Carolyn Hax: How to process the grief of losing two beloved pets


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: We had to help our younger dog pass on two weeks ago. She had small cell lymphoma and there was just no treatment option. I basically watched her waste away to a skeleton while we desperately tried to find out what was wrong with her. The whole thing happened very fast.

Our other dog also has cancer but is bravely holding on. He is getting treatment, but I don’t expect he’ll be with us much longer. We will probably have to decide that it’s time for him based on his quality of life in the next couple months.

He was diagnosed first, and I might have made different, more aggressive treatment choices in the beginning with him if I’d known our other dog was going to rapidly leave us. How do I move on from this? When I think about losing him too, I want to give away all my belongings and go live under a boardwalk somewhere.

It’ll just be me and my husband in this house when he’s gone, and I know I can get another pet, but I just don’t want to. My heart is broken. I know it’s all a normal part of grief. I don’t know what my question is. Maybe I just want someone to tell me, “Oh my goodness, you poor thing, how unfair! to lose them both!” Thanks.

Just Sad: Oh my goodness, you poor thing, how unfair! to lose them both! Gut-punch.

If it helps in any way, then please consider you were right to make the treatment choices you did, because you were thinking only of your dog then. The more aggressive approach would have been an emotional act to serve your own needs, which would have been understandable but maybe not in your goodest boy’s best interests.

So you’ve been there for them both and that’s all we can do, to say thank you to them for how completely they are there for us. Big e-hug.

For Just Sad: My favorite dog quote, which I found years ago on Robert Genn’s blog “The Painter’s Keys,” is, “All dog stories begin with laughter and end in tears.” It is heartbreakingly true. But another short and powerful prayer which I can no longer find (except in longer, more bloated versions) comes from our beloved pups themselves, who urge us to get out there and give another dog a loving home, as the highest service we can give our departed ones. When I feel overwhelmed with sadness with our own many critter losses over the years, I hold these two tiny moments of wisdom and compassion in my heart.

Anonymous: Now how am I supposed to work, for dogs’ sake. (Thank you.)

For Just Sad: I have adopted senior dogs for the past decade. Some hang on for three years, one for only 5 months. One devastating year I lost three of them. But their last days are happy, they’re spoiled rotten and love me as much as I love them.

I know it’s disturbing to think you could have done more for your remaining dog, but the outcome still could have been undesirable. You’re doing the best you can. They’d forgive you if they knew, both of them. All you can do is rejoice in the day with them. I’ve also sadly learned a week too early is better than a day too late when it comes to the vet visit.

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