Losing A Pet: A Lesson in Grief
One year ago, on November 3, 2017, Mike and I said goodbye to our sweet Ellie. I grew up with dogs and have gone through having and losing them before, but our experience with Ellie was far more traumatic. She had just turned two when she developed IMHA, which is a strange disease where the dog's immune system attacks healthy blood cells. We still don't know why she developed this horrible disease or why she had to live such a short, two years. But through the loss, there are a few things we've learned.
The baseline assumption here is that you grieve when you lose a pet. To say anything else is a bold faced lie - they are such an important part of our lives. Not only that, but pets dictate our routines: we wake up and take the dog out, we come home and take them on a walk, we are always providing for them like they are children. When you lose a pet, your entire routine is shifted like it is when you lose an immediate family member. Without a dog to take out in the morning, as a young married couple, we had no reason to get out of bed after Ellie passed away. While working from home, I had no natural breaks because Ellie wasn't requesting my attention or wanting to go on a walk. Losing a pet is disruptive and tragic.
First, I learned that we all, as humans, grieve differently. For better or worse, I know how I grieve after losing my dad when I was 9, along with other deaths in our extended family and pets. The morning we got the call that Ellie was not going to make it, I knew we needed to get ourselves home and surrounded by loved ones for my sake. I am comforted by the normalcy, the presence, and love of our closest friends and family, and after we moved to England those people became far away. Before we left for the vet that morning we booked 2 plane tickets home for 10 days so we could see all of our families. Unfortunately, we learned over the course of our long trip home that Mike needed space to grieve like he needed to. He wanted to be at home and feel the full weight of the loss and work through it without the noise of others around us. I never fully realized until that moment that not everyone needs to be surrounded by people to grieve like they need to.
Second, I (continued) to learn that grief knows no time limits. You might be thinking "oh, Erin sweetie it's been a year and it's just a dog". And yes, we have had a great year despite the grief. We cherish memories of her and talk about her often, but that doesn't stop me from feeling the weight of sadness of her loss today, and likely for many years to come; and that's okay. Grief is an interesting experience, that begins as a completely disruptive part of your life that impacts every single area. As you heal, it doesn't go away - it just fades into the background and becomes a part of you. Memories of my dad and of Ellie, all the longing for more time and wondering about what that time would have been like, having moments where you wish you could have them here - those things never, ever, ever stop.
Third, you will never replace your pet. We worried about this as we started the process of getting a new dog soon after Ellie passed away. We worried about if we were replacing her, or if we would ever be able to love a new dog the same knowing what happened to Ellie and missing her so desperately. Mike and Ellie had a special bond, and he still sometimes wonders if he will ever love a dog as much as he loved Ellie, but I'm here to tell you that the human heart is amazing and just grows. Parents of more than one child may already know this, but for those of us not in that situation, in my experience my love for Poppy could never exceed my love for Ellie, but it certainly isn't less and it MOST certainly doesn't replace her. I let go of the guilt of feeling like I was "moving on" too quickly because I know that I am better in the long run because we got her.
That's my thoughts today on grief. We miss our girl so much. Below I copied down our handwritten notes from the plane on the way home after we said goodbye to Ellie. I knew that we should write every little thing down because over time our memories would fade.
Ellie Rose Recachinas [October 23, 2015 - November 3, 2017]
Also known as our bae, sweet girl, potato, baby girl, baby squirrel, sweet potato, our furban, furrito, our vicious girl, ellie bellie, and our little despacito.
She gave the sweetest kisses, and loved to be the little spoon.
The thing I'll miss the most is the sweet morning cuddles, where she was too awake to stay in bed with Mike but too sleepy to play. She would jump off the bed and scratch the door, then waggle over to wherever I was, put her paws on the furniture so I could lift her up (because she refused to jump), then she would plop down on my lap while I had my morning coffee.
Her tail never stopped wagging, and she loved to play almost as much as she loved cuddling. She would bring us her toys as an offering, maybe the bacon ball (her favorite ball from grandmom), maybe a marshmallow or dumpling from her barkbox (which we had a full year's subscription of). If we didn't start playing with her she would just shake her toy so hard it would end up falling out of her mouth and be thrown across the room. We had nightly chase sessions in the bedroom in Virginia and our whole house in Harrogate. We would leave the doors open in the circle made by the bedroom, living room, and office and we would go around and around. If you made eye contact and made any movement she would brace herself and butt run away. She tucked her sweet brown butt under her body for more control maybe? More aerodynamic? She was so fast when she scurried away. Eventually she would lay in her crate or on a pile of pillows "home base no chase" and we would scoop her up and take her to bed.
She was perplexed by fireplaces. At fortnightly I think she was convinced there was another dog in the fireplace. She would take her toys and "sacrifice to the fire doggy". One day she was looking at her reflection and Mike turned on the fireplace to see what she would do. We probably scarred her for life. When we moved into our house in Harrogate, she developed an arch nemesis - the old fireplace with a black marble flooring around it. We still don't know why she was scared of it. Every once and a while she would just walk up to it and stare. She left her back feet as far away as possible so her legs were sometimes fully extended behind her, trying to get as close as she could while staying as far away as possible. She would accidentally throw her toys into it, and if we weren't in the room we always knew what happened at the panicked bark, like "HELP this is AN EMERGENCY" bark. I will miss hearing those sweet sounds as annoying as they were. Sometimes if the toy was close enough to the edge of the black flooring, we would cheer her on and call her our brave girl hoping she would get the courage to grab the toy (sometimes we had to move it closer, or just get it for her depending on how stubborn she was feeling).
Speaking of, she was so stubborn. She REFUSED to jump on any furniture on her own. We tried everything. She mostly tried to climb on the furniture like a toddler, hoisting up one leg at a time, though she could never get that first leg high enough and would keep slipping so we ended up picking her up anyway. She loved to dig in the blue couch, she would go to where the cushions met and just dig like there was treasure lurking beneath. Her little butt would be up in the air and her little head stuffed in the couch smelling who knows what.
We miss you good girl
xoxo mom & dad