Dealing with Loss
Writing to you usually comes easily to me. I feel like I know each of you and the conversations are natural. So, I couldn’t figure out why, when I decided to write an article about dealing with loss and grief, I couldn’t get started.
I sat down several times to write, only to find anything else to do. I set timelines that I kept missing. And then I realized, I am in the midst of grieving myself and in the avoidance phase.
With so many losses the past few months, my head and heart hurt. I’m so tired of being sad. I mean really tired – exhausted. But at the same time, I feel guilty if I don’t wallow in my feelings of loss for those animals I loved and miss so much.
Rationally, we know loss comes with the territory of rescue. Just as we know welcoming a furry friend into our family will eventually mean we have to one day say good-bye.
It’s a cycle we as animal lovers face. It’s the price of loving so much. And even though we wouldn’t change it for the world, it can be quite a deep hole of despair when you’re in it.
So, what is the right way to deal with the grief of losing our animal friends? I wish I had the answer.
The Emotional Roller Coaster
For me personally, it’s a range of emotion. I feel saddened that I won’t get to see their face once again as I walk through the sanctuary. I feel proud of who they were and that I was blessed to know them. I feel relieved that they’re no longer in pain or have to live life in a cage.
But most of all, I often feel failure – like I let them down somehow. Intellectually, I know that’s not true. We have a dedicated and knowledgeable team observing them daily, providing first-rate care alongside our extended vet team.
But as their protector, I wanted to guard them from ever being sick or vulnerable again. And that I couldn’t do, especially at the end of their life.
Our losses at the sanctuary come in waves. And lately – tidal waves. Some we were providing comfort care and knew their end may be near. But others are unexpected and devastate us all. Each takes a piece of our heart.
Experiencing Loss After Loss
Sometimes, we don’t get a moment to grieve because another animal or new rescue needs our focus. And other times, we’re inconsolable. When we experience loss after loss, we sometimes question the work we do and if it’s all worth it.
Some people think it should be easier since we’ve been in rescue for over 20 years. We’ve had to say goodbye countless times. But let me tell you, it isn’t. In fact, it can even be harder because all of the losses flood in all at once. And you replay each in your head and heart, over and over.
As you all know from loving one of your own, you get extremely close at end of life. It’s when the critical care happens, the quiet moments, the tears of love and thanks, and the tears of knowing the end is near.
You wrap your heart and soul around them ensuring you make the right decisions for them, while your own heart is breaking.
So as professionals, how do we deal with loss and grief? Just like you.
How Do I Cope?
I write memorials to provide some sense of closure. Caretakers are faced with cleaning out the cat’s rooms and habitats—sometimes this is cathartic, and other times unbearable. We cremate our residents and hold a memorial ceremony twice a year. Their ashes are released as a symbol of finally being forever free.
You cry alongside us and show your love and support through their memorial plaques and rocks. We all feel the loss, and yet we all find strength to welcome another.
And loss is not only at the Sanctuary. Just like you, each of us also has furry ones at home. In the past few years alone, I’ve had to say good-bye to four geriatric dogs and my first ever Bengal cat. I lose my Executive Director hat with my family pets. And just like you, I’m their mom/dad and guardian. And the losses cut a little deeper.
I wish I had an answer about how to make this all easier, but the truth is, I just don’t. I think it needs to be this hard, because we gave our entire hearts to them.
And you know what? They deserved it. So, if we can’t make it easier, how can we work through it to ensure we can provide another animal that same kind of love and compassion?
The first way is to remember, there’s no right way to grieve and everyone grieves differently. And I’ve learned from personal experience, I don’t always grieve the same for each loss. And that’s okay.
We all try to cope and, if we can’t, sometimes our physical body takes over to fill in the gaps. That may include sobbing or just the opposite, a feeling of numbness. And the roller coaster of emotion is normal – anger, sadness, denial.
But remember to be kind to yourself during this difficult time. Surround yourself with things you love— other animals, family, friends, nature. And reach out to those who understand how you’re feeling. Sadly, we’ve all been there.
And if you need help, that’s okay, too! Don’t let the sadness overcome you. Feel it, sit with it for a while, but don’t stay in it forever. There’s still so much good out there—for you to give and receive. You don’t want to miss out on it, and neither do the future animals that will benefit.
Thank you for loving and grieving as deeply as we do.
Founder & Executive Director
5 tips to help with loss:
- Give yourself time to grieve.
- We are WAY too hard on ourselves. Be kind and take care of yourself—really!
- The animals would NEVER ask us to suffer on their behalf. They just wouldn’t.
- The biggest antidote to compassion fatigue is gratitude.
- Express your feelings in your own way – memorialize, a ceremony or even a letter to your pet.