Grieving a Pet Who is Still Alive
The Bad News: My dog is going to die.
The Good News: He doesn’t know it yet.
Cocoa buries his head in his toy bin. He chooses the green stuffed Tyrannosaurus rex, and shakes it in his teeth. He brings it over to me, daring me to take it from him. He wants to play fetch.
I take the T-Rex, which to him, has come alive. He must defeat it to protect our home.
He follows my every move.
He chases it, retrieves it, and gives it a shake to ensure it will not escape again.
I clap for his triumphant win. He has caught and killed the vicious monster!
He does a victory lap.
He gnaws at the stuffed animal, making sure it is truly dead.
Thrusting his dinosaur into my hand, he barks.
Again, he gestures.
It’s a strange headspace to be in: Knowing that the inevitable is coming soon, and not knowing when. We all know that death will come “one day,” but your perspective changes when you know that day could be today, tomorrow, or the next. Knowing the end is near, instead of so far away, makes living in the present moment tricky.
Grief usually comes after a death. In this case, it comes before it. I am grieving for a dog who is still alive.
How do I stay happy and cheerful for my dog while my heart is breaking on the inside?
My Mind betrays me and wanders off:
Is a burial important to me, or does cremation feel better?
If he is cremated, what will I do with his ashes?
Will I be there to hold him when he passes, or will I be at work?
Will he let me know when it’s time for him to go?
How will it feel when I come home and he is not there to greet me at the door?
Will this be the last time I see him?
I’d better give him extra kisses just in case it is.
How long do we have left together?
Will today be his last day?
I am lost in a trance.
Too many questions.
I need to stop.
I hear barking in the distance.
I am jolted back to the present moment.
Again, he insists.
T-Rex has come back to life and must be stopped!
I take it, and hold it up. Cocoa pauses like a statue, anticipating which way I will throw it.
He runs, slides, and captures his prey!
“Woohoo!” I yell, and clap, as he prances with pride. The Dinosaur Slayer protects us again!
How many more times like this will we have? I wonder.
What will I do when he isn’t here to protect me from T-Rex?
I remind myself that I do not need the answers to all of my questions.
Cocoa is happy right now. He wags his tail.
He pants and smiles.
His mind is not filled with worries of tomorrow. He only knows right here, right now, and T-Rex.
He reminds me to do the same.
He gives me his toy.
Nothing else in the world matters to him right now. He is filled with joy, panting and smiling.
I remind myself to be in this moment a little longer with him.
“Again?” I ask him.
Natalie Frazier, LMFT
Natalie's work is primarily focused on Couples and Individual Adults. She is experienced in grief and loss counseling, traumas (sexual and life-threatening), marital relations (including communication skills and infidelity), and emotion regulation (such as anger management and depression). She seeks to be an ally to all communities.