It still hurts so much on days that I can’t look at the leash hanging desolately on the hook. Most of his things have been given away, but I still watch my feet when I wake up. It comes and it goes. The anxiousness of getting back from a weekend trip mixed with guilt at the pit of my stomach or at times rushing to shut the gate so he doesn’t dash out.
Jimi went suddenly, all of 9 years – I had bet another 5 years on him easily – I would mentally calculate the time where the boys would be and how we would manage Jimi in his old age. He had hip dysplasia since he was a baby and was well managed through medication and diet. His kidney failure came out of the blue and within a week he was gone. Just like that. The fact that it went undiagnosed despite regular vet visits was devastating. The “what if’s” and “could haves”, were overwhelming.
Since it happened during the lockdown, it meant the entire family was there. I wondered if he had planned it secretly – the big family farewell. He hated people saying goodbye – so maybe he chose to do it when everyone was there. In the week he slipped away, he became very sick – so sick that lifting his head was not possible. The vet had already given his verdict – he won’t last, still, we were not willing to give up. The visits for drip would happen every day. Each day the vet would say, “I’m surprised, he’s still hanging in, in his condition” Somewhere we realised Jimi was scared for us, he was giving us time to get used to what would follow. We took turns in whispering to him that it’s okay – we will all be fine – and he should go ahead and chase some squirrels across the rainbow bridge. He went peacefully the next day, April 16th in our garden, under the blue sky surrounded by all of us.
Nothing prepares you for the aftermath of losing your loved pet. No one tells you that you will still see your pet even though they are gone for weeks afterward. That your hand will keep reaching out to touch them. You look for them laying on their favorite couch, you see them at the bottom of the staircase, and you swear you hear their soft whining. And, you can still smell and feel their presence for days.
Unfortunately, our society isn’t great at talking about death, so we aren’t comfortable with the idea of saying goodbye. I was amazed at the apathy of some people I had considered close – they just didn’t bother reaching out. Some kept sending forward texts of videos completely ignoring the loss and some chose to simply ignore. And yet, when a parent, spouse, child or someone close to us dies, our loss is usually met with sympathy, comfort, and offerings of sincere condolence. We are allowed to grieve, cry, and experience our emotions. But talk to the millions of pet owners who have had a dog hit by a car or a terminally ill cat euthanized and you will hear quite a different story. Many will tell you that most people did not understand the depth of their grief. Some even experienced the gross insensitivity of a comment like, “Why don’t you just get another pet?”
The more I read and reached out to friends who had lost pets, I realised the potential loneliness associated with pet grieving. I agree grieving is a highly personalized, individualistic experience in which you might experience the pain of losing your pet might look immensely different from a family member living in the same house. In our case, we came together. We lit diya’s for days – prayed and grieved. As a family, we created a common folder for all of Jimi’s photographs and videos and went through them together. We cried and shared our experiences with him, we gave ourselves the permission to grieve as deeply, and as we wanted.
Jimi was a wise old soul and maybe it was our only relationship that was not riddled with anxiety about rejection and other fears that often dictate how we behave and what we share. His love was pure, unconditional, and was all-accepting in ways few humans can achieve.
I think the only way one can honor the memory of a loved pet is not to feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the severity of the heartbreak we feel and, consequently, hesitate to disclose our feelings to our loved ones. That additional shame complicates the process of recovery by making it more lengthy and complex than it should be.
There will be days when you will still accidentally try to feed them or close the doors quickly so they don’t charge out. What took years to build a routine and will take months to break those habits. There will be days when your home will feel empty and you could feel heartbroken all over again. And that’s ok!
Define your own grieving – it may take a few months, it may take years. There’s no rush. There are no rules for healing. Nor a time frame.