Guest Blog by Laura Horton MSc, founder of Hound101.com.
Grieving the loss of your beloved hound brings enormous sadness. Feelings of loneliness are overwhelming, and all-consuming. The devastation can be compounded by the fact that many people just don’t understand. Read my Five Tips For Coping When Your Dog Dies.
How Do I Get Over The Grief Of Losing My Dog?
You will feel vulnerable and raw. Who is it safe to talk to? Is there a trusted friend or family member you can speak to about your heartbreak and sorrow, who will ‘get it’?
I liken grief to the sea tides. At first, the waves threaten to engulf and even drown you. Having someone you can share the initial stages of shock and grief with, will keep your head above water. The tide will soon subside, but it will be back, just as big, and you’ll need that person again. This will repeat over and over in the first days after you lose your dog. You may not be able to breathe properly. You need to be able to cry, say your dog’s name, cry, talk about them, cry, say over and over how much you love and miss your dog. Cry, and cry some more.
Eventually, you will notice that the waves are not so high, and they come in a little less frequently. Your breathing will be a little deeper, and you will start moving ‘through’ the process.
Why Does Losing A Dog Hurt So Much?
Your dog is always ‘in the moment’. Your bond with your dog is a loving and effortless connection. It doesn’t have the many complexities and complications of our human relationships, which can often use up our energy, and become a roller-coaster of emotions. Dogs, on the other hand, are unwavering in their devotion, companionship and love. If we could speak their language, they would be saying, “I’m here, I love you, shall we go?, this is fun!” They teach us to be better people. To love, and be loved back. That, after all, is the true essence of happiness and joy.
How Do Dogs Make Our Lives Better?
Having a dog gives you a sense of purpose. You have lots of things to do together. Walking, playing, sharing. The companionship of a dog is known to benefit children as well as adults. Stroking and touching a dog fulfils our need for contact and helps us to keep active. They are a universal talking point, with many social interactions taking place on walks. Being with your best mate lowers cortisol levels. This results in less stress, as your body is not placed in a state of high alert.
Is It Normal To Feel Guilty After A Dog Dies?
It’s normal to feel guilt when your dog dies. It’s just our way of trying to make sense of things. Our mind wants to calculate, ‘something bad has happened, and this is why’. If your dog was euthanised, you may torture yourself that you should have waited longer, or that you left it too long. Perhaps your dog died naturally, or in an accident. You may feel there was something you could have done to prevent their death. This guilt will lessen as you work through your grieving. Try not to dwell on the hurtful aspects of your dog’s death. If it was traumatic, you will naturally go through a process of revisiting the event. It’s your mind’s way of coping and moving through it. Find something to be grateful for.
- The years you had with your dog
- The great age they reached
- The wonderful life you had together
- They didn’t suffer at the end
- They had a happy life with you
- The love you shared
- You did the absolute best you could for them, even at the end
You’ll also feel guilty when you start to emerge from the darkness and loss. You feel disloyal because you feel a bit better. This is also completely normal. You will move through it. Rest assured, you are not leaving your dog behind. You are only adjusting to life without them being physically there.
5 Tips For Coping When Your Dog Dies
- Find a Safe Place or Person
Cry, rage, talk, despair. Without any reserve. Let it out. Talk about your dog. Say their name. Reach into your memory banks to bring them closer to you. Smell their blankets, toys and bed if you need to. It will be excruciating, but it will help you start to move through the despair. Repeat, repeat, repeat, as necessary.
- Be Kind To Yourself
Accept every emotion you experience for what it is. Normal and natural! The tides of grief will come and go. Humans have coped with this process for as long as we’ve inhabited the earth, and made dogs our beloved companions. Do only what you can manage. Do nice things for yourself.
- Make A Memorial
Making a scrapbook or photo album really helps to sort your mind out. I like to get as many photographs as possible and put them in one folder or slide-show, or even a printed album. I put all my dog’s stuff in one place. It helps to have a special area to go which is very comforting.
- Help Someone Else
Being of service to others who need help and support is a great way to feel your life has meaning. For example by volunteering, helping a friend, neighbour or local care-home out. Older people can be lonely, and a walk round or friendly chat means the world to them.
- Know You Have Not Lost Your Dog Forever
If you’re a dog person, there’s a chance you will say goodbye to many dogs in your life-time. Your heart will break apart, and that is the gap you will place your beloved dog into. As my pain subsides, and my heart stops hurting so much, I imagine my dog snuggled up in the wound. As my heart heals, it envelops my dog and keeps them safe in my heart, forever with me. I do this, and I touch my chest when I want to cuddle them. Our hearts know no bounds when it comes to love. You can fit a billion dogs in there. They are never lost to us.
Some Other Strategies You Might Explore When You Feel Ready:
- Write poetry or a story based on your dog’s life and personality.
- Volunteer at a rescue organisation as a way of honouring your dog, and giving back.
- Do something for yourself, such as learn something new, or get fit.
- Think about your dog, and talk to your trusted humans about them.
Coping with the loss of your dog is a process, so remember, you are not alone. Try the strategies I have mentioned. It won’t happen quickly, but eventually something will start to shift for you. You will feel joy again. You will be happy, and when you think of your dog it will only be with love and happy memories. Know that you did your best for them. You love each other.
Don’t run out and get another dog to fill the gap. You will compare the new dog to the lost dog, and they will never measure up. Give yourself space to grieve. You’ll know when it’s time to love another hound. Above all, take care of yourself. You are not alone.