On August 5th, just 3 weeks ago, we lost a beloved member of our family, Shilo. At only 10 years old, our sweet golden retriever left us to head over to the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Heaven and Earth. I cried, as my husband, kids and I said goodbye to him that afternoon. My daughter, Rachel, said goodbye in the same way she’d said “Hello”, when we first brought him into our home,…laying her head next to his, stroking his ears. We each said our farewells in our own special ways. I was by his side, literally laying on the floor with him, when the Veterinarian told me, “He no longer has a heart beat.” When I opened my eyes, I could see that we were both fully soaked by my tears.
When a Caregiver Loses a Pet
I expected to mourn, and I certainly did. But, I did not expect my 90 y/o dad and 82 y/o mom to mourn all that much. Yet, they did! I cried. They cried. For days, we cried when we spoke. I couldn’t eat much at all for the first 3 days. They said their stomachs were upset and not eating in the first day or two.
I frequently brought the “boys” to see my parents, when I’d come to help and care for them, because of the love and playfulness it brought out in them. My mom was especially attached to Shilo. She took the loss harder than dad. This is the picture I’d had framed for my Mother’s Day gift to mom. She and dad had insisted on this “family” picture of them with Shilo and his brother Cooper.
A caregiver losing a pet can impact the caree just as much as the caregiver…and sometimes even more. I now know. It brings life and death, happiness and sorrow, all the emotions, and internalized thoughts to the surface. It reminded me, again, of the daily gift we receive by being alive and together. I became aware, too, of the signs of depression in both myself and my parents. I actually accepted the loss more quickly than did they. Probably, this was because I was loving and caring for them….with a purpose to keep me busy. They did not have that same purpose. They needed to see Cooper more often, and they just needed longer to process.
And Then There was Cooper…
We are pretty much adjusted to our new “normal”. I’ve stopped looking for Shilo at night, before bed. But Cooper, not so much. He is not the same dog. He is still mourning the loss of his brother. How? Well, he sulks. He looks sad and is a lot quieter than he ever was. He’s more clingy too. This from the big old “goof ball” who was always getting into something or knocking someone over. He misses Shilo. It breaks my heart. But, from the advice of our Vet, we’ve been told that this is quite common and to try some things, which are starting to work:
- Don’t give him treats when he’s sulking or sad. It just reinforces that behavior. Do get him going and doing things he always used to like (walks, rides, etc.) or introduce new activities. Reward with treats for doing and listening.
- Be their leader. Work on building a new relationship with this pet and build their connection to you, now that the other pet in the home is gone. This will bring them comfort and confidence. And the Vet told us that we may see him really blossom into a new Cooper!
- Don’t get another pet right away. Everyone should be involved in the timing of that decision, including your pet and his/her readiness. When the time is right to open up your hearts to a new addition…you’ll know.
I’ve also spoiled Cooper just a bit, with new squeaky toys, bones with peanut butter and snuggling with him (which, oh by the way, I like a lot more than he does!!).
We All Mourn
We mourn, and so do our pets. I’ll be better prepared for this in the future. I’ve even been told that some people bring their other pet to the Vet to be there and say goodbye too, believing it helps them move through the grief process better. The one thing we did do, that helped us a lot, was to bring Shilo back home from the morning Vet appointment where we got the bad news on his prognosis, to gather the family to be able to say goodbye and pamper him for a few more hours. When we took him back that afternoon, I knew we’d all been blessed to have that time together.
If there are things that you’ve found to be helpful, please share in the comments below. We’re all learning! Thanks so much.