It’s taken a long time to be able to write this post, vacillating between whether it was too personal, just too difficult to write, etc. But, in the end, I guess I’m just hoping that it maybe helps someone else who lost their furry family member while traveling or at home… Doesn’t really matter, it’s super painful no matter how you lose them. Here it goes…
We lost our buddy Hutch at the beginning of December. My husband and I got him when we were first married. He was with us through 3 moves, job changes, and two babies. And he handled it all with such grace. Ever the gentle giant, persistent in finding ways to play with dogs and children, and always there for us. Hopping in the car to drop the kids off at school, a day at the grandparents’ houses, a trip to the big lake, a weekend in the city… he was up for anything.
We were in Milwaukee when we received the call from the kennel that they were performing CPR and 15 minutes later again when he had passed away. The 6-hour car ride home felt like we would never get to the kennel and trying to explain death to two small children through choked tears felt especially cruel. Perhaps the cruelest of all was knowing that we had not been there for our buddy who had always been there for us.
While we still miss him daily and have yet to put away his dishes or wash his bedding, here are some things that have helped in the healing process:
Read this article from Chris Loves Julia. I read it over and over and over. There were some differences in our situations but the heart of it was the same… we lost a much loved pet. Needing some direction, something to do, some action to take, this article helped immensely. (I have starred the ideas replicated below).
*Acknowledge that this was a significant loss. This was a family member who was part of your everyday. They provided support, greetings, and snuggles, and they will be missed… a lot.
Share memories and stories. Say what a “cool dog” he was, share a story of when you first met him. Share how you could see how loved he was, how loved he knew he was, and how he loved his family. (This was especially helpful given that we were not able to be with Hutch to tell him these things).
*Drop off/Send flowers, edibles, a card, say a kind word when you see the family, tell them how sorry you are for their loss. This was a family member and all of these kind gestures are so appreciated.
Make a donation to a local rescue or animal shelter. We received a card with a donation to a local Boxer rescue in Hutch’s name. It feels good to know that another animal will receive some extra love in Hutch’s spirit.
Make a memory box, hang up photos, create a DVD, and/or design a photo book. Remembering the good times and reliving how much a part of the family Hutch was certainly helped. My sister-in-law brought over dinner and helped the kids hang up photos and make memory boxes, my husband and I made a DVD and photo book– it all was helpful in our healing.
*Buy the kids stuffed animals similar to your lost pet. I bought each of the kids a stuffed animal of Hutch. They carried them around for the first week and still sleep with them at night.
*Have a painting done. I love the idea of portraits of our pets. In fact, back in the day, I painted this one of my childhood dog, Sally. It fit her perfectly as she loved lounging in her big fenced backyard… even better if the four of us joined her.
When I saw on the Chris Loves Julia blog that Victoria Bradley (on Etsy) did watercolors with people, I knew she was the person to paint Hutch and the children. Hutch hated not being with us. It was really the only thing he demanded from us– to be in the same room at all times. A portrait of him alone didn’t feel right, but a painting of him with his favorite little people (trying to kiss them as was almost always the case) was perfect.
Read The Invisible String with your children. It was a great reminder for all of us that we are never too far from those we love. We also read In My Heart with our kids. Sometimes it’s hard for children to name how they are feeling, so this book was a nice reminder.
Have your pet cremated. There was some sort of calm when we could finally pick up the ashes and bring Hutch home. The cremators even created a clay paw print that will stay with us should we decide to spread the ashes in Hutch’s favorite spots.
Plant something in your pet’s memory. We received these wildflower seeds in the shape of a heart from the kennel. I’m looking forward to planting them in Hutch’s backyard in the spring.
Talk to your pet’s vet. If you lost your pet unexpectedly or while you were away, go talk to the vet who knew him best, who you saw at least once a year, who knew how you loved your furry family member. I made an appointment with Hutch’s vet because it just didn’t feel right to hear about his passing from someone who didn’t even know him. It felt embarrassing at first and I almost cancelled, but after going, I know it was the right choice.
Don’t be afraid to believe in the spiritual world. Believe that all dogs go to Heaven. Believe that the crazy rustling wind and leaves that never turned their usual colors (but rather the fawn color of Hutch’s coat) are his spirit going for one last lap in the backyard. Believe that the Supermoon on the night of his death was his sign that he is a-okay. Believe it all.
Thank you for letting me share this- it was as helpful for me as I hope it may be for you.