to go. He waited for all of us to be home and lay out on his bed in a position, where he could see all of us. Signs that told us, he was getting to the end included that his food and water intake had gone down to non-existent. In our non-professional opinion, if the cat or dog is still drinking water and not in excruciating pain, it is a sign that they are not ready yet. We’d prefer that no pet go through pain for prolonged periods. Having a vet on call to talk you through what symptoms to look out for is really helpful. Because, his cancer affected his liver, his skin and eyes had the jaundiced look and on his last day, he barely peed.
Secondly, the folks at “Until We Meet Again” in North Vancouver were very professional. “Until We Meet Again,” is a pet crematorium and during the time we were feeling emotionally raw, they helped guide us into what was a sensitive time for us. They deal with the loss of a dog or cat with sympathy and professionalism. I appreciated that as we did not need them to be overly sympathetic but to help us figure out how cremation would occur. We found having him (his ash) at home is really comforting for us.
I’m not sure if we’ve provided any measure of comfort. Our thoughts remain simple and can be applied to your furry or non-furry family.
Live the moments that are happening now so that you have no regrets. Both dog and cats do exactly that. The future can be planned but don’t live in it. You may not even make it to retirement. It has been almost a year since his passing away. We assumed that we would have Shinji for at least another 5 years.
We learnt that we didn’t have that time but we were lucky that we had enjoyed the time we had.
Watch this video of Lisa Mohr talking about how to cope with the death of your pet.
Have you ever lost a pet? How did you deal with it? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below and let us know!
About the Author:
Eb is the co-founder and owner of Moonlight Dog Cafe located in the heart of downtown on Beatty St. In his free-time, he enjoys hiking, photography and writing. He is passionate about researching pet health, nutrition and training.
Our PET EVENTS focusing on Mental Health Wellness have proven that interacting with affectionate dogs can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, lower blood-pressure and even decrease the perception of pain. These petting sessions offer students and staff who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, the opportunity to increase socialization through interaction with dogs and people in a relaxing setting.