One of the best things about being a veterinarian who works with pets at the end of life is that I get to be with pet owners at that important time as well. I went to school for a lot of years to learn what I supposedly needed to know to be a vet, but end-of-life issues were a very small part of my education. I have learned more, by far, from the pet owners that I have come to know over the years. I have been able to come to a deeper understanding of what is important to people, how they work through their time of loss and how to gracefully accept something that is so difficult to accept.
If you’ve recently lost a beloved animal companion, it may be for you some of the most awful feelings you’ve ever experienced. Feelings may shift from day to day, at times feeling like despair, deep loneliness, emptiness, heartache, or guilt. It’s normal to feel this way, especially at first. It’s also healthy to find ways to help yourself out of the depths of these feelings and begin to heal from your loss. To me, healing means leaving some of those worst feelings behind and helping yourself to feel better, while still preserving the thoughts and memories of your companion.
Many people we’ve helped have shared their experience with us. I’ve heard about their healing journey and took inspiration from them. I’d like to share one of these ideas with you.
Clients often come by our office to pick up their pet’s ashes after cremation. Sometimes I get to spend a few minutes with them. Lately I had a conversation with someone who had recently lost her cat. Like many of us she was deeply mourning that loss and was working hard to find a way to feel a little better. She showed me a lovely book she’d created online (Shutterfly or something similar). While I was listening, it occurred to me why that was such a wonderful idea.
It takes a lot of time to put together the pictures for a book like that. It is that very act of taking the time – time to sort through years of memories – that was a significant part of the healing process for her. Looking at each picture, sometimes long-forgotten, triggers memories of past happiness and time shared. We’re inspired to remind family members and friends and retell old stories again. And we know that shared grief is a lot easier to bear. Lots of tears for her as she did this exercise, I’m sure, but tears are not to be feared. Tears represent healing waters, as our counselor Lisa wrote.
I wish healing for you, too. Healing doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten, it means that you’re replacing hurt and sorrow with peace and grace. You, too, may have a photo box or computer folder full of memories and stories waiting to be retold. Happy picture hunting!