Today marks one full week since Maverick has passed. I feel I am starting to move past the sadness stage of grief towards acceptance. With this comes relief but, to be honest, also a twinge of guilt. I feel that if I'm not expressing my sadness with strong feelings of longing and tears then my connection to him is fading. Up until this point, the grief has, ironically, been holding me to him.
Regardless, a way to find closure was needed. I discovered a way to do this by scheduling a visitation with Maverick six days after he passed. I was tentative but also strangely excited about the idea. I only learned about the option from reviewing the company’s brochure (www.gatewaypetmemorial.com) during my selection of an urn for Maverick. I had never heard of a pet visitation before and the idea immediately intrigued me. I was missing him so much and the thought of seeing him again, regardless of his condition, brought a feeling of relief and I knew it would help with the closure I was seeking.
Overall, I am very glad I went forward with the visitation. It allowed me to better comes to terms with him being gone and be able to switch grief into celebration of his life.
The next day, the one-week anniversary since saying goodbye, I went outside to what I now term the "Maverick Tree" – the tree beside my house that we held the euthanasia procedure, with the same blanket he lay on, along with all his photos and albums, fur sample, collar, and leash and had a small ceremony to say "goodbye" in my own way. It’s a brand new experience to feel both deep sadness that he is gone and joy from his existence. I will continue going out to his tree every day as I have been this entire week – it really helps to bring solace and stay connected to him.
What rituals have you done to help stay connected to your Heart Dog once they have passed? Please share your advice and wisdom to our growing community of Heart Dog owners.
The question on my mind today is how long before I am ready to get a new dog?
By no means do I think Maverick will ever or can ever be replaced. At the same time, now that he has passed, the void is so profound, part of me feels like I will do anything to cure it. Even though I have read you can experience two or more Heart Dog's in your lifetime, I find it hard to imagine having as strong a connection with another dog as I did with Maverick. So, this lends to the question - will getting another dog actually help the healing process or simply remind me that he’s gone?
During Maverick’s last day, I was so distraught, I even seriously considered retaining samples of his DNA in hopes of cloning him one day (apparently this really is possible and has been done with animals before!). I have since decided against this for several reasons that I will share in a future blog post.
Besides no longer having Maverick or going forward cloning him, I am used to having two dogs. For the first two years of Maverick’s life, it was just the two of us until the itch to “double the love” kicked in and Marti joined the family (she is a sheltie from the same breeder as Maverick). What followed was 11 years having two shelties at my side. So now, two dogs are my normal. They keep each other company when I go to work and offer each other companionship even when I am around but preoccupied with work. For Marti, being the only sheltie on the block is a brand new experience.
As I contemplated all this, I reveled at the thought of my next sheltie coming from Maverick's lineage. It would not be him, but a part of him. Plus, Maverick’s spunky personality was so unique, I figured it’s my best option to ever find another sheltie like him.
For my next step, I contacted Maverick’s breeder. She is no longer breeding shelties but did pass along the name of another breeder who has the dogs which remain of Maverick’s line. Knowing this was my best bet for finding a family connection to Maverick, I called them up and learned that puppies from Maverick’s second niece (the granddaughter of Maverick’s mom) are on the way!
The breeder told me that all the shelties from this lineage have an outgoing and quirky personality. This was music to my ears! I will never expect my next sheltie to be just like Maverick but to have some familiar characteristics, I suspect will feel like going home after a long vacation away.
Ironically, puppies from Maverick’s family will be ready come the beginning of October…just in time for my birthday! Is it a sign? I actually have never had a small puppy before. Both Maverick & Marti were being grown out for show so they were each around the 5-months old when I first brought them home. To have an 8-week old puppy will be a brand new experience I am excited to take on.
The breeder promised to contact me once the puppies were ready for a visit and I am so excited to meet them. I think by doing so, I will get a true sense if I am ready or not for another sheltie family member at this time. The bottom line is that when you are ready for your next dog is different for everyone. I have heard some people get their next dog the same day of their passing while others are never ready for another dog, especially if it was their Heart Dog. There is no right or wrong time and hopefully you will know if and when that time is for you.
How long before you were ready for another dog after your Heart Dog passed away? Please share your insights and experience about this very personal choice.
Today marks the first day in 13 years without my Heart Dog, Maverick. It's been just over 24 hours since saying goodbye. All attempts at productivity failed during the first part of the day. I have been working on this blog/website for weeks now and today is the hardest by far to scrummage up the words to describe the hollow pit in my stomach.
Maverick was my buddy, my confidant, my "mini-me" in so many ways. Through over a decade of constant and significant life changes, he was my faithful and devoted companion. Where I went, so did he. Whether it was the washroom, upstairs to grab something quick, or a trip in the car, he was my shadow. Friends and family would frequently comment "He's always at your feet! How can you not step on him?" Admittedly, we've had a few minor mishaps over the years but overall, him being at my side was as automatic and effortless as breathing.
Today he's neither at my feet or even a few feet away sleeping (as he has been the last week more than anything else as his illness progressively took over making it difficult for him to walk). The result: a house that feels empty, quiet, and incomplete. My other beloved sheltie - Marti - is as quiet as a mouse compared to Maverick. He was the main act while she the doting sidekick. This morning, Marti went over to the tree where we said goodbye to Maverick and laid down. She wouldn't come when called. Although their relationship could best be described as aloof, clearly she recognizes the loss and misses him too.
After work, I went out to the tree with the blanket he laid on and spent time, Marti at my side, going through his recent pictures and giving myself the opportunity to begin finding some closure. It brought comfort and felt as though he was still there with us in some way. I also communicated with close family and friends about having to say goodbye. Sharing with the world (i.e. Facebook) is going to have to wait another few days because it's still too raw and I need more time to process this on my own.
The day ended with some self-care (aka yoga class). It helped me to complete this entry and have a few moments not completely engulfed by that agonizing feeling of loneliness and disbelief that he is gone.
So what's the bottom line for managing grief on the first day after your Heart Dog has passed? First of all, give yourself permission to let your feelings out (whether that be talking to someone you trust, writing, or simply looking through pictures and videos and letting the tears pour out). Also, find a physical outlet to help transfer your emotional pain into healing energy. For me, it was yoga and singing in the car helped too! For you, it could be anything at all – cooking, cleaning, going for a drive - that gets you moving and actively providing an outlet to release and process your emotions. Finally, if you can manage taking the day off from work or whatever you have planned, please do. Grief, whether from the death of a person or animal, is experienced the same way and pretending to be “ok” when you’re not will only extend the grieving process. Take all the time you need – there is no stopwatch to tell you otherwise.
How do you recall managing your first day without your Heart Dog? Please share your tips and words of inspiration so we can all learn from each other.
It's Wednesday at 8:30pm. Just like any other evening at this time, everything is the same, except for one thing.
Tomorrow, at this time, Maverick, my Heart Dog, will no longer be alive. The vet, Dr. Burmeister from Livingston Animal Hospital in Grimsby, Ontario, is coming at 8pm for a home-based euthanasia. In less than 24 hours, the one constant in my life over the last 13 years will be gone. It's such a surreal feeling. Everything will be the same yet completely different.
Tonight he's sleeping...doped up on pain meds to keep his neurological symptoms at bay.
Granted, I do realize, the magnitude of my feelings are exemplified as this is the first time I am going through this. Maverick is my first dog. Add to that, he's my Heart Dog. Add to that, I have never truly experienced this type of grief before. Compounded, the result is numbing, heart-draining, and utterly gut wrenching.
Yet, my logical mind keeps reminding me "This is life. This is normal". Then the emotional side chips in "How can something so normal hurt so much?". I consider the pain simply a reflection of my feelings for Maverick. My one true furry bundle of love. For that, I am grateful.
I have heard many times from those grieving a loved one "I would do anything for one more day". I can now wholly relate to that. Just one more day, even one more hour to have Maverick healthy again, would be my number one wish (if only genie’s really did exist!).
I have also heard that when life gets tough, it’s better to ride the rough waters, than resist them. Struggling against things out of our control is a surefire recipe for stress.
With that, I kiss Maverick’s sleeping head grateful to still feel the warmth of his body. Then, I do the same for Marti, my other wonderful sheltie, and vow to be more present and appreciative of every healthy day she and I have left together.
How did you prepare to say goodbye to your Heart Dog? Please feel free to share your insights and tidbits of advice on dealing with this difficult circumstance.
When your heart dog is sick - very sick - what do you do?
My Heart Dog, Maverick, has been in remission from lymphoma for 10 months now (yay!). I have been anticipating his lymphoma returning but instead, what started as a random and benign health issue (i.e. occasional nose bleeds) turned into something far more serious than even his lymphoma. An insidious tumor was likely growing in his nasal cavity and has begun to infiltrate his brain causing a wide host of neurological symptoms. The bottom line? One-month prognosis. Three months with treatment. So, one-to-three months after thirteen years of having him in my life was, of course, not enough time. I'm sure you can imagine my reaction.
The weeks leading up to his diagnosis have felt like being caught in rapid water without a lifejacket, anticipating, but not wanting to believe, the inevitable. Maverick's symptoms have been progressively getting worse but the realization that the worst case scenario really has arrived hit me like a punch to the gut. My dog, my furry love, was not going to be with me forever. Now don't get me wrong, it has occurred to me that "forever" does not exist between man and our best friends; it just never neared actualization until now (his lymphoma went into immediate remission so as difficult as the shock of the news was, the grief was only temporary). Life has been stressful enough the past year and my dogs have been my rocks. My pillars of comfort amongst a sea of uncertainty, unease, and change. The anticipatory grief that one of my only constants in life would not be with me much longer, truly felt like my heart was being pulled from my chest and stomped on.
So, the difficult decision arose when I had to decide whether or not to confirm Maverick’s brain tumor with a CT scan. This probable diagnosis came from the wonderful team at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph, Ontario (based on an oncology and neuro consult and bloodwork). I was told the only way to confirm their suspicions and officially rule out other possible causes was with a CT scan. Regardless, the prognosis, they informed me, was not good. The cost for the CT scan was $1200 – not cheap. On one hand, I considered this an investment for my peace of mind. Here was my beautiful, happy, energetic Heart Dog, still full of life and fully in remission from lymphoma, so how could it be that he suddenly has a tumor that is aggressively attacking his brain and causing monumental havoc on his entire body? It just wasn’t right!
On the other hand, would the results alter the outcome? No, because I already, with great difficulty, decided it would not be in Maverick’s best interest to treat. If he could be offered another 8-10 months of quality life, that would be another story. But three months composed of multiple radiation treatments along with terrible side effects such as blindness and losing the fur on his face and head, was not a quality life. Plus, treatment was another few thousand. Now, I don't believe anyone has a right to tell you whether or not such a cost is the right choice for them. Everyone is in a different financial place and it's a personal decision regarding how much you are comfortable to spend on veterinary treatment. But personally, given the amount already spent on the cost of Maverick's chemo treatments and being in a financially insecure stage of life, it was not a fiscally responsible decision.
I debated back and forth about whether or not to do the CT scan. Logic and my heart strings sure did a good job battling it out in my head. Besides the financial considerations, the answer came down to the question "What is best for Maverick"? Does going under anesthesia, which poses risks of its own, for answers to questions the veterinary team was already pretty confident about, help his quality of life? Or just mine? That answer was clear.
So the decision was made. No CT. But no CT = uncertainty, the unknown, and the unexpected to perhaps continue. More so, the unsettling feeling that I will never truly know what is wrong with Maverick. Regardless, I had to move forward in the hopes of having as much quality time with him as possible before having to say goodbye.
Have you ever experienced making a difficult decision regarding tests or treatments for your Heart Dog? If so, please feel free to share and comment below.
How can this blog help you?
This website and blog originated from the experience of learning to let go of my beloved Heart Dog, Maverick. By sharing my story and offering the opportunity for you to share yours, I hope we can all truly celebrate their lives. pay tribute, and heal from the loss of our one true canine companion. I hope this website will also raise awareness of the meaning of a Heart Dog because it is a concept that is not largely understood.