Brotherly Love: Grieving Through the Loss of a Pet

The air circulating through my lungs feels different–if not colder than normal. I focus on my shallow breath, the only sound in the room.

The natural light coming in through the bedroom window appears changed as well–dimmer even. Through my tear-soaked eyes, I notice that the weather is unusually gloomy for Southern California today, coincidence?

Any task that would require socialization or concentration is not an option at the moment. Just the idea of getting out from the depths of my mattress and comforter seems unmanageable. Good thing I do not have to.

This was how I felt for the first few days. It had happened: my loving, 19-year-old feline companion, Tyler, had crossed over to the “Rainbow Bridge.

Grief Travels

We know, just like humans, our pets have established life expectancies. But this logical fact does nothing to dull the pain of their absence. As I went through the first few waves of my own crippling grief, I began to notice something. Tyler’s feline and canine brother’s demeanor had also seemingly become deflated.

They (a 2-year-old Pomeranian and two 6-year-old kitties) began exuding their own signs of sadness. Their buoyant essence and overall zest for our daily routine had quite obviously diminished. Nix, the dog–known for his exuberant energy, snubbed his food and barely got up from his place at the bottom of the bed. Kingsley and Jaxon both uncharacteristically lingered in the room where my beloved, Tyler, had taken his last breath.

Was this a reaction to the drastic change in my typically active and upbeat disposition? Were they mimicking my mood? Did they sense that I was in pain?

Respecting the Hierarchy

Then, I began to realize that it wasn’t about me at all. They were experiencing their own grief and loss. Not only was Tyler faithfully by my side as I matured through life, but he was also an already existing family member when each of them entered the scene. In fact, he was the pillar of the social network of my pet tribe. They collectively seemed to respect his role in the family. After all, he would get first dibs on food, treats, catnip, attention, and cuddles.

The others were never aggressive or vengeful. It was almost like they depended on following his lead. They were comfortable with the structure that he provided. His absence now leaves them with the task of reconfiguring the animal hierarchy in the home.

Each of them had their own warm relationship with Tyler (see photo collage above). So, of course, they are going to miss him as much as my spouse and I do!

A “New Normal”

A small bit of time has passed since I lost my “loyal steed” and the realization that grief is a process is in full effect. Similar to ocean waves, the waves of emotion have become unpredictable. One minute I can logically accept the loss and the next I am emotionally wrecked. But, that is OK. As a mental health clinician, I am allowing myself to feel my feelings as they come up–the same encouragement I give to my clients.

In the house, we are all attempting to re-establish the new terms of family functioning. The cats are currently OBSESSED with the multi-towered cat tree that Tyler had claimed many years ago. Nix has taken on the role of the cuddler in the bed at night. Kingsley has begun to lead the feeding brigade and Jaxon has become a lot more visible in the home. As we continue on in the creation of our “new normal,” I would like to dedicate this beautiful quote to Tyler Bear Downey:

“You have left my life but will never leave my heart”–Author unknown

If you or someone you know is currently experiencing the loss of a pet click here for guidance and support.