My first response when asked to write this article was, “Are you kidding me?” Having lost my heart and soul mate dog just seven weeks before, I thought no way could I or anyone be prepared for this. And in a sense this is true. Saying goodbye to a cherished pet so interwoven in your life is crushing. There is no escaping the hard parts, but they are part of the unwritten contract we all sign when we give our hearts and lives to these endearing furry or feathered souls.
And while there is no way to be ready for the overwhelming sadness, painful emptiness and agonizing sorrow, there are ways to prepare.
Ute Luppertz, Animal Communicator and TTouch practitioner of Pet’s Point of View is expert on this subject, and offers her insights and suggestions for this difficult part of the blessed journey with our animals.
Luppertz says there are two sides — the practical and the spiritual — to address in equipping ourselves for this time.
On the practical side, it’s important to consider decisions such as best routes of treatment, palliative care, pain options, euthanasia, cremation or burial — all things that, when not dealt with ahead, can turn a tough time into a nightmare.
As much as possible, get questions answered, have phone numbers ready, support systems in place, and all the difficult details handled ahead of time.
“Get things in place when you are cool-headed — before you can’t hold it together,” says Luppertz. A prime time is before your pet arrives at late-stage terminal illness.
I learned this the hard way. My beloved dog went — in a few short days — from being a sweet old senior boy who was a little creaky to being gravely ill. In the midst of the heartbreak I had to scramble with these “who, what, where and how” choices, not to mention tortuous “whys.”
Luppertz urges people to honestly examine their own sensibilities and reactions to pain to avoid projecting their own fear of pain and dying onto their animal. Animals are great teachers and do not feel sorry for themselves. “Let love run its course, not your fears,” says Luppertz.
While difficult, the last days, weeks or months are a sacred time in an animal’s life, and we can learn much from them about grace and dignity, and the process of dying and death. “It’s important to be fully present — mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” says Luppertz. Being present allows you to receive guidance for the animal’s needs and wishes, she adds.
If there are other pets in the home, it’s helpful for them to be around for the end, Luppertz says. Death is a part of life, and it is well-documented that cats, dogs and horses who see the deceased body of an animal friend will spend less time searching and grieving than pets who have not seen a companion’s remains.
Every cultural tradition, religious or otherwise, has distinct protocols before, during and after death. Luppertz suggests investigating different rituals to discover ways to honor your pet that feel right for you. From wakes and burial ceremonies to journaling and spiritual work, the ways to find closure are many, and for most people they do help.
It’s often disconcerting when weeks after the loss the grieving pet parent discovers that for those who stayed near in the beginning, life goes on, and they’re less in touch. This is natural, as the grief is the pet parent’s, and there’s no shortcut to healing. It takes courage to face the pain.
Allow yourself to shed the tears of love and find ways to memorialize and celebrate your pet that are wholly personal to you and as unique as the bond you shared.
I’m not going to lie . . . it’s rough-going. The memories are everywhere, my pain still so raw. The worst part for me has been not being able to sense him as people said I would. Luppertz advised me to let go of what I’ve been told to expect and just feel.
“While the body is gone, his essence is still there,” she said.
Being willing to stay open and feel the emotions (living in the moment as animals do) can provide comfort and allow the baby steps of healing to begin.
“The language of the heart always speaks the truth,” says Luppertz.
Luppertz provides hospice support for both pets and their guardians, and is available for consultations. She will present a workshop, “Journey of Souls: What Animals Teach Us About Aging, Illness and Death,” Saturday Jan. 5, 2-5 pm. Register at NewRenBooks.com. She also offers a monthly animal hospice support group, this month Jan. 10, 7-8:30pm, in SE Portland. Contact Luppertz at 503-774-2986 or PetsPointofView@gmail.com.
Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington. She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on. Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.