Dog’s Eye View: Best friends — loss and grief
March 31, 2016
Some time ago, I received a letter from a friend concerning her Shetland Sheepdog, Gillie. He died following a freak accident, despite heroic medical efforts to save him.
Gillie's owner, Jean, was inconsolable. She wrote letters to me about Gillie, and we talked on the phone about how she loved him. She wandered in the emptiness of her home. She wanted to feel his velvet muzzle pushing against her hand again. She could not bear his absence and was really grieving.
It wasn't a month later when I received a call from another friend, Jan, whose old companion, Kiana, a Norwegian Elkhound, had died. Kiana, too, had been undergoing extensive surgery in an attempt to save her fragile, unraveling life. She regained a small measure of health but then failed.
The scenario repeated itself: the phone calls and wondering, the recounting of dreams about Kiana, and all the while, Jan couldn't let go. Kiana and Jan had shared 17 years. Their lives were braided together.
There was such a strong similarity between these two events I couldn't help wondering about the pattern of loss, grieving and acceptance.
I knew Kiana better than Gillie, because I had spent a great deal of time with her and Jan over the years. I remember once Kiana had disciplined my recalcitrant Irish Terrier in a very matronly way. She was a dog that had seen the world and wouldn't tolerate nonsense from anyone.
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I knew Gillie more through Jean's recounting of her travels with him. He was a real gentleman with a beautiful black coat and deep expressive eyes, sober yet full of fun.
I wanted to help them in some way, so I looked up some material on dying, death and grief. I found that the stages of grief a person goes through are very distinct. Dreaming about the absent one is quite common. Regardless of whether it's the loss of a person, a pet or possibly a catastrophic business loss, it's all grieving.
Well-wishers have a tendency to try to stop a person from grieving. They are sometimes uncomfortable with a person's tears and aching sadness. But the one who grieves passes through the whole spectrum of grief stages and, in their own time, may come to rest on the other side of sadness.
A nun who works with families of terminally ill patients explained we can support and help a person grieve as well as they have loved. It's a tribute to the lost pet and a tribute to an exceptional relationship.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 30 years of experience.