Dealing with the loss of man’s best friend

Photo by Casey Gomez

A week ago, I lost a good friend of mine. We’d grown up together for the past twelve years. We’d shared very important, life-changing moments together. He knew me and loved me more than anyone I’ve ever known. He was 12 years old. His name was JJ and he was my dog.

Grief is an interesting thing. It’s consuming; it’s dark and it’s heavy. The feeling of overwhelming sadness washes over me every few hours. I hear a high pitched bark and I turn, thinking I’ll see his scruffy face grinning up at me. I hear a jingling bell and think it’s his collar.

But I watched them bury him. I know he’s not coming back. No matter how many times I search for him in the usual spots in the house, no matter how many days I check my phone to see if my mom has texted me a picture of him today. I miss him. This loss has already had an immeasurable effect on my life.

I often wonder if I’m being dramatic, if the pain I am feeling is unimportant because he was a dog and not a human. What will people think of me when they know I’ve spent over a week grieving for my dog?

The fact of the matter is, losing JJ has been just as hard as any human loss I have experienced. This is a hardship incomparable to any other thus far. I grew up with him. He wagged his tail when I walked in the door every single day since I was seven years old. He licked away my tears when I was going through my first, very serious years of depression in high school. He sat on my lap when I came out to my family, comforting me. He welcomed every person he ever met into his home and gave the most wonderful kisses. He put more good into the world than I ever could.

Dogs embody what we all strive to be — good, loyal, joyful, energetic, honest, and loving. It’s tough to lose your friend, but it’s even harder to lose your role model.

A dog? Your role model? Silly, I know, but you don’t know how great this curly haired, smelly breath, bullseye butt dog was. He was incredible. It will take a long time to cope with his death. And I don’t feel bad for it. I deserve to take my time, to cry, to write about him and to  visit my family whenever feel like I’m in need of some support.

So what’s the point? Take your time to grieve loss. It’s okay to be sad over the death of an animal.

Don’t let anyone make you feel invalid for experiencing an innate, deep human emotion. Know that your pet loved you more than words can describe, that you loved them with equal fervor and that love does not stop just because a life came to an end. No matter what you believe, it is comforting to think that your animal has gone somewhere without suffering and that they can reunite with friends who may have already passed on. It is our job as humans to do our absolute best for our pets. We do whatever we can to make them safe, comfortable and happy under our care.

If you fought for your pet’s life until the very end, you did your best, you did your job. If you let them slip away in your arms at the vet’s office because their suffering was too great, you did your best, you did your job. If you came home to an unusually quiet house and it happened while you were away, you did your best. You did your job.

Death is a natural part of life. Parting from our companions is one of the hardest things we can experience. If we look back on our time with them and see joyful memories and abundant love, then that is enough. Find comfort in the love, the happiness, the comfort, the warmth and the friendship that your animal has provided to you. Appreciate their time as yours, just as they appreciated you being their’s.  At the end of the day, a long life and a loving home is just about the best existence a dog can ask for.