“Honestly, I think pet loss is worse than human loss.” muttered my client after I sobbed on her doorstep for ten minutes. "Really? You think so?" I blinked at her through tear-soaked eyelashes. It was a sunny day in May and I had just arrived to pick up their keys & payment for my upcoming pet sit at their home but somehow I ended up a sobbing mess. I couldn’t even keep it together in front of a client! Just a couple of weeks prior my beloved Miniature Pinscher, Jiminey Cricket had to be put to rest on April 29th and I was still in bad shape.
You can read my tribute to him here.
The same week Jiminey died, in the headlines was the sudden death of Dave Sandberg who is the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and author of Lean In. After I read her moving public post on Facebook I felt almost silly for my own loss. Afterall she lost a husband and best friend of 20 years, the father to her young children, he was an important executive, a brother, a son, a friend - many roles left empty. Dave’s death had a ripple effect of loss spanning far beyond that of my Jiminey Cricket.
I’ve had grandparents who have passed away that I have had a much less intense grieving for - on the grief intensity scale that’d be maybe a 5k run. The loss of Jiminey has been a full on Ironman. Just in case you needed a perspective.
On average, I spent at least 7 waking hours a day with Jiminey for almost ten years. That is a huge emotional investment. I learned you don’t just bounce back from a loss like that no matter how hard you try. And believe me, I’ve pulled out all the stops.
I visited a psychic once a few years ago and the first thing out of her mouth was “Tell me about this small dark male I see in your life.” I think she meant to say “black-furred” male. I am a skeptic but I found that to be more than a lucky guess on her part.
Calling him my best friend seems grossly insufficient. He was way beyond a best friend, he was a trusted companion, a brother, a child, always by my side. I actually preferred his company to anyone else’s. Always. Sounds extreme maybe but I’d bet money that there are millions of people who have held an animal in this same regard. There is a billion-dollar-a-year pet industry that hints it might be so.
Pet loss is still somewhat undervalued. When a doctor friend of mine eagerly presented me with some local grief support groups for pet loss I was disappointed to find that there were no regular in-person meetings scheduled. I even considered starting my own pet loss support group to help others. I still may.
Sometimes I’ve felt alone in my loss - there are people who mean well but they will never comprehend the human-animal bond as long as they view animals as “just a pet”. I am simply incapable of ever maintaining that limiting barrier. The love I give comes from a deep well abundant for anyone to drink up. There are no limits, no end to my capacity to give. And I gave it all to that Dog.
That’s the thing about Dogs though, they make it too easy. To give them your all, that is. And then when you do they give it all back to you. And you carry on in that bliss for 10, maybe 15 years if you’re lucky. And then they’re gone, gone away to wherever it is that they go after this life.
Since the news of her husband’s death I have thought about Sheryl Sandberg from time to time, wondering how she carries on, wondering what her grief looks like. Does it look like mine? Does she cry weekly? Daily? I am sure it is the same in a lot of ways and in other ways it is different than what I have went through. I do find a bit of comfort in the thought that I don’t have the tremendous and delicate effort of helping children to heal and grow. But maybe if I was forced to be strong for everyone else it might ease the overwhelming sadness & loss I’ve felt at times.
I think what the last 9 months have taught me is that no matter what the role that person or animal played in your life or the lives of others, it is the the magnitude of the love and connection you had directly with them in everyday life that will determine the depth of your loss & grieving once they are gone.
Human. Dog. Cat. No difference.
Love is love.