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Complicated Grief, Pet Loss and A Loss to Suicide

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My partner and I unfortunately and sadly had to make the decision to euthanize our little dog as she had an ongoing problem that was no longer able to be managed, Just 6 weeks later I lost my partner who I found one early morning, dead to suicide after a life together of 30 years. There were two other deaths around the same time but I know losing our dog was a a huge contributing factor (the final straw, as it were) for my partner's death as they mentioned this is their final note to me.   With a profound sadness now visiting me daily,  I moved house (as encouraged by both my doctor and a therapist) and after about 6 months - with everyone's encouragement yet again, I found me a little kitten to ease the intense loneliness that was now my life.   However, each time he went to the toilet and meowed, I kept thinking that he was dying and so I had to return him after just 3 weeks. This made me feel like a complete failure and that I will never get it right.

The death of both my dog and my partner so close together has made it extremely difficult for me as they were my family and I cannot now separate the two deaths either in my mind or in my heart, even though these events occurred back in late 2021.   A part of me would like to obtain a pet but the other half screams a resounding NO. Sometimes I feel like I would like to join them but I appreciate, that given the experience of my own hurt, I would hate for others to experience the same.

It is a difficult feeling to have to contend with all these emotions and thoughts.  Both deaths have really shattered my life in a lot of ways especially in my confidence and in terms of no longer being able to trust the world as I once knew it. A huge part of this trust relates to obtaining a pet that I can love but yet I feel that I could not go through another death.    Deep down I fear that I will never get over losing my desire for another pet (another little dog) but likewise never losing that fear of losing this new pet.   Even making friends is fraught with difficulties as I fear losing them.

Logically, I know that everything dies and that loss is a natural part of life, but Grief is about one's emotions, not logic.  People deliver up their logical platitudes and suggestions, but very few really listen to what I feel and so I more often than not just keep these feelings and thoughts to myself.  Sometimes I share them with my therapist, but generally I just write them out, so as to externalize them from myself - they then become "Someone else's problems." Not really healthy, I know, as I recognize that I do need to confront these thoughts and emotions.

At this stage, I see my therapist for Complicated Grief and PTSD, but I cannot share any issues surrounding the death of my dog (or maybe I do not even want to).    Photos of her and my partner are kept in an album in my bedroom wardrobe - out of sight - for to look upon them just adds to my sadness. As one example, I have a photo from early 2021 of my partner, myself and some friends from a night out together, located on the fridge door and about two weeks back just now gone - as I opened the door (which has been opened 100s of times before), the vision of finding them just came straight into my head and I was a wreck for the rest of that day. Such is the nature of PTSD and those intrusive flashbacks.

Thanks for listening and allowing me to share these thoughts with you.

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I am so sorry for your losses, and that you feel unable to share what you went through and thus what you're going through.  I'm glad you have a therapist and hope they will be of immense help to you.  Feel free to share here when you feel more able.

I am so sorry also for having to surrender your kitty, perhaps it was just too soon.  Perhaps this might be of help to you?
When is the right time to get a new pet?

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I hope so for you!  💖

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On 3/11/2024 at 12:33 AM, Lawrence said:

A huge part of this trust relates to obtaining a pet that I can love but yet I feel that I could not go through another death.    Deep down I fear that I will never get over losing my desire for another pet (another little dog) but likewise never losing that fear of losing this new pet. 

For many bereaved animal lovers, part of our reluctance to adopt another dog is the fear that we will have to go through all this pain again, loving then losing lose another dog at some future point. I can tell you that the one sure way to avoid repeating the pain you're feeling now is to decide never to love like that again. Yet you know (in your head, if not your heart) that whenever we take a companion animal into our lives, sooner or later we are going to lose that animal, simply because their life span is so much shorter than our own. We like to think our animals will be with us forever, but deep down we know that cannot be. This reality is very hard for us to accept when we are confronted with the death of our cherished animals. It is far better to acknowledge that harsh reality when we opt to bring an animal into our lives in the first place.

In addition, your sense of loyalty to your deceased dog might be interfering with your willingness to let yourself love another animal companion. Oftentimes we confuse loving another pet with "replacing" the one we've lost, and you may think that no other dog (or kitten) could replace your precious little one. It feels like an act of disloyalty, a violation of your dog's memory, an intrusion. After all, no other dog could ever be like the little one you lost. No other pup will have your little dog's unique qualities, nor should you expect it to. But instead of viewing another dog as a "replacement,” it may help to think of this as making a new friend, one that you will learn about and come to love over time.

On 3/11/2024 at 12:33 AM, Lawrence said:

I recognize that I do need to confront these thoughts and emotions. At this stage, I see my therapist for Complicated Grief and PTSD, but I cannot share any issues surrounding the death of my dog (or maybe I do not even want to).

It's good to know that you are in therapy, but I wonder what would happen if you chose to confront those thoughts and emotions, and share those issues with your therapist? 

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Thank you, MartyT, for your insights and I will try to talk to my therapist about these feelings.   A huge part of this is tied to the loss of my partner for if he were still alive, I think (given that it has been two years) that we would have obtained a new puppy.  But as both went so close together, it was like losing my family (little though we were). And I concur with you - this is not about "Replacing" my little dog, but about opening my heart to another little dog.

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More food for thought, from my blog post, Pet Loss: How Long Before Adopting Another?

Many people worry that getting another pet too soon after losing the one they loved so much is somehow an act of disloyalty to the one who died – but like everything else in grief, that is a very individual matter and varies widely from one person to the next.

Some people are so full of love that they can always find another chamber in their hearts to accommodate another precious animal. My own father was such a person – whenever one of our beloved family pets died, he was the first one to suggest that we find another animal right away, to help heal our broken hearts.

Some people discover that it's not so much that they go looking for another animal, but another animal just seems to find them.

Still others find that it takes a very long time before they feel ready to adopt another animal. Grieving is hard work, and pets, especially young ones like puppies and kittens, take an enormous amount of energy, time, training and commitment.

I suggest to bereaved animal lovers that, before they decide to bring another animal into their lives, they need to make sure that they are finished with whatever grief work they have left to do in mourning the loss of this pet who has died. Obviously any new pet deserves to be loved for itself, as a separate individual with its own unique personality, and not as a replacement for the one who was lost.

Once all of that has been considered, it's important to recognize that there are some great benefits in deciding to get another pet. Loving and caring for an animal enables us to feel productive, useful and needed; to have someone to talk to and communicate with; to feel companionship and closeness with another, thereby feeling secure, protected, supported and not alone; to feel touched, both physically and emotionally; to engage more actively in life, as our animal depends on us for food, water, exercise and medical care; and to be motivated toward better care of ourselves, out of a sense of responsibility for our pet.

I also believe very strongly that one of the most endearing things about our animals is that they just want us to be happy. If death takes them away from us, once we've expressed and worked through our sorrow over losing them, wouldn't they want us to be happy once again, and to open our hearts to other animals in need of all our love?

We might think of getting another pet as a way of honoring the one we have lost. I'm reminded of a lovely piece I have posted on the Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page of my Grief Healing website:

Not only is there always another good animal 
in need of a good home,
but we must remember to be thankful 
for the time and love our animals give us 
while they are here.
Take time to enjoy them and learn from them.
As painful as it is to lose them,
they teach us to love unselfishly,
they teach us to live each day to the fullest,
they teach us to grow old gracefully,
and they teach us to die with dignity.
We do them disrespect
to focus only on the sorrow of their death
when they have given us so much joy through their life.
If we wish to honor them,
take what they have given us,
all that love,
and give it back to another animal
in need of help.

~ Kent C. Greenough

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