We knew it was coming. There were signs along the way that we so badly wanted to ignore, but they were becoming so glaringly obvious. We were not ready—but ready or not, our dog of 15 years was dying.
Our boy, Gage, was our first baby. He predated our marriage, homeownership, careers, and our three human babies. He was the best of everything we could’ve ever hoped for in a dog. He was not just a pet—he was a witness to our lives. He knew our struggles and successes. He protected us from invisible, external dangers and internal demons. His love was unconditional and infinite.
He was everything.
We realized we were going to have to make the decision of when it was time. It is the hardest decision because it comes from such a place of absolute love, but it’s shrouded in gut-wrenching heartache. I would look into his brown eyes and hold his head in my hands and ask him, “Is it time?” I wanted so badly for him to tell me when. He told us in his own way but we were trying to hold onto those glimpses of him at his best. His baby face was deceiving of his age, but his body was giving out.
That last day, that last walk as a family, that car ride, that last hug, and then the ride home. It was one of the hardest days as a family we’ve ever had. There were endless tears, and the house felt so empty. Our sense of object permanence was disrupted. We were lost. How would we make it past this when we expected him to be there when we woke up the next day?
The next day came and it was equally as hard. It had set in that he was really gone.
And the days and nights were hard for weeks.
Our son was having a hard time concentrating in school, and I was not sleeping well. I just felt so uneasy. I started to look for some reason or comfort as to why my family and I weren’t just moving on from this. Why did it hurt so much for so long?
I was almost relieved when I realized it was grief—we were grieving.
Losing a pet brings about a lot of emotions—guilt, loss, confusion, anxiety. It is a real episode of mourning. It doesn’t adhere to different guidelines or guardrails just because it was an animal instead of a human. It can be difficult for people who have never experienced it themselves to understand.
It was difficult for us to understand the waves it came in. We’d open the door, coming home from work, and he wasn’t there to greet us. The doorbell would ring and there was no barking. We’d vacuum and there weren’t big tufts of hair. We saw the music video for Bastille’s “Happier” and the whole house was inconsolable. It was the little things that caused the most disruption.
Knowing other people had experienced this same mourning helped me find ways to help my family and myself. We got a stuffed animal that resembled Gage that our kids could sleep with. Even now a year later, you can find the stuffed Gage in their arms as they sleep.
We were eventually able to spend time with other people’s dogs without breaking down into tears. We keep his picture up in the laundry room so we still see him when we come home at night. We occasionally still cry, like when he wasn’t there to eat the turkey leftovers at Thanksgiving, but we don’t dwell on his loss like when it felt like a black hole of emptiness.
When those hard moments creep up (and they still do) I remind them and myself that our whole entire life together was filled with love. He loved us and we loved him so much that we can still feel his love in our home, even if he isn’t there anymore.