On the loss of a pet: Grief takes up residence at Zoé Martin’s place

Three months have gone by since we lost him.

“Lost” isn’t really the right word. It’s not like he ran off into the woods never to be seen again, or that we misplaced him. It is 3 months ago that we made the gut-wrenchingly hard decision to say goodbye to our most beloved four-legged family member, Nixon.

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We gave him every opportunity, within reason and without affecting his quality of life, and he fought very courageously. But ultimately canine cancer took his life and took it too soon.

It’s not that I haven’t known loss before. In the space of an 18-24 month period 20 years ago, my life was seemingly like the title of a movie in reverse, think “Four Funerals and a Wedding”.

The first was my husband’s paternal grandfather who was 90 years young when he died. Then, just a month later it was my own dad who, while out riding his bike passed away, at the age of 48, from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (think Sudden Infant Death Syndrome for healthy adults, ie no known cause). These losses were followed by my husband’s maternal Grandmother and, finally, my mother. I was 25 when my dad died and to then lose so many people so closely together and some at such a seemingly young age downright frickin’ sucked. I know many people lose parents, friends and relatives at a younger age, but this was a dark period for me.

However, when the time came for us to make the decision about Nixon it was truly the worst time of our lives. Having been given the diagnosis just prior to Christmas we went through operations and chemotherapy. Ultimately it was the best, most humane decision for him but it left us, me, bereft.

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I have also probably gained close to 10lbs since his passing.

The first few days were, unsurprisingly, the worst. I didn’t know what to do with myself without a dog to walk. The kind messages to our Facebook post were too hard to read and looking at his empty bed, which is in our lounge, was mortifying. FYI it’s still there as to remove it would, somehow, be even worse.

It’s hard to know how to react to the death of a pet. Will people empathise not just sympathise? After a couple of days will you be expected to put it all behind you? My boss said that such a loss is maybe more deserving of bereavement leave than if a person had passed away as a pet can be even more of a family member than actual family.

When you search on Google about how to cope with the loss of a pet you are advised to take the time to mourn, that feelings of sadness and depression are to be expected and that if, like we did, you have to make the decision to end life that there will be many feelings of remorse and what ifs.

I stayed with Nixon until the end and upon leaving I even asked the vet if we had made the right decision, but we all knew his condition was going to go very bad very quickly and the timing of what we did was in his best interest, despite not being in ours.

In the past 3 months it has become easier. There are still times when “The National” comes on and I think that we should be taking him for his last evening walk around the block, there are times when we meet someone who hadn’t heard and we have to say it all again and there are times on the weekends when I still have no clue what to do.

Most recently I found it extremely difficult when Gary was away and I had the whole house to myself. Nixon had never been allowed on the bedroom floor but, on occasion, he was invited up, mostly by me! Gary being away would have been one of those occasions and I cried myself to sleep on a number of nights knowing he was not around to jump on the bed with me and knowing that he would never do that again.

I like quiet but the emptiness of the house is the worst. There’s no-one to come running when you open the cheese packet, no-one waiting for our early morning walks and there’s no-one to say goodnight to when you go up the stairs to bed.

He may not have been perfect, in fact he may have been an utter shit at times but he was ours and his loss is profound.

I would often look at his gorgeous furry face and tell him he wasn’t allowed to grow old, enjoying the puppy that was still in him even at the age of 9. I never imagined that he wouldn’t make it to his 10th birthday and I never imagined that he would be taken by an invisible and such devastating disease. I also never imagined that the loss of a pet could be so indescribably heartbreaking. And yet it is.

However, we have finally turned our thoughts to the prospect of bringing home a new puppy, perhaps by next spring. He won’t ever replace Nixon but, by then, we believe we will have found the space to welcome him into our hearts. One thing’s for sure though – that @nixonpoopy will be one hard act to follow and will always hold a very special place in my, our, hearts.

And if you don’t understand the loss of a pet, that’s okay, just be there to offer a hug.

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