It is their loss too.
I was recently at the home of a woman who died. She was in her nineties, she lived a good life, and she was loved by many. When her last breath was taken, there was not a dry eye in the room. I see a lot of different reactions when someone dies, usually they are emotional, and I witness loss so deep that I too feel it. What touches me, sometimes more emotionally, is the reaction pets have to losing their human.
Every visit I had with this lovely woman allowed me to engage with her partner, her caregivers, her volunteers, and her cats, all of whom gave their all to care for her. In the last few days, I watched the cats become anxious, pacing back and forth around the bed as if to ask, “what is happening here, tell us everything.” I believe they knew what was happening, I also believe they were taking it hard.
On the day she died, one of the cats climbed up on to her bed, snuggled right up to her hands and placed his head on them. This cat did not move until the funeral home came. And when I left that day, I reminded them all to care for one another, and give extra love to the cats, because this was their loss too.
Many years ago, I provided care to a woman who loved horses. She built her home around the large area where the horses stayed and sometimes, she would open the bedroom window and they would peek their heads through. I was there the day she died. She was alone and her caregiver had found her that morning after she had died in her sleep. Before I called the funeral home, I sat with her for a while, saying my goodbyes and reliving the last few months that we shared together. I heard a noise behind me, and when I turned around, her horse “Dandelion” had poked his head through the window. He started to whinny, which was heartbreaking. This was his loss too.
I visited a home where a man was about to take his last breath and his two faithful companions stayed right at his bedside the entire time. They watched me carefully, making sure I caused no harm and that I treated their human, as wonderfully as he deserved. Everything I did that day, from repositioning him, to giving medications, I let the dogs know, explaining every detail. I believe they heard me, and they trusted me, but it was something I had to earn.
Hours later I was called back to his bedside because he had died. When I arrived, I found his two dogs, one on either side of the bed, their heads resting as closely as they could get to him. My first reaction was to comfort them, because I knew their hearts were aching, I could see it in their eyes. I walked over to one of them, sat down on the floor with him and started to offer comfort. The other dog came over and sat with me too. I told them I understood their loss, I let them know they provided their human with so much comfort, and I assured them the family would continue to take care of them and they would be forever loved. They looked so sad, and their eyes expressed deep grief. This was their loss too.
I believe, and I know many of you do as well, that animals feel pain too and they most definitely feel the loss of someone they love. They need to work through their own grief process, they need a little extra love and support and their grief absolutely must be honored. And while it might seem a bit odd to sit down next to a pet who has lost its human, and talk about the gifts they brought into their life, what if they truly could understand and this brought them comfort? We comfort humans when they lose someone they love... we should also comfort pets... because it is their loss too.