This past week was a difficult week. Our furbaby, Hoosier, was hit by a car and died. My husband and I, along with the community of pet lovers, looked for him for two days before we found him by the road. Both of us grieved harder than we thought we would grieve, considering he wasn’t with us for longer than 6 1/2 weeks. We have had dogs that have died before and we mourned, but this was different.
Perhaps because it was tragic and preventable.
This little pitbull/boxer mix came into our lives one night by knocking, yes knocking, on our door. (Boxers knock, or “box”). I got up to answer the door, thinking it was the neighbor but there he was. I laughed but shooed him away. The next morning, I saw him sitting on the patio furniture outside, shivering and shaking from a cold rain in the foggy morning. I noticed he had no collar, and he was not neutered. He needed to be dried off and fed.
Exact details are sketchy here. I took him in and my husband and I fell in love with him immediately but we did try to find his owner. “Whose your Daddy? Whose your owner?” and after two days of searching to no avail, we named him Hoosier (whose your). We thought we couldn’t keep him, we had too many dogs already. We had our two dogs, Hannah and Zeke, and I had my parent’s dog, Missy, a little Yorkie who was very ill and old and likely ready to die.
We took him to the vet, got his shots, had him neutered and while he was in our care he gained nearly 15 lbs. In the same week, I had to put Missy to sleep with Hoosier in the room with us.
Hoosier was the best, well-behaved dog we have ever had. We only had to teach him once and he did it. House-trained – just once. I taught him to come, sit, stay, roll over, jump up, and be gentle, just once. And he was a lover. He would lay right next to me and wrap his paws around me. Oh, there was one naughty habit. He didn’t stay in the yard.
I was on my way out the door one morning and Hoosier escaped. We nicknamed him Houdini for that reason. We would put him in the fenced-in yard, but he would dig under or find a way through or go under the house. Yet, he always returned shortly afterward. So when he ran out the front door that morning, I let him run because he always came back. And I was going to be late for church.
A woman in our church just lost her husband a few days prior and we were going to meet with her after church and surround her with love and friendship. I say “we” meaning most of us in church, but another woman wouldn’t be coming because her mom had just passed away and she would be traveling to another state for the funeral. It was obvious that she was not going to be there and she was missed.
While I was with the first woman, my husband called me from home. (He had to go home after church to let our dogs out and feed them). “Hoosier isn’t home,” he said. I felt he would be back soon, since he always came back but my husband wasn’t convinced. Hoosier and my other dog, Hannah, traveled together. Hannah returned alone.
Later, when I arrived back at the house, I decided to look through the woods and then drive through the community to see if I could find Hoosier. It was getting dark and there was no sign of him. I turned to a Facebook group for lost and found pets to see if anyone found him, but they did not.
The next day, I felt a hole in my stomach. I had hoped that he was taken and was unharmed. I put out a reward for his return and made posters with the intent of putting them up in key locations around town. Later on in the day, I received a notification from a woman on the lost and found sites. “I hope this isn’t your dog, but I saw a black and white dog lying on the side of Strawberry Road on my way home from work tonight.” I replied I’ll be right there. That was around the corner from me. However it was dark and I was unable to find him. I’d have to check again the next morning.
I had a dentist appointment that morning, so on my way there, I slowed down to look along the side of the road and there he was. I got out of the car to get a closer look. It was him. I stood there for what seemed like 10 minutes and just cried.
After my dentist appointment, I went to get my husband to help me lift Hoosier into the car. We decided to cremate him so we took him to the crematory. On the way home, I received a text message. Another woman’s husband passed away earlier that morning – “Could you round up the posse and see what is needed?” (I am somewhat of a coordinator for meal planning for home-bound, post-surgery, and events, as well as woman’s minister for our church). I just finished taking my dog to the crematory and I was grieving but, I reasoned, this is a dog we had for 6 weeks, but that was her life partner.
I happened to be around the corner from the woman’s house so I went over to see her. She had family there so of course I wouldn’t stay long, but my visit encouraged her. Then, after I left, I started planning the meals for the family coming in and after the funeral.
It has been one week since I found my dog lying there, and every day I miss him terribly but each time I had tried to grieve, I thought of the three ladies in our church who lost a significant family member this same week. I don’t want to forget to mention that America lost 59 lives this week in Las Vegas. Grieving the death of a dog we had for 6 weeks seemed selfish.
But grief doesn’t work like that. Grief is grief and grief is necessary. Whether you are grieving a close friend or family member, or a pet, or lives you never knew, grief is grief and it must be processed. I had to put on my life coach hat and pour out my grief to God.
I became aware of the Jewish grieving custom, Shiva, many years ago because my father’s relatives are Jewish and my husband was raised Jewish. Immediately after burial, the family would mourn for up to seven days. Mourners do not work during the shiva period and for the most part stay at home. During the shiva period, mourners also do not participate in parties, concerts, shows, movies, or similar events that are celebratory in nature. Mourners are to focus on their loss in order to be able to gradually heal, and by leaving the shiva house, mourners are surrounded by distractions and more likely to lose focus.
I’m not suggesting that anyone should sit shiva for a dog, or even practice this if it is not their custom, but I’m writing about it because the Jews knew how important it was for the human soul to grieve. Grieving is not a sign of weakness, and some people grieve differently than others. Some may need weeks or even months, while others may need a day. How much grief or how long one needs to grieve is not dependent upon who else had passed away at the same time, or whether the person was a spouse or unknown lives, or a beloved pet you only had for 6 weeks, grief is necessary to process so that you will be free to love without fear or reservation.
GRIEF IS NECESSARY TO PROCESS SO THAT YOU WILL BE FREE TO LOVE WITHOUT FEAR OR RESERVATION
So whether it takes a day, or whether it takes a few weeks; whether it is your spouse, your parent, your child, or your pet, allow whatever time is necessary to grieve. Each person is different. Allow yourself to go through the five stages of grief, which are not complete until you have done so.
- Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defense mechanism.
- Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger. You might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.
- Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
- Depression: Sadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.
- Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life. (WebMD)
We went through the denial when we thought we would just wake up and find it was all a dream. It didn’t happen. We went through the anger, towards ourselves for leaving the house and not calling him back in, assuming he would come back like any other day. We went through the bargaining. “If only we could have this day back” and we did actually pray that way. We went through the depression as we cried together and felt regretful and allowed the pit in our stomach to be an empty pit. And then, we accepted.
Today is one full week since we found our baby by the side of the road. As I allowed myself to grieve him so hard, I realized that October 1, the day he was hit by a car, was the first anniversary of my father’s funeral, which I had never fully grieved. There was too much to do. My father was mom’s caretaker (she had ALS and died a few months after he did). Caring for my mother became a priority as well as making sure she had an income and proper care. It took months before I was able to return home (800 miles away) but by that time, grief was buried. I had to be strong for my family.
Last year in November, I had been rushed to the hospital for atrial fibrillation, while at my parent’s home. Not once but twice. The third time I drove myself in. I also became exhausted to the point of being unable to function. I was diagnosed with Adrenal Cortical hypo-function. Stress was not an option. I had been told that the stress was likely due to my parent’s recent deaths, the estate, setting up the wills, and preparing the home for sale, while trying to maintain a business and my own family back home. It had taken its toll because I did not give myself time to grieve.
Today, I’m getting ready to get on a plane to go back to my parent’s home, to clean it up and hand the keys to a realtor.
It was grief for my dog, that helped me realize I did not fully grieve my parents’ recent deaths. We may have had Hoosier for a short while, but his short little life was very valuable.