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Mourning the Death of a Loved One
Is the Same for Both Humans and Other Animals

No one Understands What I am Going Through
By: Gary Kurz

Perhaps more than any other concern that I receive from literally hundreds of people each year is this Ė that no one understands how devastating the loss of a pet is. Ministers, friends, co-workers, even family seem to come up short in the understanding department. This writer has been there. The day following the death of one of my most precious pets, we had church services to attend. I had responsibilities to perform and I just felt that I needed to be there. I cannot say why. At the time I thought it was because it was my duty to be there. In retrospect however, perhaps it was because I felt a need to be around people of like faith, or maybe I felt being in Godís house at this low time was better than being in my own house. I do not know. Whatever the reason, I do know that I never expected to come home feeling worse than before I arrived.

Carrying out my responsibilities, I suppose my inner mood reflected in my outward countenance. Usually very light-hearted and outgoing, my inner pain understandably caused me to be quiet and less than social. Perceiving something to be wrong, the Pastorís wife asked me "Why Gary, is something wrong?" Of course I responded with "Yes, yesterday my dog passed away and I am feeling pretty bad about it". Indeed, I was feeling much more than "bad". I was crushed inside. My "Samantha" had been my shadow for 15 years and it was hard to accept that she was gone.

I was not looking for, nor did I expect sympathy. This was a private thing and if I hadnít been asked, I would never have said anything. What I did get however, shocked and hurt me deeply. Without hesitation, and without any concern for my obvious emotional low, she came right back at me with "Oh, and I suppose you think she is in doggy heaven too, donít you?"

I was speechless and could not respond, but that is not to say there were not things going on inside. In that one brief moment, this woman removed every ounce of respect I held for her and temporarily killed something inside of me. What little bit of encouragement and resolve I had managed to muster to deal with the loss was also gone. With just a dozen or so words, she had accomplished what I believed to be impossible Ė she had brought me even lower than I had been a moment before.

It took time to get over that blow. We remain friends, but the respect has never returned. I never mentioned to her the hurt she had caused me. I just did not see the need to. I honestly do not think she meant to hurt me, nor did she realize that she had.

The point I am trying to make is that over the years since that time, I have learned that many of us have very similar bad experiences. People we respect, people we love, often do not understand what we are going through. Sometimes they say cruel and calloused things, such as "get over it already, it was just a cat", or "what is your problem, just go buy another dog". I want to caution you not to over-react to their lack of understanding.

Too many people buy into the philosophy that when you are down and out, you will learn who your true friends are. While this may be true when your house burns down, you get divorced or you lose your job, I do not think it has any merit when it comes to their response to our grief over the death of an animal.

My strong suggestion would be that you not measure your friends by this standard if they do not appear to be there for you when you think they should be. Often friends and family feel your pain very, very deeply. They know you are very low, but they just do not understand and do not know how to react to your grief. They do not know how to approach you or are afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Their first response is usually to try to cheer you up, not realizing that is the last thing you need or want. That failing, they feel inadequate and unable to help. Perhaps they feel guilty for not being prepared enough to be strong for you. Or maybe they feel ashamed that they came across as flippant when they did not mean to. This makes them no less your friend or loved one.

Of course, I am not speaking of those shallow people who say reckless and unkind things to you because they obviously donít care how you feel. It is hard to believe that there are people like that in our world, but we all know someone like that donít we?

Let us not concern ourselves with these types of individuals. We should not be angered or offended by their callousness. Somewhere along the way, they missed out on learning compassion, possibly because they were never shown any themselves. Their comments should not even register with you. Cast them off and forget them. Assign them the gravity they deserve Ė zero.

For those people who obviously do care, but who cannot find the way to show it, or are afraid of dragging you down even further, try to understand and accept what they are going through. I have found that by saying something like

"I know what I am going through is difficult for you to understand. I know you would help me if you could, but there is really nothing you can do right now. I need to go through this. If you would just give me some time and be patient, my pain will be manageable and I will start being my old self again",

it will curb the tension that may be felt on either side.

Then, you need to follow through on your promise to them. Grieve as long as you must, but start to focus on the positive things. Know that your best friend is not suffering and that he/she is in a far better place than we could even imagine. Know too that you are not to blame, no matter what the circumstances. Things happen. You are the type of individual who would do anything to help your pet(s). There is no room for guilt in unconditional love like that. Time and focus will help you become the person you were and you will see that friends and family are still there for you.

Forgive their inability to relate to what you went through. It doesnít mean they did not care. It doesnít mean they do not love you. In fact, in most cases you will find that it is because they care, because they love you, they kept their distance in respect for your grief.

Gary Kurz is the author of "Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates" and a freelance writer Ė visit his website at www.coldnosesbook.com

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