Promoting understanding
and compassion for animals

Jul

11

Book excerpt no 11

Posted in: From the book1 Comment

The pain of letting go…

Probably the only negative aspect of sharing your life with an animal is that generally they have a much shorter life span than your own. And while you may be aware of this fact, it does not make the pain or the grief any easier to deal with when they are gone.

In fact sometimes the grief can be so devastating that you do not possibly think that you can go on and you cannot ever imagine loving another animal again.

I have lost several wonderful friends, tragically most of them before their time and I have experienced grief on such a level that it has consumed all of my waking and sleeping hours. I have learnt through bitter experience that there is nothing that can be done to alleviate this grief and that while time may lessen the pain, it can never be completely overcome.

Some people deny that the grief that you feel for an animal is the same as the grief that you feel for a person but I refute this. When someone loves an animal, the bond is as complex and deep as any close friendship.

People spend an incredible amount of time with a cherished animal companion, often more so than with their spouse or grown up children. Dog lovers in particular tend to take their friends with them everywhere, even on holidays. I for one, often made decisions on where I went based on whether I could take Josh and Dylan with me. Animal lovers have even been known to turn down job offers overseas because it means that they would have to leave their beloved companion behind.

To suddenly have a close relationship like this torn apart is devastating. People describe it as feeling as though they have lost a part of themselves, their arm or leg or more accurately their heart. Sometimes they have loved the other so much that they don’t even feel like a whole person anymore. Just as in a human relationship, their identity had actually been defined by the relationship.

An animal companion’s total dependence on you for food, companionship, exercise and love adds another dimension to the situation. To suddenly lose someone that you have cared for and protected for many years is devastating. But embedded in this grief is usually the guilt that you have failed that being who depended upon you so completely.

You see when a human being dies you are rarely responsible.

No matter how much you love another person, they usually make their own decisions about their circumstance or situation. And even if they are not capable of making decisions, there are usually a number of people close to the person who jointly make a decision on their behalf.

When you have been the sole carer of an animal who dies, you cannot help but question the actions you took and the decisions you made. If their death was through accident you berate yourself for not taking steps to avoid the circumstance and if their death was through illness then you often wonder whether you could have identified the symptoms sooner. If they are lost then you never stop looking for them. So many times I have pondered alternative scenarios in my head and wondered “what if…?” but it was too late. We are never given a second chance.

One of the most distressing aspects of loving an animal is the fact that one day you may be called on to make the ultimate decision – whether to painlessly end their life through euthanasia. Very rarely does a person have to face this decision in relation to another person and it is unlikely that they would be expected to make this decision alone. Yet this is precisely what many animal lovers are expected to do.

In my own experience, the actual decision was taken out of my hands – my beautiful friend gasping for air, weak and in shock meant that there was no decision. I just had to sit there and hold him and tell him how much I loved him. But sometimes there is a decision to be made and sometimes people are faced with the added burden of making a decision in which money is a factor. Faced with a seemingly hopeless prognosis and escalating veterinary costs of thousands of dollars, many people have no option but to discontinue treatment. My heart bleeds for these people because they cannot ever really know what really killed their loved one, the illness or their tragic economic circumstance. And like I said before, very rarely (at least in this country) would this happen, if their loved one was another human being.

Finally, when a human dies there is usually a whole host of mourners. Family, friends, acquaintances all join together in grief which can be of great comfort to those affected by the loss. Sadly for the animal lover, they are often the only person who mourns the animal’s passing and this loneliness, combined with mind numbing grief can be agonising. It is for this reason that I have decided to include the following passage. Even though the event does not really follow the timeline of the book (it occurred during the editing process, sometime after the main section of the book was completed). I think it is important. Maybe one person may read this and realise that their own feelings of loss and grief are completely justified. I also hope that other people realise that none of us are really alone in our grief. There are animal lovers the world over, suffering just as we are with the loss of their own special friends. Maybe once a year we should join together in groups to celebrate the lives of our wonderful companions who we have lost. All we need to do is make contact with each other; it’s really not that hard…

To Joshua

April 12th 1993 – September 13th 2003

 Josh

As I stirred from my fitful doze, I couldn’t believe that the day had dawned sunny and bright. The lines of a song went through my mind – “I thought it would rain, the day you went away”. The sunshine was like a double betrayal – I had lost you through the night and now the world was trying to act as if there was nothing wrong.
I sit here almost five months later and I still feel absolute disbelief that you have gone. There are days when I can see your face so clearly that I could touch it. I can see the tiny white spot just above your left nostril and those beautiful, sad brown eyes that haunted me those last few weeks. I can feel your presence but I mourn the fact that I cannot hug you or touch you or tell you how I feel.
I feel so angry that you were taken from me so early and I don’t care what people say, ten years was not enough time. And it wasn’t fair that we didn’t even get a chance to try to fight your cancer.
I think about the ten years that we spent together and how I protected you from danger but in the end I was unable to defend you against the most insidious of foes, and I will carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life. I question myself everyday as to whether it was something that I did or didn’t do that led to your death, but I will never know.
All that I do know is that I loved you so completely, that a part of me has died. You were much more than a part of my life, you were a part of my identity, you helped to make me who I am.

Josh, wherever you are, remember I love you and I miss you and I would never have willingly given you up for anything in this world. I had no say.

….Tragically only eight months later I lost Dylan, again to cancer but this time with absolutely no warning. Though I have tried time and time again to write about how I feel, I am unable. 

When I look back at my life, there are a whole host of characters who stand out as being exemplary. There are those that have made me laugh and enjoy life, those who have helped me to understand important lessons and those who have loved me and made me feel safe. But had I limited my contact to only humans I would have missed out on so much. I am so glad that I wasn’t born with any prejudice or feeling of superiority over animals and sometimes I pity people who do.

Sure, living with animals can be demanding and sometimes heartbreaking but it is also rich, complex and rewarding. Their characters, their wonderful personalities can bring such joy, happiness and delight into our lives if only we let them.

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  1. Margi Thurgood said on 11/07/2012 at 10:36 am

    Thank you my darling sister. I miss Joshy and Dylan too. Precious Latte was so much like them, kind, gentle and loving.

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