What My Puppy Taught Me About Grieving a Loss

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What My Puppy Taught Me About Grieving a Loss
What My Puppy Taught Me About Grieving a Loss (Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

It’s never easy to lose a loved one. This is what I learned about grieving when I lost our puppy unexpectedly.

Nothing would have prepared me for the loss of our puppy, Hendrix.

It’s not like this was my first time losing a loved one. We lost Simone, our dog of 14 years, a couple of years ago. And earlier this year, my grandma left us. But both Simone and my grandma lived well into their golden years; while Hendrix was only 9 weeks old. It was too much of a shock. 

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”

JOAN DIDION, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

In a perfect world, Hendrix would have been our family dog for the next 14 years or so. Unfortunately, the world, as we all know, is not so perfect.

We got Hendrix a couple of months ago from a reputable breeder. Everything went as perfectly as can be. He was healthy, energetic, and absolutely adorable. I opened an Instagram account to document all the fun times we were spending together. We took him to the beach. We took him to the hiking trails. We showered him with kisses and cuddles every day. He was the perfect puppy for our family.

Our puppy Hendrix
Our puppy Hendrix (Photo credit: Carmen Suen)

A week after Hendrix arrived our home, we found ourselves at the vet ER because he had a minor seizure and some vomiting and diarrhea earlier that day. Within 24 hours, Hendrix was gone.

In the few days immediately after Hendrix’s passing, it was impossible for me to get anything done. All I could do was think about Hendrix. Every day was an emotional roller coaster. The pain and the immense sense of loss came in waves throughout the day.

The CDC website says common grief reactions include shock, disbelief, or denial; anxiety; distress; anger; periods of sadness; and loss of sleep or appetite. I would add that, at least in my case, there’s also blame: blaming myself and others for not doing enough to prevent the tragedy.

There’s a common belief that grief is a series of stages. But recent research suggests that most people do not go through phases of grief as progressive steps. And I can attest to it. On any given day, I could go from sad to angry to acceptance in a matter of hours. Or I could go from being very sad one day to being okay the next. There is really no pattern to it. 

Painting of Simone by my son
Painting of Simone by my son (photo credit: Carmen Suen)

Getting Over the Loss of a Loved One

So how does one get over the paralyzing grief of losing a loved one? Here are a few things that had worked for me and my family:

  1. Acknowledge your loss and grief — and share your feelings

    Talking to family and friends was extremely therapeutic for me. We did not share the sad news about Hendrix to people outside of our core family until a couple of days after the fact. But once I started talking about it, I felt much better. In a way, I felt a sense of community. I felt understood. I was not alone. It was a terrible loss, but it’s not the end of the world. The simple act of acknowledging Hendrix’s death as well as my own feelings about it helped me accept the fact that Hendrix was no longer with us.

  2. Stop the blame game

    The first week after Hendrix’s passing was the hardest. My husband and I kept thinking about things that we did that might have caused our puppy’s premature death. The sense of guilt weighed heavily on the both of us. We also blamed the vet: did she give Hendrix the appropriate care? Could she have done things differently? Obviously, none of this was helping us feel any better. I feel either guilty or angry depending on who I was blaming at the moment. What really helped me come to terms with it were wise words from a colleague: “Sometimes things happen for no reason.” That’s when I felt something lifted out of my chest and stopped trying to find fault from anyone.

  3. Celebrate your loved one

    I was thousands of miles away when I received the news of my grandma’s passing. And I was not able to attend the funeral because of Covid travel restrictions. To find comfort and closure, I started thinking about the times I spent with her. And then it dawned on me that I should write it all down and share it with others. Writing a tribute to my grandma helped me celebrate the incredible person that she was, and made me realize that she enjoyed a full life filled with love. My 11-year-old son drew a picture of Simone a few months after our dog was gone. Without knowing it, he found a way to celebrate our family dog of 14 years and helped himself cope with the loss.

  4. Take a break and have some fun

    The Sunday after we lost Hendrix, our family spent most of the day cleaning up the house and putting away Hendrix’s toys and other belongings. To end the day, we played a game of Monopoly, our family’s favorite board game. It was a much needed break for us to focus on enjoying each other’s company and to just laugh a little. Do not feel guilty about having fun after losing a loved one. At times of sorrow, we need small bouts of joy to maintain our mental health.

I imagine it would take me months, if not years, to finally not feel the pain of losing Hendrix, and that is fine with me. Grieving can be a long process and it is different for everyone. I’m grateful I have a good support system to help me get through this. 

*For those who are experiencing a particularly difficult loss or do not have family and friends to talk to, it may be helpful to talk to a mental health professional, such as a licensed psychologist or a counselor.

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Carmen Suen
在香港筆耕多年後,Carmen於2003年決定遠走美國,重新認識自已。多年來過着半遊牧生活,住遍美國東南西北5個不同州份,現居波士頓鄰近小鎮,日間在當地一家大學從事市場推廣工作,晚上忙於周旋在家中一大兩小之間,難得找來時間讀書寫字,調節心理。首篇英文短篇小說FOURTEEN,刊於小說集HONG KONG NOIR (Akashic 2018) 一書中。 Carmen Suen is an experienced writer and editor, and a contributor of HONG KONG NOIR (Akashic 2018). You can also find her writing in CITY MAGAZINE, EAT AND TRAVEL, and VOGUE HONG KONG. Since relocating to the US, Carmen has been living a semi-nomadic life with her husband, their two boys, a couple of turtles, and their family dog, moving from the West Coast to the Southwest and the Midwest, until finally settling in the Boston area.

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