It is sad that there are people who feel that the life of a beloved pet (or, for that matter, any living creature) is somehow not as important as a human life. Anyone who has loved and lost a pet knows that the loss is painful, and that it takes time to recover. There is no time limit on grief or remembrance, and each person will know when it’s time to move forward. This does not mean that we forget our dear ones; we just move on from grief.
To say to someone that ‘It was just a <fill in the type of pet>! Move on, already–just go get another one,’ is hurtful and cruel. Who can measure another person’s pain or sorrow? It is like a tear in a piece of beautiful cloth–we can mend it well enough so that the mended place barely shows, but it is still there.
Those of us who have nursed our pets in their last days; cleaning up after them, administering medications to ease their pain, holding them close and talking to them–we miss all those little routines when they are gone. Sometimes it is those very routines we grieve, and we catch ourselves jumping up and saying, ‘oh, no–did I forget Rex’s pill today?’ Then we sit back down and remember that Rex has gone where he doesn’t need his tired and sick body any longer.
Love is love, and grief is grief. In my own experience, the kindest thing anyone can say is, ‘I’m sorry about <pet name>, and I know you miss him/her. He/she had a good life with you.’ When someone suffers a loss, be it pet, person, job, house, etc., it is painful. Support and comfort helps, not platitudes or some dismissive phrase meant to “help.” Only we know the right time to let another pet into our hearts; it may be a week, a month, a year–it is deeply personal.
In a funny way, I always feel that our pets who have gone on have a sweet way of sending us a new companion uniquely suited to us. When we lost our 20-year old cat, Blackie, we had already adopted Baby, originally a neighbor’s cat who came to prefer us. After Blackie was gone, a friend called me and said that she had to find a home for Nala, a torti-tiger cat who was nervous and couldn’t get along with the dog and spent a miserable life in the basement. We immediately took her, and she and Baby became quite close. When Baby’s health began to fail, Nala seemed to know, and stayed close to him. When he died, she became the queen of the house.
Months later, there came a day when I read about a local shelter’s “Desperate Housecats” who had been sheltered for several months and needed homes. One little black cat seemed look straight at me from the paper. I took my sister-in-law with me and we went in, asking to see these cats. Happily, it turned out that most of them had already been adopted, two more were in the process of adoption and the last one, Pagan, still needed a home. I fell in love with him, and adopted him on the spot. My sister-in-law held him in his box on the way home, and the poor thing peed on her in his fright (we both forgave him). Now he is happily part of the family, and he has been renamed “Pookie.”
So, there we all were, one happy family of me, the Crankee Yankee (my husband), and Nala and Pookie, who developed a peaceful coexistence despite a few dust-ups now and then. Then last December, the Crankee Yankee rescued our Pepper (see his entry, “The Christmas Cat”), and now we are three.
So right now, life with our three cats is good. We know all too well that the day will come when we will have to consider their health and happiness, and their quality of life when they are old and ailing. This is part of the responsibility of having a pet, caring for them and loving them. It is our job to make sure that they pass on with love, tenderness, kindness and compassion. And we will grieve for them and all others we have lost all over again.
At that fragile time, it serves no purpose to be told ‘it was only a <insert pet species here>; move on and get another one!’ To people who don’t have or want pets, I would say this: “If you can’t understand my grief at losing my animal friend, then please don’t be cruel at this time.” Even the ubiquitous “I’m sorry for your loss,” is far better than suggesting replacing the pet with another one.
All our relationships are special and unique. It is a tribute to both people and animals that we remember them with love and affection. No one can measure your love or your loss, and no one should ever trivialize your loss by suggesting you simply replace your beloved pet with another “just like it.” You might as well say, ‘oh, sorry about your miscarriage. But you can make another one just like it, right?’ Or, as Thumper from the movie, Bambi, would say, “If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”