anonymous Asks ...
Dear Dr. Chin.
I put our golden retriever down yesterday because I didn’t have the money to pay for another surgery and because she was already 10 and the vet said she didn’t have much time left in her. I made the decision to do it and my wife agreed with me that we did not have any other choice. She tried to borrow money even though I told her not to but was not able to.
Now she is taking it really badly. She loved that dog more than she loves almost any person and she hasn’t stopped crying since she said goodbye. It happened really fast so she didn’t have any time to prepare herself for this. She took today off work but she can’t take any more time but I don’t know how she is going to be able to work since she is really falling apart.
I’m sad too. She was a great dog but I need to help my wife now so she can get past this. Most people don’t understand how hard she is grieving. What can I do to help her?
Dr. Lani Chin Says ...
My condolences for your loss. It sounds like both you and your wife are grieving and I'm so glad you reached out. Pet bereavement can be a really complicated loss because most don't understand what you're going through. It sounds like your dog had a very full life and the both of you did everything you could to care for her. One of the reasons losing a pet can be so complicated is because it's a disenfranchised loss meaning people are expected to "just get over it" because "afterall, it was just a dog." Clearly this isn't the case for you and your wife, but this is likely the attitude you two are running into.
I would recommend both of you seek therapy to talk about what the loss means to the both of you. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I would be happy to see you. You can find out more about my practice here: www.drlanichin.com. If you are not in the area, I would recommend you do a google search for "Pet Bereavement Support" and try to find someone local to you. You two need to be surrounded by people who understand and support your grieving process. You may also be able to find a low cost or free support group run by your local shelter. I know your wife cannot take any more time off work, but maybe she can talk to her supervisor and at least try to work a half day or see if she can do work remotely from home.
In the mean time, I would highly recommend both of you figure out a way to say good bye to your dog. Some people have reported that lighting a candle during the times when you would normally walk your dog helps or just anytime you think about her. Sometimes the heaviness of loss is felt most intensely when you run into times in your schedule when you would have done something with your dog. Making a small shrine where you can put up pictures of your dog and talk about what you miss about her could also be helpful. Both of you should also take your time with letting go of your dog's things. Donating her leashes, beds, toys, food, etc. too early may only intensify the loss so you two need to talk about when you might be ready. Again my condolences for your loss. I hope that you and your wife can support each other during such a difficult time.