I call my friend Betty my “California Mom”. We met over seven years ago serving together at church. One of many reasons we bonded immediately is due to our love for dogs. Neither of us would be offended if you call us crazy dog ladies, because quite frankly, the name fits.
Betty had adopted Amber from a lady who could no longer care for the precious pup. Due to the color of her coat and many of us like to give our dogs endearing nicknames, she became “Amber, Pamber, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie”. Betty became skilled at rambling off her full name the majority of the time. It was not until recent years that she became simply, Amber.
A few months ago, Betty started telling me how sick Amber was. She was not eating much and was losing weight at a rapid pace.
A trip to the vet detected problems with her liver.
Each time Betty would report to me of Amber’s worsening condition, my heart would sink. I simply could not talk to her about this subject. One of my dearest friends, and I changed the subject each time she brought it up. I knew how much she loved Amber and the unbearable hurt that was around the corner for her. It’s the day us animal lovers dread the most and I didn’t want to think about it.
On October 3rd, I awoke to a message from Betty informing me that Amber had died in my “sister” Robin’s arms just after midnight.
I envisioned the painful path that was unfolding for my “Mom”. She and Amber were inseparable and this sting of death was going to be devastating.
The strange part of it is that I speak with grieving families for a living yet I found I could not talk to Betty about her loss. I responded to her message with my love and condolences but I refused to hear the pain that I knew would be in her voice. Yes, I felt like the worst friend ever.
Why is the loss of a pet so hard? I think there is the obvious, it’s unconditional love. Pets never say the wrong thing, never misunderstand us, and never expect an apology. They are grateful for just a bowl of food, a pat on the head and a cuddle.
We also spend more time with our pets than we do most people in our lives. No, I am not saying pets are more important than people! They are just more constant. In Betty’s case, she was able to take Amber to work and so she was with her beloved pup 24/7.
So how do we begin the grief journey when it comes to our animals? I have described a few ways below. It may or may not surprise you that paying tribute to our pets can be very similar to paying tribute to our relatives.
Have A Ceremony – As Neil O’Connor wrote in his previous post “You Killed Lilly-Losing a Childhood Pet”, his father knew the importance of ceremony being a third generation Funeral Director. Gather family members and friends to tell funny and heartwarming stories about your pet.
Write An Obituary– It does not mean you are going to publish it in a newspaper, although stranger things have happened. But you could post it to your Facebook page or tuck it away in a special place. Sitting down and writing out your memories is key to beginning the healing process.
Design A Miniature Grave Marker– Whether you have buried your pet in your yard or cremated him/her, you can design a miniature grave marker as a tribute. Include a photograph and place it in a favorite spot in your yard to recall fond memories.
Custom Replica of Your Pet– There are multiple companies who will design custom stuffed replicas of your pet if you submit a photograph but these felted ones are my favorite. Isn’t this just the cutest thing!? Have a look at their gallery by clicking here.
Adopt A New Pet– This is my favorite option! Betty and I discussed it the other evening. She was concerned it was too soon. My reply to her was, “What if you had died? Would you want Amber to be alone without anyone to take care of her?” Adopting a new pet is not an attempt to replace the one you have lost. The purpose of a new pet is to make your heart whole again.