Why is it so hard when your pet dies?
August 16, 2015
ZOE KRUPKA news.com.au
PEANUT the whippet cross is on his last legs. He has a tumour behind his eye, and the vets say it’ll only be a few months at most and that they’ll do what they can to make him comfortable.
He’s almost sixteen and it’s been that many years since he came home as a tiny runt-of-the-litter present for a girl turning five who looked up when he was introduced to her and said “he is my favourite” and took him straight into her room and under the covers where he’s spent many of his nights since.
He used to chase the ball until he passed out, and now he carries it carefully around the park, dashes after a few small throws, lies down a bit, and then carries it the rest of the way. He used to be able to spot a rabbit from an impossible distance and now he stares lovingly into cupboards and mirrors for no apparent reason. All of his senses are retreating, and even friends have lost their appeal. He is on his way out of our lives.
He is and has been just the best dog ever and I don’t know how we’re all going to live without him.
Oh Peanut, you’re going to break our hearts.
Like so many people with pets, we’ve imagined a million things about the life of Peanut. We’ve made up stories about what he’s thinking, we’ve given him a personality and played games with our ideas about what he thinks of us.
We gave him a place in our family that helped us to fill in some of our missing pieces. He’s been our clown, our little brother and our conscience. We won’t just miss him when he dies, we’ll also miss the whole imaginary world we lived in with him, and we’ll be lost for a time, not sure how to find a way to do the things he did for us without him.
If you let them in, animals can open up parts of your heart and mind that humans can’t reach. Animals take up a space inside you that is both safer than what you can find with people and wilder. And from that safe, wild space they invite you to come home to yourself. You don’t have to do anything special, be anyone special; you just have to accept that space they’re offering you. When your animals die, you don’t just miss them, you also miss the place in yourself that they helped you to find.
And sometimes an animal comes into your life at just the right time and helps you to put yourself back together and profoundly comforts you, giving you someone to care for and touch, bringing a kind of loving routine with them and making you feel that you’re OK and that you matter. And when that happens, it’s a big job after they die to come to the point where you can imagine those things about yourself without their constancy and their warm body to remind you.
There’s also a strange kind of guilt you can feel when your pet dies that makes the sadness afterwards kind of sticky and uncomfortable. When they’re dying, or they disappear or have a terrible accident, you’re faced with how dependent they are on you, on all of us really, and how vulnerable and voiceless they are.
You have to make all the decisions, hoping that what you do is what they would want, and because you never really know because they can never really tell you, it’s sometimes hard to settle peacefully into feeling you did the best that you could, which can complicate your feelings of loss.
The creatures we share our lives with carry so many of our emotional burdens; our desire to be loved and accepted, our hopes for a loving family, our childhood feelings and past losses.
When Peanut dies, he will die as himself, a loving, emotionally astute, diffident and cultured dog, but he will also die as all the things we imagined him to be and all the things we hoped for when we first brought him home.
We will be sad beyond measure.
Zoe Krupka is a psychotherapist. Read Zoe’s blog at www.zoekrupka.com