On Grieving The Loss Of A Pet
You never know which day will be the hardest.
Maybe it starts the day you notice your pet is slowing down. Or perhaps the wall of grief comes months later, after you’ve already said goodbye. You stumble across that squeak toy you swore you’d lost, and find yourself sobbing. Maybe today feels the hardest, only to be outdone by the sadness of tomorrow.
The day I said goodbye to Rorschach was when the grief started for me. The twelve-year-old rabbit had been by my side for more than a decade, as a companion, a safety, a friend. On that spring day, the world went about its business as I promised a weary bunny I would see him again. Just not, maybe, in this life.
On the drive home, my ears rang with grief, and my breath was sharp and harsh from weeping. I don’t remember how I got there, but eventually, I was sitting on the couch where Rorschach and I used to snuggle, my hand falling softly to the upholstery. Only a few hours before, there had been a bundle of warm fur to absorb my loving pets—now there was nothing but air.
For days, I walked around feeling like I was wearing noise-canceling headphones. For weeks, my vibrant apartment felt solemn, and very, very silent. When I felt like I had no tears left to cry, I called up friends to help me laugh. Did it heal my broken heart? No. But it helped.
It’s been eight weeks since we said goodbye, but the grief continues to linger in my periphery. Sometimes, I swear I see attentive ears popping out from under the couch for a split second. Sometimes it’s a color, like how years ago, when I said goodbye to another beloved rabbit, Bonnie, I couldn’t help but think that the purple blankie she was shrouded in was the perfect shade for her pretty self. And then there are the days when I’ll hear a song, like “Love Shack” by the B-52s. I used to sing Rorschach’s name instead of the lyrics.
The grief slips off my tongue when I call my new foster rabbit by one of Rorschach’s countless nicknames. And it lives in my body, when my hand instinctively reaches for my phone to take yet another picture of a pet who is no longer resting by my feet.
We all experience pet loss in different ways. Well-intentioned yet misguided people might try to tell you it’s “just a rabbit” or “just a pet,” but hear me when I say this—this type of loss is not “just” anything. It can be everything.
Losing a pet changes the way you interact with the world. Your morning routine, once accompanied by the tapping of little toenails on the kitchen tile, becomes just another lonely cup of coffee. Coping with a stressful day takes on a new shape—and even if it’s the shape of a new pet, it’s not the same shape you were used to.
You don’t even know when the memories are done flooding back, so the grief can resurface at any time. And it takes time—time to wrap a new routine around the hurt in your heart and the empty space in your family.
There is no prescription for how to say goodbye. Instead, we each find an individual and meaningful way to honor the love we shared with our friend. When we’re not sure what that looks like, all we can offer is our best. Most goodbyes come punctuated with regret—it’s a natural reaction to loss.
If, or when, you see that rainbow bridge on the horizon, take in every last moment you have, no matter how impossibly sad. Embrace the small, significant ways in which you love your pet, and they love you; the morning mealtime, the afternoon walks, the bedtime treats. Try to feel everything you can bear in those final weeks, and let the warmth of that love carry you through the winter of grieving ahead.
But love doesn’t have to be spelled out spectacularly. It was always there, and always will be, even if you didn’t have a chance to say a proper goodbye.
While I can’t offer a solution for the hurt, I can extend a poem. It’s helped me navigate the grief process, and to draw strength from my lost beloved ones, including my pets:
“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room […] Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. […] Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”
Sometimes I call upon my first rabbit Niels, who endured so much and left too soon, to help me bravely carry my burdens. I’ll call upon charming Rorschach to make me smile, and calming Bonnie to soothe an aching heart. I close my eyes and imagine them as little bundles of light by my side, who protect me in death as I protected them in life.
Perhaps this gives you comfort, or perhaps you’d rather envision your friends in peace and quiet, or frolicking a distant field with their siblings. Do not let anyone tell you how you must carry your memories; grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Or a pawprint.
And when you enter your empty house for the first time, look for the traces that remain. Soon, the last crumbs of food will be cleaned up, the balls of hair will be swept away . But the very person that you are has been changed by a companionship of trust. Your life has been shaped by this love. And no amount of scrubbing can erase that.
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits, or gaming. Read more of her creative writing over on Notes To Self!