Goodbyes are always the last thing we want to think about. However, death is an unavoidable fact of life and our pets’ lives are often much shorter than we would like. In the case of my beloved Booni, 13 years of life was already a record-breaking feat, yet it wasn’t nearly enough when he eventually passed.
As comedian and fellow rabbit parent Amy Sedaris once said, “Sometimes losing a pet is more painful than losing a human because in the case of the pet, you were not pretending to love it.” Please note that the subtle shade rings true – it’s funny that it’s the reality for many humans caring for animals, and it makes me smile.
I myself am grieving as I write this: It’s only been about two weeks since Booni left for the Rainbow Bridge. I know that while grief differs from person to person, the things I am about to share here might help anyone coping with the death of an animal companion.
Accept that the grieving process is uncomfortable. There are days when I cry more than other days as healing is not a linear journey. Breathe in whenever sadness comes at unexpected times, like when you suddenly see your pet’s things and the void in your stomach becomes more tangible.
These feelings pass. Rest in the thought that we grieve so much because we truly love our animal companions.
Write a tribute. Plant a tree. Commission an artwork.
I was lucky because Booni changed my life to the point that I became a pet photographer in the process of loving him. What’s been keeping me sane these days is archiving this pictures properly and preparing a cloud backup.
Every picture or video, even those on your mobile phone, can remind you of all the good times you’ve spent together. It brings you back to a space of joy during the grieving process as you find yourself overcome by sheer cuteness. Being grateful for these memories acts as a soothing balm.
The value of human connection is of utmost importance as you grieve. Talk to trusted friends and family members who understand your love for your companion animal.
My niece is actually Booni’s mom as she adopted him on Christmas when she was still in senior high. Booni came at a time when I became a freelance artist, so I was able to provide for his needs and be with him most of the day. He then practically had two moms, and I’m grateful that I have my niece to talk to anytime I feel like reminiscing about him. She was also with me as Booni breathed his last.
I am also very lucky to be surrounded by so many fur-parents as friends whom I met through the years, and even strangers who have been following Booni’s journey through social media, who have expressed their sympathy and love during this difficult time.
Remember, you are not alone. Get as much support as you need, whether social or professional, that can benefit your mental health.
Meet your basic needs and take care of yourself. Delight in the simplest things that give you joy.
For me it’s looking at the stars – I usually wake up too early whenever I’m barely able to sleep.
Whenever times are rough, be kind to yourself. If your drink an extra glass of water to hydrate yourself, consider that an accomplishment. Pat yourself on the back for trying. Don’t rush the process of grieving. Take your time when dealing with your beloved animal’s possessions. Move them slowly and mindfully, and only when you feel ready.
Booni expanded the size of my heart so much that I now have 16 cats to care for. If you have other living companion animals, maintain routines with them as they may also be experiencing loss. They may even get affected by your sorrow.
Our routines allow us to have structure and a sense of normalcy. While the first few weeks may be hard and painful at times, the discomfort will eventually go away bit by bit. Continuing to give love will be beneficial for both you and your beloved animals.
And if you are thinking about adopting another animal, do not rush into it. No new companion can replace the one you lost. When your heart is ready, you will know. And when you finally are, consider adopting from a local shelter or rescue organizations to find your new best friend.
Perhaps the bulk of our grief stems from the regret that they will no longer be a part of our future – that life will not be the same without them.
I like to think that we inherit an animal companion’s resilience when they pass, that we somehow become endowed with greater appreciation for life. Just like Helen Heller said, “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
I will carry Booni’s legacy of love in my heart through infinity. He will always be with me, and that is a fact I will treasure wholeheartedly for the rest of my life.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September-October 2020 issue.