It is not a rare sight to find family units that have recently started to expand, to have pets. Either they had a previous pet before the children came or decided to bring one into their family to have it grow with their child and create that special bond that can only be created between pet and owner. But as we grow older, so does our little friend and as much as we hate to admit it, we don’t see them as mortal but rather a companion that will always be there by our side, even planning our lives with them included through it all.
So when the unthinkable day comes, it feels as if our world is collapsing, everything we know of is changing and we are left feeling confused, even more, if we grew up with our companion by our side and now are venturing into adulthood without them.
An unbreakable bond
It is quite odd to get along with someone who does not speak the same language as us but manages to understand us somehow. Through years of living together, we get to understand one another with a simple look, sound or word, there is no need to express anything further as we are aware of our unconditional love for one another, even when they decide to destroy the couch and we feel too much love to even get upset over it because it was our fault somehow, in the end, we are the ones taking care of them and this behavior should be on us, right?
One thing that I’ve come to learn with my past dog was that no matter how many mistakes I made if I yelled at her or grounded her by not letting her in my room or feeding her way too late in the night, she was always there for me. It is as if we couldn’t make anything wrong in their eyes. No matter how wrong we were, they were always there for us whenever we needed, no questions asked. It is certainly a rare bond, one that can only be formed through years of being together, understanding one another and learning each other’s language.
We watch them grow older, we try our best to keep them healthy because, as one should know, if you can’t afford the vet, don’t get the pet. They have needs and they get sick like us and they should be given the same opportunities as us when it comes to their health.
The vet is not cheap and the aftercare takes time and this is where our love is proven, how we take care of our pets when they need it, make sure they aren’t in pain and if it’s inevitable, we try to make it easier for them to go through it until the time comes that we have to let go because the only option we have, is to choose for them and we have to choose to help them stop being under such pain.
The first few months
Their food bowl is still there, waiting to be filled with food we still have, their bed remains empty, still messy as they left it last time, clothes still have leftover fur. And there’s still a part of us who is struggling to let go of them, we went through the first few nights without them and the little clicking sound their paws made against the floor or how they looked at us for food at the same time every day, we are still struggling to understand how that is no longer part of our routine and we are slowly coming to terms that the decision of letting them go was the best and only choice we had. We couldn’t be selfish just to stay with them a couple more weeks, it wouldn’t have been fair for them.
Our home feels emptier, the space seems bigger and we feel the lack of that someone in our lives.
Maybe we are familiar with the grief that comes after losing someone close to us or maybe this is one of the first encounters we have, it still doesn’t change the fact that it hurts and it will for a while and just as we built our bond with them through the years, only time will help us heal from their loss, slowly building up strength to clean up their stuff, donate whatever toys we can salvage and throw away whatever is left that can’t be repurposed.
A year forward
We kept a few things that belonged to them, maybe that one little item that we keep hidden for our own sake. Life kept going and we worked on ourselves, getting better and days went by, even weeks that we didn’t think about them, but then a day comes when they return to our mind, fill our thoughts and bring us joy, joy from the memories we shared but we also feel pain from them not being with us anymore.
There’s this little voice in the back of our heads, shaming us whenever we think about getting a new pet. How it would feel as if we were betraying them, replacing them. So, we hold back for a while and we think about it.
The little voice changes tone, sometimes warning us about the pain that will come if we find another companion, the same pain we felt a year ago and we still feel today whenever we think about them. Though, in some cases, there’s no thought of getting a new pet but rather thinking about our newly found free time. How we seem to be much more carefree while planning, no extra tasks, no waking up early to let them out, tasks which we miss and loved doing back then but now, we don’t have to do anymore and have replaced with new things.
The loss of a pet in our 20’s teaches us so much about life, it helps us realise things about ourselves and care for someone else. It makes us love unconditionally and experience the pain only grief can give. An experience worth learning from, preparing us from many challenges that we might encounter in the future even if now, it feels as if nothing will change, things already have. This event, this experience has changed us in ways we can’t see yet but we’ll be grateful for it in the future.