His brain stem is deteriorating, a side effect of the chromosome abnormality he has. Twenty-nine surgeries haven’t been enough to save him, though they have bought him more time with us.
We are told that he’s the only child in the world who has his conglomeration of medical conditions (the chromosome abnormality, spina bifida, a connective tissue disorder, chiari malformation, intracranial hypertension, and another half-dozen minor diagnoses).
The amount of pain medication he receives every day is a drug-addict’s dream, is administered around the clock to keep him from experiencing pain. It is so beyond awful that I don’t have words to express my feelings. Watching him decline is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life and that is saying something.
As if that isn’t enough, the two children my family adopted from Ukraine eighteen months ago have a lot more “going on” than we were told about.
My two-and-a-half-year old has Down syndrome, autism, and reactive attachment disorder. She functions at the level of a ten month old.
My four-and-a-half year old has Down syndrome, a heart defect that wasn’t repaired properly, systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, atlanto-axial instability, autism, tethered cord, syringomyelia, mild hearing loss, and is considered both medically complex and medically fragile.
We’ve been told repeatedly by numerous specialists, that she isn’t going to have a long life. She functions at the level of an eight month old.
Neither of the girls walks, talks, signs, eats (they’re g-tube dependent, just like my six-year old) or interacts well with people (they interact, but only on their terms).
When we adopted the girls, we knew they had Down syndrome and that the four-year old had a heart defect.
Everything else has been a big ‘ol surprise since we brought them home. Honestly, it feels like discovering new problems with our kids never ends.
We didn’t know our son had this chromosome abnormality and would die soon. If I’d known this, I wouldn’t have adopted him, or at least not when I did.
To top it all off, my marriage is falling apart. I know I should care, but I don’t have the emotional capacity to handle it. I just want him to leave me alone. I don’t want to have to deal with him on top of everything else.
I’m struggling in every sense of the word. I don’t know anyone that understand how this feels.
Yes, lots of people have a medically-fragile child.
Yes, lots of people have large families.
Yes, lots of people have multiple children with special needs.
But I don’t know any other people who have a large family with lots of kids with special needs, some who are medically fragile, with one who is terminally ill?
If there are, would someone please point me toward those people? I REALLY could use a friend, someone who’ll say, “This totally sucks!” along with me. I know people don’t know what to say to someone like me, but I still want them to say something – the silence is deafening.
Those tables, forever missing one, are each welcome to share their loved one with us so that we may never forget.
I’m asking you today to pass this post around to anyone who may need it, you can use it if you need it, and you don’t have to have been the parent to feel the loss.
The way I generally organize these precious names is pretty easy:
Name, Parent’s Name, Date of Birth, Date of Death, Cause of Death, a Picture or 3, and if you feel like it, a bit more about your child. Who they were, what they loved, what they hated. Anything you’d like.
You can either send the information to me, email@example.com or you can use the online submit form. Or, you can lurk. All are acceptable and all are welcome.
It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve spend most of the day in tears. I ‘d been looking forward to it; even had some cool plans for spending the day with my daughters. Those plans went sideways shortly after breakfast.
I left my husband this week, a planned separation which took several months to execute thanks to our housing situation. As far as our daughters are concerned though, we’re still a team working together to make sure they’re happy and healthy. This week we’ve been ultra-focused on our daughters and the new adjustments.
With all our attention on our children, we didn’t pay much attention to the other members of our household.
When I got home from work on Thursday, I realized one of the dogs hadn’t eaten her breakfast. Not unusual, sometimes she leaves her food until late, so I wasn’t concerned. Friday night, she still hadn’t eaten. This time, I brought the black dog into the light in the kitchen, and took a good look at her. She was gaunt, ribs and spine sticking out alarmingly.
She clearly hadn’t eaten in days.
I called my ex and we agreed to flavor up her food with broth to get her to eat. We assumed it was stress from the separation. I sat, hand feeding the dog until she finally ate her food. Same deal on Saturday and again this morning. The gauntness was less pronounced, but I noticed other symptoms: a little bloating, weakness in one leg.
This morning, my ex came to get the girls for church. As he was petting her neck, he found it. A golf-ball sized lump hiding under her fur. Another closer to the other shoulder.
He took the girls to church while I took the dog to the vet. The emergency vet gave me her early findings. My 9-year old lab has Lymphatic Carcinoma. Cancer. X-rays indicate that it may have already spread to her organs, and possibly bones as well.
Some of you will read this and know the pain and horror I felt. Others, not so much.
It may just be the dog, but it’s my dog, one we raised (along with her litter-mate) as a rescue puppy. A pet who loves me unconditionally, knows when I’m sad and has comforted me upon many occasions. Knowing that I couldn’t put her through chemo brought me to tears.
If it really is cancer, the right, most humane decision is to put her down before she begins to suffer too much.
This cancer diagnosis capped the end of an incredibly horrible week.
A week which included leaving my husband and walking away from my daughters for the first time with the new custody sharing schedule. I kept telling myself it would be just a few days, just like a business trip. It wasn’t though. Being separated from them felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest.
A week where the bank finally approved our short sale, but gave us a short 30-day deadline to close escrow. A week that saw a solid, approved plan to move into a rental home go awry as the owners of the rental we’re moving into reneged on the deal at the last minute.
A week that ended with learning my daughters and I would be homeless come the 31st.
Ironically, the owners of the rental reneged because we had one too many dogs. A massive wave of guilt washed over me as I wondered if maybe this would allow the deal to go through.
I think the dog knows what’s coming. She’s been rather chipper since we got home from the vet. It’s prompting my 6-year old to try to convince me that the hard lump on her throat is smaller than before so that maybe she doesn’t have to die tomorrow. I’m in one of those horrible waiting periods where I want to convince myself that it’s just a bad infection, one which we can treat with antibiotics and TLC.
Maybe our regular vet will disagree and give us a different diagnosis. But, we have to be prepared for the worst.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.
What Is Pet Loss?
For many of us, a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat,” but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives. A pet can add structure to your day, keep you active and social, help you to overcome setbacks and challenges in life, and even provide a sense of meaning or purpose. So, when a beloved pet dies, it’s normal to feel a painful sense of grief and loss.
While we all respond to loss differently, the level of grief you experience will often depend on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant your pet was to you, the more intense the emotional pain you’ll feel. The role the animal played in your life can also have an impact. For example, if your pet was a working dog, service animal, or therapy animal, then you’ll not only be grieving the loss of a companion but also the loss of a coworker, the loss of your independence, or the loss of emotional support. If you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with their loss can be even harder. And if you were unable to afford expensive veterinary treatment to prolong your pet’s life, you may even feel a profound sense of guilt.
Whatever the circumstances of your loss, remember that grief is personal to you, so you shouldn’t be ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it’s somehow not appropriate to grieve for an animal friend. While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of owning a pet, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and when the time is right, perhaps even open your heart to another animal companion.
Losing a pet, for any reason, is something that happens to every pet owner eventually. Whether your pet is stolen, dies, or must be re-homed – the loss can be overwhelmingly difficult to deal with.
Our pets often become members of the family, companions, confidantes, best friends, and some cases a coworker (working dogs) or ticket to independence (service dogs). For those reasons (and many others), the loss of a pet can trigger agonizing grief along with a whole host of other emotions – anger, guilt, shock, and many other strong emotions.
Grief and Pet Loss:
It’s natural to go through the stages of grief as you would with any loss of somebody you care for. In many cases, the people around you don’t understand the grief you are going through, and may tell you to “get over it.” You may hear things like “it was just a dog/cat/bird” or “you can just get another one.” Our society generally doesn’t recognize the significance of pet loss, nor does it allow for ‘proper’ bereavement.
Different Types of Loss.
Grieving is a highly individual experience. Some people find grief following the loss of a pet comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that their grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.Different Kinds of Loss
Death can happen expectedly, after a long-term illness or when age has taken its toll. Equally painful are unexpected deaths, such as vehicle accidents or fatal injuries. When human error or maliciousness are to blame for an animal’s demise, feelings of guilt or anger can complicate an already devastating time. If there is a question of wrongful death, do not rule out legal proceedings. State laws are constantly improving with regard to animal abuse and compensation for the loss of companion animals. Visit your state’s legislative Web site for more information. Perhaps your dog was stolen or your cat was accidentally let out or simply disappeared, leaving you without the ability to say goodbye or the knowledge of his or her whereabouts and safety. Divorce, college, or other kinds of forced separation can also prompt feelings of grief.
The grieving process happens only gradually.
It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
Feeling sad, shocked, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet.
Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak or your feelings are somehow misplaced. It just means that you’re mourning the loss of an animal you loved, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.
Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run.
For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk about them with others who are sympathetic to your loss.
Some things that can make your grief harder to deal with are: lack of support or understanding, guilt over making the decision to euthanize, and wondering how to discuss it with your children. One of the most important things you can do to get through the difficult time of bereavement is allow yourself to feel it. Holding it in and hiding it is generally not conducive to working through the feelings.
Your journey of grief will not take on a prescribed pattern or look like stages, such as the five stages of grief, as Kubler-Ross, or other patterns of grief. The following tips can help with grief and grieving the loss of your beloved pet.
When Death Is a Decision
If your animal companion’s quality of life has diminished to the point where therapy or medicine is no longer able to help, euthanasia is the only humane choice. Discuss this option thoroughly with your veterinarian. Once you have resolved to end your friend’s suffering, insist on being with him or her during the procedure. Ask about sedative options in order to make your companion’s passing as stress-free as possible. As devastating as it may seem, euthanasia is never a mistake. Delaying, in the hope that one more day might make a difference, may actually mean just one more day of distress. Your friend may feel your pain, too, and try to hold on for your sake. Dealing with these emotions, and especially the guilt afterwards, is a journey unto itself.
Acknowledge the reality of the death
Acknowledging the full reality of your loss may take weeks or months, but will be done in a time that is right for you. Be kind to yourself as you prepare for the “new normal” of a life without your beloved pet. Just as it took time to build the relationship with your pet, it will take time to get used to him or her not being there. Once you become accustomed to the idea that your pet has died, you can move forward. Just because your pet is now gone does not mean that you don’t still love him or her as much as you’ve always done.
Move toward the pain of the loss
Experiencing these emotional thoughts and feelings about the death of a pet is a difficult, but important, need. A healthier grief journey may come from taking your time to work through your feelings rather than trying to push them away or ignore it. Those who bury their feelings and pain of the loss of their much-loved pet find it coming out in very different ways: self-medicating with alcohol, irrational bouts of anger, and difficulty concentrating on daily tasks. It is far more healthy to feel your feelings rather than stuffing them down deep inside.
Continue your relationship through memories
Just because your pet has died does not mean that he or she never existed. Your memories allow your pets to live on in you. Embracing these memories, both happy and sad, can be a very slow and, at times, painful process that occurs in small steps. For example, take some time to look at past photos, write a tribute to your pet, or write your pet a letter recalling your time together. Most people can understand the loss of a beloved pet and it may prove beneficial to reach out to others. Plant a memorial garden. Find a special way for you to visit the memories of your pet.
Adjust your self-identity
Part of your self-identity might come from being a pet owner. Others may also think of you in relation to your pet. You may be “the guy who always walked the big black dog around the neighborhood” or “the friend whose cat always jumped on laps.” Adjusting to this change is a central need of mourning. Now you’re in a new reality without your beloved pet. It may feel scary and awful, but over time, you’ll be able to see yourself as the same person who loved that pet, only without the pet. Adjusting to a loss is always complicated and fraught with sadness, but in time, you will be able to look back on cherished memories of your pet.
Search for meaning
When a pet dies, it’s natural to question the meaning and purpose of pets in your life. Coming to terms with these questions is another need you must meet during your grief journey. Know that it is the asking, not the finding of concrete answers, that is important. Many people feel silly or stupid for being so upset about losing their loved pet, like it’s not that serious, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This was someone you shared your life with, your home; someone you were responsible for. The emptiness of your life may feel overwhelming, which is why you should try to search for your new normal, place to belong, and practice self-care.
Receive support from others
Don’t hesitate to ask for help dealing with your heartache. Solace is to be found in a number of places. Support groups are springing up everywhere, some sponsored by professionals, and can give you the opportunity to share your feelings with people who understand your pain. There are help lines that you can call and many books for adults and children that deal with losing an animal companion. Some veterinary schools are increasing their efforts to help alleviate animal caretakers’ grief and have social workers on hand for counseling. The Internet is a wonderful resource for helping you find groups, individual grief counselors, and even chatrooms. Sympathetic family and friends can be a great source of comfort, too. They probably have known your nonhuman companion for as long as you have and can share fond memories.
You need the love and support of others because you never “get over” grief. Talking with other pet owners who have experienced the death of a pet can be one important way to meet this need. Try reaching out to others who’ve been where you are so that you can share your sad times and happy times with each other. Support will remind you that you are grieving a very real loss and help you through that grief.
Coping With Pet Loss:
The experience of loss is different for everyone and can present unique challenges to each person in each situation, but some of the following tips may help you come to terms with the loss of your fur-baby.
The deafening silence – the silence in your home after the death of a pet may seem excruciatingly loud. While your animal companion occupies physical space in your life and your home, many times their presence is felt more with your senses. When that pet is no longer there, the lack of their presence – the silence – becomes piercing. It becomes the reality of the “presence of the absence.” Merely being aware of this stark reality will assist in preparing you for the flood of emotions.
The special bond with your pet—the relationship shared with your pet is a special and unique bond, a tie that some might find difficult to understand. There will be well-meaning friends and family members who will think that you should not mourn for your pet or who will tell you that you should not be grieving as hard as you are because “it’s just a cat” or “just a dog.” Your grief is normal and the relationship you shared with your special friend needs to be mourned.
Grief can’t be ranked—sometimes our heads get in the way of our heart’s desire to mourn by trying to justify the depth of our emotion. Some people will then want to “rank” their grief, pitting their grief emotions with others who may be “worse.” While this is normal, your grief is your grief and deserves the care and attention of anyone who is experiencing a loss.
Questions of spirituality—during this time in your grief journey, you may find yourself questioning your beliefs regarding pets and the after-life. Many people around you will also have their own opinions. It will be important during this time for you to find the answers right for you and your individual and personal beliefs.
Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups—see the Resources section below for details. If your own friends and family members are not sympathetic about pet loss, find someone who is. Often, another person who has also experienced the loss of a beloved pet may better understand what you’re going through.
Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion. Remembering the fun and love you shared with your pet can help you to eventually move on.
Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Spend time face to face with people who care about you, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.
If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but can also help to elevate your mood and outlook, too.
Seek professional help if you need it. If your grief is persistent and interferes with your ability to function, your doctor or a mental health professional can evaluate you for depression.
When Others Devalue Your Loss:
One aspect that can make grieving for the loss of a pet so difficult is that pet loss is not appreciated by everyone. Some friends and family may say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a pet!” Some people assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss, or that it is somehow inappropriate to grieve for an animal. They may not understand because they don’t have a pet of their own or are unable to appreciate the companionship and love that a pet can provide.
Don’t argue with others about whether your grief is appropriate or not.
Accept the fact that the best support for your grief may come from outside your usual circle of friends and family members.
Seek out others who have lost pets; those who can appreciate the magnitude of your loss, and may be able to suggest ways of getting through the grieving process.
How Do I Tell My Children?
Young children aren’t developmentally ready to understand death in the same way adults do. As their understanding deepens over time, the lens through which they view death changes too. From ages 3 to 5, children tend to view death as temporary and reversible. They may believe you can bring a pet back to life by taking it to the doctor for a shot. Magical thinking also may prompt your 4-year-old to believe he somehow caused the pet’s death when he wished for a playful puppy to replace an elderly dog with bad breath and health problems.
From ages 6 to 8, children usually know death is irreversible but believe it only happens to others. They understand the concept but may not be able to accept that a death is happening to them. From ages 9 to 11, children come to understand that death is inevitable, even for them. However, children in these age ranges may still feel somewhat responsible for the pet’s death, thinking their beloved pet may not have died if only they’d taken her for more dog walks or kept the water bowl full.
You are the best judge of how to discuss the loss with your little ones. Honesty is important, and you should encourage your children to talk out their feelings with you. This may be the first time a child has dealt with death in any way, and an opportunity for you to help them understand how to grieve, as well as clear up any misconceptions they may have about death and dying.
One of the most difficult parts about losing a pet may be breaking the bad news to kids. Try to do so one-on-one in a place where they feel safe and comfortable and not easily distracted.
As you would with any tough issue, try to gauge how much information kids need to hear based on their age, maturity level, and life experience.
If your pet is very old or has a long illness, consider talking to kids before the death happens. If you have to euthanize your pet, you may want to explain that:
the veterinarians have done everything that they can
your pet would never get better
this is the kindest way to take the pet’s pain away
the pet will die peacefully, without feeling hurt or scared
Again, a child’s age, maturity level, and questions will help determine whether to offer a clear and simple explanation for what’s going to happen. If so, it’s OK to use words like “death” and “dying” or to say something like “The veterinarian will give our pet a shot that first puts it to sleep and then stops the heart from beating.” Many kids want a chance to say goodbye beforehand, and some may be old enough or emotionally mature enough to be there to comfort the pet during the process.
If you do have to euthanize your pet, be careful about saying the animal went “to sleep” or “got put to sleep.” Young kids tend to take things literally, so this can conjure up scary ideas about sleep or surgery and anesthesia.
If the pet’s death is more sudden, calmly explain what has happened. Be brief, and let your child’s questions guide how much information you provide.
Sticking to the Truth
Avoid trying to gloss over the event with a lie. Telling a child that “Buster ran away” or “Max went on a trip” is not a good idea. It probably won’t alleviate the sadness about losing the pet, and if the truth does come out, your child will probably be angry that you lied.
If asked what happens to the pet after it dies, draw on your own understanding of death, including, if relevant, the viewpoint of your faith. And since none of us knows fully, an honest “I don’t know” certainly can be an appropriate answer — it’s OK to tell kids that death is a mystery.
Helping Your Child Cope
Like anyone dealing with a loss, kids usually feel a variety of emotions besides sadness after the death of a pet. They might experience loneliness, anger if the pet was euthanized, frustration that the pet couldn’t get better, or guilt about times that they were mean to or didn’t care for the pet as promised.
Help kids understand that it’s natural to feel all of those emotions, that it’s OK to not want to talk about them at first, and that you’re there when they are ready to talk.
Don’t feel compelled to hide your own sadness about losing a pet. Showing how you feel and talking about it openly sets an example for kids. You show that it’s OK to feel sad when you lose a loved one, to talk about your feelings, and to cry when you feel sad. And it’s comforting to kids to know that they’re not alone in feeling sad. Share stories about the pets you had — and lost — when you were young and how difficult it was to say goodbye.
After the shock of the news fades, it’s important to help your child heal and move on.
It can help kids to find special ways to remember a pet. You might have a ceremony to bury your pet or just share memories of fun times you had together. Write a prayer together or offer thoughts on what the pet meant to each family member. Share stories of your pet’s funny moments. Offer lots of loving hugs. You could do a project too, like making a scrapbook.
Keep in mind that grieving over the loss of a pet, particularly for a child, is similar to grieving over a person. For kids, losing a pet who offered love and companionship can be much harder than losing a distant relative. You might have to explain that to friends, family members, or others who don’t own pets or don’t understand that.
Perhaps most important, talk about your pet, often and with love. Let your child know that while the pain will go away, the happy memories of the pet will always remain. When the time is right, you might consider adopting a new pet — not as a replacement, but as a way to welcome another animal friend into your family.
Euthanasia: The Difficult Choice
While some pets die of old age in the comfort of their own home, many others become seriously ill, get injured in some way or experience a significantly diminished quality of life as they grow very old. In these situations, it may be necessary for you to consider having your pet euthanized in order to spare it from pain and suffering. Here are some suggestions for dealing with this difficult decision, as well as some information about the euthanasia procedure itself.
Knowing when it’s time
Talk to your veterinarian. He or she is the best-qualified person to help guide you through this difficult process. In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to tell you definitively that it is time to euthanize your pet, but in other cases, you may ultimately need to make the decision based on your observances of your pet’s behavior and attitude. Here are some signs that may indicate your pet is suffering or no longer enjoying a good quality of life:
He is experiencing chronic pain that cannot be controlled with medication (your veterinarian can help you determine if your pet is in pain).
He has frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is causing dehydration and/or significant weight loss.
He has stopped eating or will only eat if you force feed him.
He is incontinent to the degree that he frequently soils himself.
He has lost interest in all or most of his favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing with toys or other pets, eating treats or soliciting attention and petting from family members.
He cannot stand on his own or falls down when trying to walk.
He has chronic labored breathing or coughing.
Once you have made this very difficult decision, you will also need to decide how and where you and your family will say the final goodbye.
Before the procedure is scheduled to take place, make sure that all members of your family have time with the pet to say a private goodbye.
If you have children, make sure that you explain the decision to them and prepare them for the loss of the pet in advance. This may be your child’s first experience with death, and it is very important for you to help her or him through the grieving process. Books that address the subject, such as When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers or Remembering My Pet by Machama Liss-Levinson and Molly Phinney Baskette, may be very beneficial in helping your child to deal with this loss.
It is an individual decision whether or not you and your family want to be present during the euthanasia procedure. For some pet owners, the emotion may be too overwhelming, but for many, it is a comfort to be with their pet during the final moments. It may be inappropriate for young children to witness the procedure since they are not yet able to understand death and may also not understand that they need to remain still and quiet.
Some veterinarians will come to your house, which allows both the pet and the family to share their last moments together in the comfort of their own home.
What Happens During Euthanasia?
Making the decision to say goodbye to a beloved pet is stressful, and your anxiety can often be exacerbated if you do not know what to expect during the euthanasia procedure.
Your veterinarian will generally explain the procedure to you before he or she begins. Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for further explanation or clarification if needed.
Small to medium-size pets are usually placed on a table for the procedure, but larger dogs may be more easily handled on the floor. Regardless of the location, make sure that your pet has a comfortable blanket or bed to lie on.
In most cases, a trained veterinary technician will hold your pet for the procedure. The veterinary technician has the skill needed to properly hold your pet so that the process goes quickly and smoothly. If you plan to be present during the entire procedure, it is important that you allow enough space for the veterinarian and technician to work. Your veterinarian will probably show you where to stand so that your pet can see you and hear your voice.
Your veterinarian will give your pet an overdose of an anesthetic drug called sodium pentobarbital, which quickly causes unconsciousness and then gently stops the heartbeat. Your veterinarian will draw the correct dose of the drug into a syringe and then inject it into a vein. In dogs, the front leg is most commonly used. In cats, either the front or rear leg may be used. The injection itself is not painful to your pet.
Often, veterinarians will place an intravenous (IV) catheter in the pet’s vein before giving the injection. The catheter will reduce the risk that the vein will rupture as the drug is injected. If the vein ruptures, then some of the drug may leak out into the leg, and it will not work as quickly.
Your veterinarian may give your pet an injection of anesthetic or sedative before the injection of sodium pentobarbitol. This is most often done in pets that are not likely to hold still for the IV injection. An anesthetic or sedative injection is usually given in the rear leg muscle and will take effect in about five to 10 minutes. Your pet will become very drowsy or unconscious, allowing the veterinarian to more easily perform the IV injection.
Once the IV injection of sodium pentobarbitol is given, your pet will become completely unconscious within a few seconds, and death will occur within a few minutes or less.
Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to confirm that your pet’s heart has stopped.
Your pet may experience some muscle twitching and intermittent breathing for several minutes after death has occurred. Your pet may also release his bladder or bowels. These events are normal and should not be cause for alarm.
After your veterinarian has confirmed that your pet has passed, he or she will usually ask if you would like to have a few final minutes alone with your pet.
The choice to stay for the euthanasia or not is a personal one. Some vets will make a home visit to ease the transition, others prefer not to have the owner present at all. You’ll want to discuss your desires and concerns with your vet, and if they are unable or unwilling to accommodate you, then perhaps you should ask for a referral.
After your pet’s death, you will need to decide how to handle the remains. It may seem easiest to leave your pet with a clinic for disposal (a fee may apply – check with them), but there are several other options available to you.
Your veterinarian can offer you a variety of options for your pet’s final resting place.
Cremation is the most popular choice, and you can choose whether or not you would like to have your pet’s ashes returned to you. Most cremation services offer a choice of urns and personalized memorials.
Burial is another option. You may want to bury your pet in your own yard, but before doing so, be sure to check your local ordinances for any restrictions. There are also many pet cemeteries throughout the United States. To locate a pet cemetery near you, check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries.
Home burial is a popular choice, but you’ll need to have the land, and make sure it’s legal in your area.
Cremation is generally less expensive than a cemetery, and offers up more options as to what you do with the remains. You can choose to keep the ashes with you, scatter them somewhere special, or bury them. Your vet, a pet store, or local shelter is likely to have more information about the options available in your area. It might be a good idea to have a plan in place ahead of time, rather than trying to muddle through in the midst of your grief.
A burial service can provide closure. There are hundreds of pet cemeteries around the world as well as several companies that manufacture coffins, urns, and grave markers for companion animals. If you decide on a home burial, however, you must first check with city and county ordinances to determine the legality of interment. Your veterinarian can also dispose of the body but you may want to ask about the clinic’s policy. Space or legal limitations may necessitate developing your own method of remembrance. Your veterinarian can recommend an animal crematory center, enabling you to keep the remains in an urn for a private memorial at your companion’s favorite park or beach.
When Should I Get Another Pet?
You may be tempted to rush right out and get another pet just like the one you lost. However, it might be better to mourn your old pet and wait until you’re more emotionally ready. You’ll also need to be careful of expecting the new pet to be the exact same as the older pet; this can lead to disappointment and frustration.
There are many wonderful reasons to once again share your life with a companion animal, but the decision of when to do so is a very personal one. It may be tempting to rush out and fill the void left by your pet’s death by immediately getting another pet. In most cases, it’s best to mourn the old pet first, and wait until you’re emotionally ready to open your heart and your home to a new animal. You may want to start by volunteering at a shelter or rescue group. Spending time caring for pets in need is not only great for the animals, but can help you decide if you’re ready to own a new pet.
Some retired seniors living alone may find it hardest to adjust to life without a pet. If taking care of an animal provided you with a sense of purpose and self-worth as well as companionship, you may want to consider getting another pet at an earlier stage. Of course, seniors also need to consider their own health and life expectancy when deciding on a new pet. Again, volunteering to help pets in need can be a good way to decide if you’re ready to become a pet owner again.
Children may feel it’s disloyal to love a new pet, especially if what they really want is the old pet back. In most cases, it is better to get a pet that is different from your old one, to avoid making comparisons, but you will know what you and your family can handle.
If you live alone, you may want to find a new pet sooner, to help stave off loneliness and give you a sense of purpose and companionship.
You’ll also need to consider the needs of any other pets you have.
Additional Pet Loss Resources:
Pet Loss Support Page – This page is a little cluttered, but has extensive resources, including many international ones, as well as several articles and many links to other helpful pages.
Rainbow Bridge – Well known Rainbow Bridge poem. Also has resources about animal health and pet loss grief.
Pet Loss Hotlines:
US Pet Loss Hotlines:
C.A.R.E. (Companion Animal Related Emotions) Pet Loss Helpline – (877) 394-CARE (2273) We are here to accept calls from 1 to 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You may call at any time and leave a message, and your call will be returned as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours.
Washington State University Pet Loss Support – 1-(866) 266-8635 Phone and/or email message can be left for staff 24 hours a day. Phones are normally staffed during the semester Monday-Thursday from 7 PM-9 PM and Saturday 1PM-3 PM PST. While school is not in session and during holidays – abbreviated hours checking phone and email messages Monday-Thursday and Saturday once daily.
Death, regardless of the details, is capable of devastating those it leaves behind. Brother, sister, son, daughter, mother, or father – all losses are significant. Although commonalities exist amongst people who have experienced a certain type of loss, individual grief is as unique as the person experiencing it and their relationship with the person who died.
While we are hesitant to categorize and careful not to compare, we do acknowledge that there’s merit in recognizing commonalities. Shared experiences tell us, if nothing else, that we are not the only ones. And if other people have had struggles similar to our own, then maybe our grief isn’t as crazy as it sometimes seems.
There are a number of reasons why grieving the death of a spouse, fiancé, girlfriend, boyfriend, or significant other is difficult.
Also, we are going to use the term ‘partner’ and ‘significant other’ for the purposes of this article because they apply broadly, that’s our thought process and we’re sticking to it.
Losing someone you love, someone you’ve spent a good deal of your life with is very painful. There are a number of shocking emotions that bubble to the surface – anger, guilt, shock. Sometimes, the sadness you feel over the loss of your husband or wife can overwhelm you and make you feel as though you are drowning.
As hard as this is, these are normal reactions to the loss of a husband, wife or partner.
So what happens when it’s YOU who loses your partner? Or someone you love?
Why Is Partner Loss So Challenging To Grieve?
There are very few easy deaths for loved ones to have to grieve, partner loss (among the death of a child) is one of the hardest deaths to cope with. Here are but few reasons why losing a partner to death is so very complicated.
They Were Your Best Friend
People who have lost others, such as dear friends, find this loss hard to grieve. Most people consider their partner as their best friends, which compounds the loss. You not only lose your spouse, but you also lose your confidant, the person who knows you best.
They Were Your Person
When something dreadful or awesome happened, who’d you call? Just day to day stuff, non-emergent calls? Most people opt to call their person; their partner. They may have been the person who understood letting you be upset, then knew how to calm you down. They’re the one’s who knew almost everything about you – favorite food, favorite shows, favorite everything. Likes and dislikes, no one knew you better. You may forget some days after their death that they’re gone and find yourself trying to call them.
They Were Your Co-Parent
When most people think about losing a partner, they’re thinking about an elderly couple. Obviously, this is not always the case. and there may be Parenting is hard; being a single parent is harder; being the single parent of grieving children is one of the hardest. When your co-parent has died, all responsibility falls on you to keep your children safe, clothed, and loved.
They Gave You Unconditional Love
Whether or not you agreed on every thing, love is accepting. Your partner knew your deepest, darkest secrets, how crazy you were, how flawed, but they loved you anyway. When you’ve become used to unconditional love, it can feel cold and dark when that unconditional love is gone.
They Were the Only Person Who Truly Knew You
Perhaps your partner knew how you took your coffee and how you liked your eggs. Maybe they knew your weaknesses and fears; where you came from; and what you’ve been through. It can be comforting to be ‘known’, but this kind of ‘knowing’ is not easy to come by and takes a long time to build.
They Paid Attention to Your Needs and Well-Being
Everyone is selfish some of the time, but overall, your partner looked out for your needs and tried everything to keep you happy and health. After expeireicing having someone like this, losing it can be very scary and isolating.
They Gave You Comfort And Physical Needs
Everyone needs to be comforted. This is universal. Having someone always there to comfort and physically hold you is a wonderful thing, however once it is gone, it may seem like you’re isolated and alone. Your partner may have known what to do, but no one else does.
Missing the Little Things
It’s only natural to grieve and miss the sweet little things your partner once did. At the same time, you may actually miss all the things that drove you crazy about him or her.
Living With Unresolved Guilt and Regret
It’s normal to feel guilt and regret about t things that happened in their relationship with the deceased, even if it occurred years before the person died. Perhaps you wish you had treated your partner better, perhaps they never forgave you for something, maybe you regret something you said, maybe you regret not saying enough, or maybe you feel guilty for the fact that you survived and they died. The battlefield of loss is fertile ground for the coulda’s, woulda’s, and shoulda’s that are typically seen in grief.
Your House Is Empty
After cohabiting with a person for many years, coming home to complete and utter silence can be awful. Most people would do just about anything to hear their partner’s “noses” around the house – their messiness, snoring, talking, singing, video games being played. Your bed will be half-empty at all times, making you feel majorly lonely.
You See Your Kids Miss Out On A Lot
Every time a milestone happens – father/daughter dances; mother/daughter sleepovers; proms; weddings; drivers licenses – you have to live with the knowledge that your child’s excitement may be somewhat tempered by grief over the absence of one of their parents.
Most partnerships include a division of labor: one cooks, one cleans, one takes the garbage out, one balances the checkbook. The chores that you’ve not been in charge of are now in your purview. You may have to re-learn how to do something you’ve never done before. There are endless logistics to this: you may need to get a job, childcare may be difficult to secure, paperwork from a death is incredibly complex, and you may even not feel like yourself any more. Balancing life after a partner death comes with a lot of pressure and responsibility
Being on Your Own is Hard
It’s hard to go from having a partner in life, to doing everything on your own. It’s not that you can’t cope with life on your own, but you got used to the security and comfort of having someone at your side.
You Mourn All The Things Your Significant Other Will Miss
You may grieve for everything your partner will miss (has missed) out on. Special moments, having children, having grand-babies, retirement – and other things your significant other would have loved .
You Mourn The Things You’ll Miss Out On, Too
After someone dies, it is normal to grieve the past as well as your hopes and dreams for the future. After your loved one has died, you will mourn for all the things you had dreamed of sharing with them.
Pressure to Do Right By Them
If you’re the next of kin for your dead partner, the responsibility to make decisions is your job. Maybe you’d discussed end-of-life care, DNRS, estates, belongings, and funeral arrangements. Maybe you hadn’t, so you simply have to guess. In the best cases, the extended family agrees with you and supports you, but there are also people who fight you to do what”s right by your partner. Regret over decisions made at the end of a person’s life can make struggling with grief even more complex.
Special Days and Anniversary Reactions
Of course you’ll miss spending those “special days” with your significant other. This may be coupled with an anniversary reaction that triggers your grief and feelings of loss.
\You worry about being truly alone
You were supposed to grow old with your partner, and perhaps you worry that you will spend the rest of your life alone or lonely now that they have died.
Death Threatens Who You Are
Are you a wife? A husband? A widow? A widower? After years together, being someone’s partner was a huge part of who you are. On your own, don’t be surprised if your identity changes.
Relationships Between Family and Friends Changes
Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, people grow distant and they lose touch. There are a million reasons why, but sometimes losing a partner cuts your support system in half.
You Have To Live The REST of Your Life Without Them
And without them, this feels like a really really long time.
You’re single again
Having been partnered off for years, you are now the single person in the room. It’s an isolating feeling.
Many people who have other married friends have partners that are still alive. Going out with these friends can make you feel awkward and uncomfortable.
You Now Worry About Being Completely Alone
You were supposed to grow old with your partner, and often you may worry that you will spend the rest of your life alone or lonely now that they have died.
Dating After Death
Oftentimes, before you’ve even felt any desire to date again, well-meaning friends will push you to get back out there. If you’re not ready, tell them so.
On the other hand, there will be people who judge you for dating again (so soon?) after your partner dies. It’s a sticky situation for sure.
Your New Partner
Dating someone deeply in mourning can be incredibly hard. Your new partner may not understand why, if you’re dating him or her, aren’t you over your dead partner. It takes an incredibly amazing new partner to understand this:
Death doesn’t END a relationship or feelings about the dead partner
Make every effort to let the deceased’s memory into their life
You can love a person in the present, while continuing to cherish a significant other who has died
How To Help Yourself Heal From The Loss of a Partner:
Losing someone who has been a part of your life for many years or decades can rock you to the core, your grief overwhelming you. Going from a twosome to a single is beyond painful, and it may be hard to learn to cope with this loss.
Physically, one of the most important things to do is to continue to take care of yourself – take your medications, see the doctor, and make sure you’re eating and drinking properly.
Take the time you need to grieve the loss of your partner. There is no time-table on grief and no set schedule in which you should be “over” it.
The more significant the loss (and the loss of a husband, wife, or partner is very significant), the harder the grieving process may be.
Remember, everyone grieves differently. Just because someone you know didn’t feel the same way you do doesn’t mean that either of you are wrong – grief is different for everyone.
Do your best to not play the “what-if” game. There is a lot of self-imposed guilt in those scenarios.
Ignoring the pain will not make the grieving process go any faster. It’s really important to face up to that ugly grief and let it out.
You don’t have to be strong. It’s okay to be weak. Losing a partner is a major life change, and the grief can be very consuming.
It’s okay if you don’t cry – not everyone cries to express their grief. You grieve in your own way in your own time.
Don’t let anyone else pressure you to “get over it.”
It’s common for other people (and yourself) to misunderstand how long it takes to adjust to a new life. It’s common to take far longer than a year or two, and that’s okay.
Lean on your family and friends, even if your pride hates it. This is the time to let people know what you need from them.
Join a support group for other people who have lost spouses. Grief is a lonely time – being surrounded by people who know how you are feeling can go a long way toward combating loneliness.
Talk to a grief counselor or therapist. Often times, someone trained in working with bereaved individuals can help you come up with new coping strategies for working through your grief.
Take care of yourself – physically. Get enough sleep, eat properly, and exercise. The mind and body have a powerful connection, and it’s important to take care of your body while your mind sorts through the grief.
Express your feelings in a tangible way. Write letters to your deceased spouse. Create a memory book. Put old photos in an album that you can look at.
Plan for grief milestones – birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays hold a special emotional significance. Expect that these milestones will be extra hard the first years without your partner.
Never, EVER allow someone to tell you how you should be acting, behaving, or feeling. If they try, cut them off until such time as you can explain why what they said or did was not acceptable.
How To Help A Loved One Who Has Lost A Partner:
When someone we dearly love loses a husband, a wife, or a partner, it is a shock to everyone around them. It can be almost impossible to know how to help someone who has lost a partner. Here are some tips for helping your loved one work through their grief over the loss of their partner.
Beware the Widowhood Effect: the first 3-6 months after your loved one’s loss are critical for their very own existence. Many people who have lost a partner have died between 3 to 6 months after the loss of their partner. It’s generally believed to be a combination of psychical and psychiatric complaints brought on by all the emotions of your loved one that result in a reduced immune system (among other issues) that can lead to death. Social contact has proven to be something that helps a loved one continue to survive the Widowhood Effect.
This makes visiting and checking in on your bereaved loved one as often as possible and encouraging him or her to get back out into the world.
It’s common to misunderstand how long it takes an bereaved individual to adjust to a new life. Some may adjust more easily than others. Stay close to your friend as his or her life changes – it’s a long battle.
Be present for your loved one – they have just suffered a major loss.
Listen non-judgmentally and compassionately. Your kindness will never be forgotten.
Remind yourself that grief is as unique as the person experiencing it – there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief simply is.
If you’re close to your loved one, assist with funeral planning. There’s a lot that goes into planning a funeral and reception, and these tasks are both devastating and require a lot of work.
Stay with your loved one if they would like and help to answer the door, the phone, or emails that may arrive.
Help your friend to organize any paperwork, medical bills, and other things associated with partner loss. That way, bills are paid on time, and your friend doesn’t feel he or she has one more thing to deal with.
Reach out to your friend. Call. Keep calling. Send text messages. Email. Do this frequently, even if they do not respond. Sometimes it’s all they can do to survive. But know that hearing from you can make a world of difference.
Continue reaching out, long after the funeral has ended. Support, by then, has probably dropped off, and it’s likely that your friend is really beginning to feel the loss of his or her partner.
Remember anniversary dates and help your loved one during these awful times. Birthdays, anniversaries, the day of the loved one’s death – these are all days that will be a lot harder on your loved one. Help by remembering to call, send a card, visit, or otherwise be there for your friend.
Cook frozen meals that your loved one can easily heat up. Many grieving people forget to eat, so having something around that’s easily prepare-able can make a huge difference.
Offer practical help – do a load of laundry while you’re visiting. Pick up some groceries at the store. Offer to run errands or accompany your loved one on errands.
Grief makes it very hard to do even the simplest things – sometimes having someone else around can give them the strength to brave the store or pharmacy.
Losing a partner, especially if it’s been a spouse of many years, will make them feel more alone than they ever have. If possible, spend some time just being with your friend. It’s hard going from being a twosome to a single.
Offer to go to weddings, funerals, and other situations in which their partner’s absence won’t feel as devastating.
Have a weekly dinner arranged to go out (or stay in) with your friend to give them something to look forward to.
So many of us want to “fix” the situation for our loved one, but it’s impossible. We cannot fix our friend, we cannot replace their partner – what we can be is a friend. Be there to love them and support them.
Be patient with your loved one. The range of emotions that grief puts us through runs from depression and anger to guilt and sadness. Patience is necessary and important.
Let them talk about all of the ugly emotions they might be feeling – allow them to do so in such a way that they do not feel as though you are judging them.
There may be legal issues involved if the deceased has a complicated family situation (overbearing in-laws, stepchildren, ex-spouse). Offer to help your friend navigate the waters of how to grieve while dealing with the emotions of others closely involved.
Your loved one, especially if you still have a partner, may not want to discuss their loss with you. It’s almost impossible to know the unique pain of losing a partner unless you have been there yourself.
If your loved one grieving his or her partner does not feel comfortable discussing the loss of their spouse, suggest local support groups for bereaved individuals.
Remember: you don’t have to have been a close friend of the family to go to the funeral and wake. It’s appreciated to see that many people are also mourning the passing of their partner.
Remember that the pain of losing a partner will never heal.
Take any signs of depression very seriously. Here is a page about depression for your reference.
If your loved one speaks of suicide, call 911. Do not hesitate.
What to Say When Someone Has Lost A Partner:
Acknowledge the death by saying, “I just heard that your husband (or wife) died. I am here if you want to talk about him (or her).”
Express concern, “I’m so very sorry that you lost your wife (or husband).”
Be genuine without hiding your feelings, “I wish I knew what to say, but please know how much I care.”
Offer support, “Please tell me what I can do for you.”
Ask questions, “How are you feeling?” without assuming you know how the grieving person feels.
How NOT To Help Someone Who Has Lost A Partner:
It’s hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a partner. While we’ve talked about what TO say to someone who has lost their husband or wife, we haven’t discussed what NOT to say. Here are some suggestions for what NOT to say to someone who has lost a partner.
Do not expect that your loved one will “get over” their loss on a set time-table. Grief and grieving is unique to each person.
Don’t change the subject if the deceased individual comes up in conversation. It may be uncomfortable for you to talk about, but the person who is grieving wants to feel as though their husband or wife is not forgotten.
Don’t use “he” or “she” in conversation while referring to the deceased. Use their name.
As everyone grieves in their own way, don’t chastise your loved one for being “too happy too soon” or “wallowing.”
Should your loved one begin to date “too soon” after the loss of their spouse, remember that it’s neither your place to judge or understand coping mechanisms.
As always, avoid platitudes. Special mention goes to “He or she is in a better place.” It’s dismissive of the tremendous loss, and without knowing the religious background of your grief-stricken loved one, it may not be something they actually believe.
Don’t say, “I know just how you feel.” Unless you, too, have lost a partner, you do not know how they feel. That comment can cause a lot of anger as it feels dismissive of the loss.
Don’t make assumptions about your grieving friend based upon how they appear. Some people are excellent at hiding their emotions.
Do not dismiss your friend’s varying range of emotions. Because we each grieve in our own way, we may not experience the same emotions – there are no right or wrong emotions involved in the grieving process.
Avoid telling your loved one about your own grief experiences.
Do not compare grief – grief is different for everyone.
Do not offer unsolicited advice about “getting over” their grief. They will NEVER be over their grief.
Don’t offer reasoning about how they should or shouldn’t feel.
What NOT To Say To Someone Who Has Lost A Partner:
“You’ll get remarried some day.”
“He/She was lucky to have lived to such an old age.”
“It was God’s will.”
“He’s/She’s in Heaven now.”
“Be thankful he/she is not in pain any more.”
“Think of all the good times you had.”
“You’ll feel better soon.”
“Count your blessings.”
“You have so much to be grateful for.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“Pull yourself together – be strong!”
“I know exactly how you feel.”
If you have any suggestions to add to this page, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!