Loss is never an easy topic. There are so many emotions tied up in it and it’s not the same for everyone. Not everyone feels the same level of sadness or has the same reaction to it. And everyone deals with it differently.
This past November, our dog, Trooper, turned 14. We adopted Trooper from the SPCA in January of 2004. He was with us for so many years. Really his whole life, minus those first 8 weeks. He became part of our family. He was picked up as a stray, but not after he “was on the run” from the SPCA for over a week while they tried to catch him. Ahhhhh, our Trooper.
About 2 years ago, Trooper was playing in the yard and hurt his right back leg. While he initially limped after injuring it, he adapted well and really began using just 3 of his four legs. We took him for acupuncture during this time and he had good results, but he really had adapted to just using 3 legs. After a while, he didn’t seem to be getting as much of a benefit from the acupuncture, so we stopped treatments. He rarely used that back leg and the muscle atrophied pretty significantly. Still, Trooper kept going.
Last week, my husband and I made the decision that our Trooper’s physical health wasn’t improving. And we made the emotional and heart wrenching choice to put down our best buddy. He was our only remaining living dog, having watched and experienced his 3 brothers passing away in the years prior. So Trooper knew the feeling of loss and the sadness that can come with it. I think him being sensitive to this, he pushed on when a lot of others may have needed to choose rest instead.
Trooper was very much like his name describes; our trooper. He was a trooper, working through a lifelong problem of hip dysplasia, his fear of thunderstorms, living and getting along with other doggy siblings, not to mention his leg injury and subsequent muscle atrophy. And other random ailments and issues along the way. But he always pushed on because he was a trooper.
Deciding it’s “the end” is never an easy decision to make when you consider your pet a part of your family. I was struggling because I was looking for a sign that it was time, like refusing to eat or no longer going potty – physical signs that we typically look for of reassurance that we are making the “right” choice.
But I wasn’t getting that sign. Because I have a trooper. But his left back leg, which he was using as his sole back leg, was weakening more every day. Falling was more frequent (all the time, it started to feel like) and Trooper would get himself into these random, and sometimes potentially dangerous, situations and areas that either me or my husband would come home to. I would pick him up and clean him up, if necessary, and I would fight down the thoughts that his physical health was declining. I wanted to have hope that tomorrow would be a better day.
I’m missing my Trooper every second and coming home to an empty house is difficult. I still expect him to greet me at the door and bark when we pull up to the house. It’s quiet and feels strange and sad.
Thinking of my Trooper and loss in general, I have two take-aways: The first, that I’m grateful and appreciative for Trooper’s love and perseverance and unyielding affection for me and my friends and family. He was truly a fabulous dog. And an integral part of our family. I know he is running the show in heaven and the leader of his pack once again.
Second, (and this is really regarding loss in general) when someone loses someone or something they love, they aren’t looking for you (or anyone) to fix anything. It seems that people are compelled to say too much, tell you a story, explain their experiences, or try to correct what they see as a problem. It’s not necessary. Really, it’s not. Filling the silence doesn’t make the pain go away no matter how consoling or compassionate your words may be.
Just say “I’m sorry for your loss.” It’s okay to tell someone that you don’t know what else to say except for the words, “I’m sorry.” The show of sympathy is enough. Just, “I’m sorry”. It doesn’t need to be an explanation of how great of a life they lived or how it was probably their time to go or anything else. Just simply, “I’m sorry”. Those words mean enough.
I wish we all wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable being with someone who is grieving. We all have that personal experience during our lives. It’s part of living. It might not look the same for everyone, but it’s there, nonetheless.
Trooper was appropriately named, he surely was a trooper in every sense of the word. Beautiful memories will keep me smiling, and I know he is with me all the time. As are my other boys who have crossed the rainbow bridge. Rest well, my Trooper, although my guess is you’re running free. I’m looking for the dragonflies, my dear boy.
I love you always, my Trooper.