A couple of weeks ago our beloved dog, Kisses, became seriously ill. After running tests on her at the vet’s office, it was confirmed that she had cancer and her body was starting to shut down. We made the incredibly difficult but humane choice to put her down. I felt compelled to write about it. It is my way of starting to process through my grief and share with you some insights I had as my family navigated this loss in a span of 72 hours. It seemed fitting to share as much as I could with you in a loving way in the hopes I can help you face a loss in the past, present or future. Kisses would have appreciated that I am helping others. If she had met you, you would have been instantly loved and accepted as her new best friend. In part one, I will cover how to keep love in the forefront even when you are hurting very deeply. In part two, I’ll share practical ways to communicate with your significant other and children when facing loss. I will also highlight helpful ways to talk to your kids about death and dying as they often are frightened and question-filled.
As we grow older, experiencing loss is inevitable. It could be the loss of a pet, a loved one or the dissolution of a marriage, friendship or any serious relationship. When I look back on the significant losses in my life, I notice a theme of love. At the time I was dealing with them, all I could acknowledge was the hurt, but if I see the whole picture, there actually is quite an influx of love even as your heart breaks. Love shows up in different ways for us when we need it the most. For instance, when my mom was sick and dying, I had so many friends, relatives and kind strangers that went out of their way to support me. There were the friends that met me at the airport late at night, hugged me and drove me to the hospital to be with my mom. After an emotional day of travel, seeing their faces and receiving those hugs made a terrible day a little bit better. At another point, I had a cousin that called me out of the blue once my mom was moved home. That phone call strengthened me to keep going. Then there was that seemingly endless night that my husband sat on the floor with me to make sure my mom didn’t fall out of bed. This is what love looks like. I think these reminders show us that we always have love available to us. It may not be the form we want in the moment, but it buoys us in the hope that we will heal and we will open our hearts to the new ways that love finds us again.
I was so mindful of this theme of love as I started to reach out to friends and family by text/email that we were going to put Kisses down. Almost immediately my dog sitter called and cried with me. Yes, it was sad, but it also was love. There was a veterinary staffer who talked me off a ledge when I called to check in on Kisses. I was frantic that she was scared and alone. She calmed me and assured me Kisses was peaceful and being watched over. That was love too. My boys made sure to put their dirty soccer camp gear in the wash machine and laid out fresh clothes and gear for the next day. With the help of my mother-in-law, who didn’t hesitate to pick them up from their camp, they cleared out their coolers and took out the recycling. They all were lovingly trying to make life easier for me once I returned from the vet without Kisses. Again, these were all demonstrations of love.
When you are in the middle of the loss, it is very hard to acknowledge and absorb this love. I wish only for you to be mindful as you face loss to be on the lookout for the love. You must make the decision to look for love well before you are faced with loss. You are going to need to rely heavily on this logical choice once your grieving emotions kick in. After you’ve had time to grieve and process your deep sadness, remembering these acts of love will be a powerful way to move forward. With Kisses being so newly departed, these acts of love haven’t reached my heart quite yet. I’m tucking each one away and will revisit them later. That’s when I’ll remember love never left me even though it seemed like it did at the time.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent