2020 has been difficult enough. From the covid-19 pandemic, to the historic fires here and on the other side of the world, to extreme social and political unrest, to economic instability, this year feels like it has been filled with more strife than any other. It seems we could rename 2020 as “The Year of Loss.” Though collectively we span the spectrum of hardships, we all have experienced loss of some sort- loss of recreation, loss of income, loss of life, loss of hope. Whether a layoff, or a newly empty seat at our table, we’re each feeling the pain of the past year.
And there are some who find themselves with a uniquely complex, yet just as painful, sort of grief- we who have lost a pet. To us, they are family. They might not have a seat at the table, but their spot is empty nonetheless. They might not be counted amongst the losses on the news, but they are on the front page of our every day.
Yet we feel hesitant to compare our loss to the losses that so many others have endured. Covid has ravaged so many families. We might feel that we shouldn’t admit our heartbreak when there are people around us who have lost human loved ones.
And yet, we still grieve. Our pet was our constant companion each day. Our routines were intertwined. Our days belonged to each other. They shared each and every emotion with us- every joy, every disappointment, every laugh, and every tear.
They were there in the quiet moments, those moments of indescribable peace, in which the only sound was the slow and steady breathing of our loyal companion.
They were our fiercest friend, through the calamity, and the stillness, of life.
But for many of us, this is a silent grief. Because we wouldn’t dare compare our dog or cat to someone else’s father or daughter, we grieve alone. We are already feeling the weight of isolation, and without our constant companion, and with no one lean on in our grief, our isolation has become heavier, colder, and quieter.
But we must remember that every grief is valid. You are the sole arbiter of determining the intimacy, depth, and value of your relationship, and only you know the grief felt at the loss of that relationship. Our loved ones come in all shapes, sizes, and species, and every loss is a wound.
To those who have lost a human loved one this year- we grieve with you. Our hearts ache with yours.
To those who have lost a job- we’re heartsick right along with you. We’re pulling for you, and send our encouragement and support.
To those who have lost a pet this year- we see you, and we cry with you. Your grief matters, too. Your loved one mattered, too. Your heart aches because your pet was important.
To those who lost a pet long ago, but whose home is feeling even more empty during this time- we feel the emptiness with you. This year would have been the perfect time to spend so many quality moments with our pets. It feels so unfair that many now get to spend all day cuddling their furry family members, but we will never get to enjoy this time with ours.
To those feeling afraid of what the future holds- we are apprehensive too. This year has taught us that we can never know what tomorrow will bring. But we CAN choose to be there for each other. To have each other’s backs no matter what. To take each and every opportunity to offer a kind word (even if behind a mask and from 6 feet away). To reach out to each other as often as possible and shatter that isolation felt by so many.
Most importantly, each of us can be someone to lean on during this exceptionally difficult time. May we validate and honor each other’s feelings, whether we understand one another’s grief or not. May we use words of healing and hope as we help each other to move forward.
There has been so much loss this year. But there can and will be healing, too. May each of us be an instrument of healing in the year to come.