Lessons from loss: healing after a beloved pet dies
“In our wildest fantasy, no being we love should ever die, but we know that is not true. The courage to grieve is the courage to love … Opening your heart is always worth the risk.”
— Don Glauber
Ten of us showed up on Zoom last week for a talk by Don Glauber. It wasn’t the happiest of ways to spend a sunny spring noontime, but nonetheless there we were to talk about our healing journeys from the loss of a beloved pet.
“Whether your loss was six days ago or six years ago you should feel validated,” said host Hannah Manley, who’s the director of development with Homeward Bound, Addison County’s Humane Society. “It can be as hard or harder to loose a pet companion as it can to loose a human companion.”
“Our dog Jade had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in her shoulder shortly after acquiring a limp out of nowhere,” Manley explained. “We didn’t have a lot time with her after the diagnosis because we were determined not to allow her to suffer and at the age of 12 we did not feel putting her through surgery for an amputation was the humane thing to do, as much as we wanted more time with her.”
As a family they decided on at-home euthanasia.
“Having Dr. Anja Wurm come to the house made an enormous difference in the way we were able to heal from this loss of Jade… Going forward, I will always find a way to say goodbye in our home. When I want to feel close to Jade, I can go to this very spot on our lawn and be with her.”
“The best thing you can do is find safe, supportive, non-judgmental people to share your stories with,” said Glauber, who led a 25-year career as a PhD counseling psychologist in New York before transitioning to a semi-retired life in Addison County with his late wife, Karen. The couple became dedicated volunteers with Homeward Bound following the death of their beloved cat Maya. And then, after the death of his wife, Glauber found his way to become a bereavement companion.
Homeward Bound asked Glauber to facilitate the group discussion last week for the Lunch & Learn series, a collection of talks on pets issues for pet owners and pet lovers organized by Homeward Bound. After a brief introduction, he opened the Zoom floor to the group, to introduce themselves and share why they chose to attend this week’s talk.
“Just because I lost four pets and a wife, doesn’t mean I know anything more about grief than you,” Glauber said. “The path you’re on is the path you need to be on… I can’t express enough gratitude for you sharing.
“Grief is radically different; you don’t quite know it’s uniqueness and power until you go through it,” he continued. “It’s so damn uncomfortable, so why must we go through the grieving process? Can’t we just move on and get back to the good stuff? Ironically the love of my pets and the losses in my wife have brought me so much more into my heart.”
Glauber acknowledged a few participants’ comments about the guilt they felt after the loss of their pets.
“The coulda, shoulda, woulda (what we call complicated grief) is something that I would challenge,” he said. “What if we shifted the focus to what a beautiful miracle was to have this being in my life? Would I wish that they would not have come into my life? Most of us would answer, ‘No, of course not.’”
When Glauber is volunteering at Homeward Bound, he said he goes and picks up as many cats as want to be held.
“That moment when they release, relax and melt into my chest,” Glauber explained, is a moment that fills his cup.
“In the case of two of my six cats they fell asleep on my heart and that’s when I fell in love in a very big way,” Glauber remembered of his own adoption experiences. “I now have the immense responsibility for this being… And then, all of a sudden, there’s the opposite feeling: ‘Oh no, man is it going to be hard to say goodbye to this creature.’ You can’t have the one without knowing the other will come… In our wildest fantasy, no being we love should ever die, but we know that is not true. The courage to grieve is the courage to love.”
And “opening your heart,” Glauber emphasized, “is always worth the risk.”
What do you do with the void and disorienting grief after your pet passes?
Do you replace them? Or never get a pet again because it was so painful? How do you honor the love they unlocked in your life? How are you left?
“There is a connection between the depth of your grief and the depth of your love for that being,” Glauber said. “How much of my suffering is because of how much I loved this being?
“You were given this gift,” Glauber continued. “What’s the best way to return the favor to the creature that’s been working on you for all these years? We are people who are loving and more open because of our animals.”
So maybe, just maybe, we can translate that love and openness to our human companions? What if we learned how to “love larger” — including the beings in our lives who are difficult.
“You have made this hour memorable and you’ve touched each other,” Glauber pointed out to the Zoom group. “You’re here sharing with complete strangers to the point of tears who love animals as much as you do.”
“There seems to be such a large need, for people to come together and talk,” said participant Gwen Delgadillo. “Thank you for doing this because it really does help a lot.”
“You never know what you’re capable of until life gives you a chance like this,” Glauber concluded. “After the losses I’ve been through, I’ve come up with an elegant answer for living life after the loss of a loved one: You just show up. You bring what you’ve got, and the situation guides you to what needs to be done.”
There was conversation at the end of the call of the unmet need in the community for people experiencing the grief of pet loss. Manley said she’d be willing to have those interested in this type of service contact her at 802-388-1100, ext. 224 or email@example.com.
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