Human Or Pets Grieve The Loss


I started understanding grief and realised the different stages of grieving after losing someone from my immediate family. But that did not mean I had not grieved before.

Growing up as a pet-owning family, we raised over eight dogs. The death of every pet we had over the years made me feel lost and angry. I could understand it better because people around me did not seem so affected, and I had to keep up. When you lose a person, you find a lot of support from family and friends, but if you lose a pet, people, unfortunately, do not know what it is. They even quip, So what? It was going to die someday! It was very matter-of-factly presented to me that pets do not live forever and have a shorter life span than humans.

I recall losing my first dog when I was a 14-year-old. I cried. But a few days later, it was my then-best friend’s birthday, so I even forgot about my grief. As another dog entered my life, my love for it grew stronger and stronger. I did not realise that someday I would bid goodbye to this one too. And I did. The cycle continued with six more pets, and I somehow overcame it. Some days, I would cry to bed, looking at their old photos and wishing how tall they had grown today. But I knew that as my parents grew older, I would not have been able to take care of everything with work all by myself.

It was until my last dog, who lived her whole life of 13 years with us, chose to depart at the same time that my father was admitted for the final time to the hospital. Our hopes were vanishing, and her death felt like she was preparing us for what was coming next. Coming to
terms with her did not feel right because she managed to take her Master (my father) precisely a week later.

The loss of a pet is so undermined that grieving for it feels weird. Since not every second person is a pet owner, they do not understand the attachment you share with a non-human. About a decade ago, having pets meant privilege in some families. Not everybody was comfortable with the idea that a dog is your family. Thankfully, that has changed for good. So when a pet passed away, the kind of treatment meted out was like, Sorry for your loss; it will happen someday.

In such situations, acceptance comes naturally, even if you want to resist it. However, the lows post losing a pet are more profound and longer because few people understand your feelings. If someone cannot relate to your situation, they cannot console you. The loss of a pet is thus more of a lone battle. You miss their presence around. You look at their chewy toy and wonder if you throw it, will they somehow come back to fetch it? You want to hear their sound but need help to. When I was growing up, I did not have a lot of photos of my pets to look back at. Phones with cameras did not exist.

Thankfully, in current times, you will have many memories occupying the space on your smartphones. You can always look back on them. You have funny videos of their tactics and some doing nothing at all. It all sparks such joy until you realise it is only what you have left of them.

Grieving a pet is very similar to grieving a person. The stages and the feelings do not discriminate if it is an animal or a human. There is nothing to be ashamed of it. But, unfortunately, today, not all relationships can help you develop that sense of trust, comfort, and loyalty you can experience with a pet.

There is enough research to prove how pets help people’s mental well-being by keeping them in a comfortable, upbeat mood. So when you do not have them around anymore, it is bound to trigger intense reactions of sadness.

One thing that can help you move forward is keeping people from telling you how to feel about it. It was just a cat/dog. You can get a new one is the most dismissive approach that can come your way. We are now a society that is more accepting of pets as family members and have thus progressed to sharing the loss with comfort.

Today, I do not own a pet, but I still have a particular attachment to pets on social media. So I watch these dog and cat videos whenever I force myself to smile.

Back of my mind, what if I see a sombre post from their owner about their demise? I am going to cry again, too, probably. But this time, I will be reminded of grief and why it is valid to feel it – for a human or a four-legged creature. To all my beloved pets I have lost over the years – we have a sticker over the kitchen wall and named the birds after my dogs. It again may sound silly to many, but you know what? It gives me a little comfort to have it around.

——

Writer by day, an overthinker by night. I let my thoughts flow through my writing. As a definite misfit, I let my words speak louder than my actions. Welcome to my journey of sailing through emotions and experiences, with words as my paddles.

Follow Riddhi Jadhav

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