by Amy Weitzel
It’s been one week since I’ve had to make the difficult decision to say goodbye to my beloved dog, Teddy. The grief comes in waves as I come to terms with my loss. A sudden memory. The realization that he’s not by my desk while I’m working. My daily routine missing his presence.
Teddy was my constant companion for 14 years. For many of those years, I was a stay-at-home parent and Teddy was my daytime buddy until the kids came home. After my divorce, he came with me to my new house. I got a job where I worked from home and I went to graduate school at night. He was my one constant: always by my side during those difficult times of loneliness, loss, and fear. He was there for me when I stepped boldly into a new world.
As I began to navigate my world alone, I hiked and camped alone. But I was never alone. This 13-pound bundle of love was an ever-present reminder that I was loved and fully accepted. Those who have pets understand this bond. Our pets become more than an animal in the house; rather they are part of the family.
After Teddy’s death, I was talking to a friend about someone we knew who had lost her son at the same time. I felt the need to downplay my grief in comparison to a mother who was grieving the loss of a son. I said to my friend, “I know he’s just a dog…” It didn’t feel right. It hurt to say it. While humans and dogs are not the same, grief is grief.
I will never say, “he’s just a dog” again. Teddy taught my kids and I lessons many humans fail at every day. He modeled to us emotional concepts in ways that only an animal can:
- Unconditional love: Teddy didn’t care the day I had at work or my emotional state. He was always there with love for me and the kids. He’d take his place in my lap or by my side regardless of whether I was talking with a friend, watching a movie, reading a book, or crying. He was constant and solid.
- Joy: Teddy was the most joyful little dog I’d ever met. His eyes would sparkle and his whole bottom would wag. And, sometimes, he would actually smile – especially if we were hiking or he was about to get a treat. Toward the end, he was pretty hard of hearing, but could always hear the slightest mention of a treat. Teddy brought so much joy to our family with his antics: whether it was putting bandanas on his head to make him look like an Ewok from the “Star Wars” movie or hiking or even simply running through the house chasing the kids, we were always laughing at our Teddy Boy.
- Forgiveness: If I had to be gone all day or even on a vacation, Teddy was always happy to see me. Or if I accidentally stepped on his paw. Or the time, I accidentally got his tail with the vacuum. He didn’t hold a grudge. He didn’t stay mad. He didn’t punish me. He forgave me. I smothered him with as many kisses and he smothered me with kisses. This is how relationships should all be.
- Constant: I always knew Teddy would be there for me. Through disappointments, broken hearts, failures, and bad days, my doggo would cuddle up into me just like he always would. Humans are fickle. When they can’t take care of each other anymore, they move on. When they can’t take care of an animal, they move on. Animals never leave our sides. They are constant.
Until they are gone. Teddy will continue to live in my heart and the hearts of my children. For 14 years, he was part of our family, teaching us important lessons about life and relationships. Through the EAP I have heard many people downplay their grief when they call to get counseling after the loss of their beloved pet. I’ve been very fortunate that Triad is full of animal lovers and pet owners – all of us have dogs and cats – and everyone understood my loss and grief. I’m thankful for the support of my friends, family, and co-workers, but not everyone has this support. Many people withhold compassion for those grieving a pet comparing it to the loss of a relative.
In turn, we can internalize these insensitive and ignorant expectations and judge ourselves by them, despite the grief that we are experiencing like I did with my friend. All organizations would do well to support their grieving employees after the loss of a pet because they are so much more than “just a dog” or “just a cat.”
Grief is grief.
I’m still mourning my Teddy. I hope he knows how much his humans loved him.
Amy Weitzel is the vice president of development for Triad EAP, an employee assistance program based in Grand Junction. She is also owner of Impact Development Solutions where she is a corporate trainer. She is also a mother of three grown children.