In my lifetime, I have experienced many occasions of loss. I lost a grandmother at a very early age, followed by deaths of other relatives, and even a few classmates, before I ever graduated from high school.
The older I have grown, of course, the more losses have come my way. Not all losses were to death. Some were job losses, friends who moved away, and other times when something or someone I cared about was no longer part of my world. Grieving comes with any loss, not just death.
Apart from the deaths of family members, I have probably grieved the most over the deaths of pets. Some of you have either never owned a pet or have not allowed yourself to become emotionally involved with one—and if that is so, you will likely not understand the rest of this blog.
My philosophy of inviting a pet into my home is this:
- I don’t make the decision lightly; I weigh the costs in terms of time, money and energy before they ever set their hairy little paws in my house. (Well, there was one time when I broke that rule and allowed child number two to influence my decision, which culminated in the addition of not one but THREE cats . . . but I digress.)
- I tend to look at my lifestyle and current circumstances and what I think I can handle before saying yes.
- Once I have made the decision to bring a pet home with me, I’m fully invested. I believe that pets are helpless and at our mercy to give them good care, so if I have committed to shoulder that responsibility, I take it very seriously and try to give them an abundance of care and loving interaction so they have a good quality of life.
The time inevitably comes when a pet is no longer able to sustain a good quality of life and has permanently lost its good health. I have had to make the decision on five different occasions to let my pet go and not prolong its life, even though I was not ready to say goodbye. And that is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Last week, one of my adult children had to make that same choice. After almost thirteen precious years with their little furry Oscar (a black and white cat who had been with them almost as long as they have been a couple), the humane thing to do was not fight to keep him alive even one more day. Although they had known over the past couple of years that that day was on the horizon, it descended on them with a suddenness that almost took their breath away. The vet said Oscar was in pain, and it did not appear that anything short of extreme life-saving surgeries and other measures would keep him alive for anything other than a very short time. While his mama and daddy were wrestling with that hard decision, he died in the arms of the vet. And they are grieving.
Is it the very same loss as the death of a parent or child . . . siblings or grandparents? No. But it’s a significant loss just the same, and the worst thing to do is to pretend that it didn’t matter, that it was only a pet—just an animal. It matters. When we expend love on any of God’s creatures, it matters . . . and God is pleased. He knows how much it hurts to lose someone you love. He knows that we sometimes close ourselves off from forming a bond with people and pets because we fear the gut-wrenching loss that inevitably happens on this fallen earth. But part of living the full life means taking the hurts as they come and learning to feel both the happy and the sad emotions. They are all God-given; our heavenly Father created both happiness and sadness, and there is a purpose for both. Yes, loss hurts. But most things in the world that are worth anything cost us something. Loving is no exception. Sometimes the cost of loving is loss and sadness.
I can tell you that each loss of a pet has brought me to great gulping tears, and wrenching moments of trying to find my footing again. Waking up to a quiet house instead of a cat meowing for breakfast. Coming home from work with no wet, pink nose pressed to the window to see if I’m coming, and no greeting at the door. No furry body that leaps onto the arm of the chair at night, looking for someone to scratch its ears. It is a time of grieving and adjusting to a new loss. But the memories of the times spent with each of my precious pets have given me joy in the aftermath. They add to my memories of the past, and those pets have become part of the family stories we recount as we sit around the Christmas table or celebrate birthdays together. Any family occasion where we recall family stories inevitably includes pet stories as well.
A few years ago, as I was grieving the death of my cat of 18 years, I found comfort in the following Scripture as well as this quote from Albert Schweitzer. Somehow they gave me permission to grieve appropriately and not feel foolish for feeling deep emotions at the loss of a pet that I had cared for and loved for almost two decades.
“The godly are concerned for the welfare of their animals.” (Proverbs 12:10)
A PRAYER FOR ANIMALS
Hear our humble prayer, O God,
for our friends the animals.
Especially for animals who are suffering;
for any that are hunted or lost or
deserted or frightened or hungry;
for all that must be put to death.
We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity.
And for those who deal with them,
we ask a heart of compassion,
gentle and kindly words.
Make us true friends of the animals
and so to share the blessings of the merciful.
~ Albert Schweitzer