Lessons we learn from pets

That we don’t get out of grief yet we often feel unprepared for it.

Liz Gilbert describes grief after losing her best friend and lover.

‘It’s a rip your heart out and eat it lovingly for dinner. Caress it and dance a waltz, slow. Savour the flavour of ‘willing’, drop to your knees as a humble servant when it arrives’

Liz Gilbert

I can only imagine the depth of losing a soul mate, a life partner, a child, a sibling, a parent. Yet, I have felt the loss of a beloved pet as a genuine grief within a family. After my shadow, Pat the dog died, I let myself free-fall without rationalising the experience, instead sat with all the sensations running wild. Most of it was my vibrating heart, back and front, the first sensation felt upon waking. I could feel its rivers rippling out, in a steady ache.

The tears flowed for days before he was euthanised, and I let them rise and fall. My kids got to witness and realise that death was on its way and the only way is through. I never left his side, except to toilet, and in that last day, there was a reverence to being with the pain of letting go. It hurts, yet expands, and there is relief in honouring deep emotions. It was a slow process of accepting the inevitable as it came towards us. The only thing to do open, open, open. To soften into it, instead of tensing up. 

How do we honour such a relationship? I am lost for words. It goes to our core, and then we are left feeling it, without them. I believe we can be unguarded with pet love, and in that sense it is deep and uncomplicated. Their loss is felt profoundly. The strokes, patting, companionship, memories everywhere. I was left to go to the toilet alone without my buddy there for a pat. We were so in sync, he would respond when I held my breath or got anxious. He would come over and put his snout under my arm in a bargy way, ‘C’mon be here now, stop overthinking’ was what I heard him say. 

His last breath was a gentle, long sigh. He was peaceful and content at home on his old bed, surrounded by his people on their knees touching him. It was beautiful and frightening, the finality of it. The kids were not sheltered, they now know there is no coming back. What a gift, our pets are. They give so many lessons, and most importantly an ease and insight into death. In how to grieve and how to love.   

We kept his body in the bedroom overnight and the kids could come and say further goodbyes. The stillness of him, yet also a grace that sits around for this in-between time. A saying goodbye, stroking and touching to allow our minds, hearts and bodies the time to process his loss. This was the gift we were given by taking time before the burial. It can be an all too quick methodical, although vital procedure that can be rushed in our need for completion. Yet these precious hours were what I cherish most, and what helped me heal and grow my heart.  

Humans often believe they are on a higher level than animals. Yet, I see it as we are here to learn how to do life from them. Pat surrendered to his fate with no struggle. How he loved completely and loyally, teaches me ways I can love my family better. These wise creatures find us and give our lives meaning, with much grace and patience they put up with our non-sense.

6 thoughts on “Lessons we learn from pets

  1. Beautifully said darling Amy. I welled up again reading your words. He was an extraordinary creature and you know how much I loved him. My grandog. My singing partner. He helped me learn what dogs can be. He was my first dog. …and what a dog…! Love love GG


  2. So poignantly expressed dear Amy. I agree it helps to spend time at the end with a departing pet and be with them when the end comes. And more for you. Writing definitely helps ease the pain of loss of a devoted companion without judgement.
    x fg


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