Monday, August 29, 2011

On Losing My Best Friend...

Bridger Pacey Boop Chickos: August 14, 2007-August 21, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011 turned out to be one of the worst days of my entire life.

My husband and I unexpectedly lost Bridger--our affectionate and vulnerable four year-old Alaskan husky--to a freak accident with a soft toy. Unbeknownst to us, he swallowed a few bits of fluff and string, and the string worked its way through his intestines and caused irrevocable damage.

I wish I felt articulate enough to write a blog post that captures Bridger's importance in my life--his awkward kisses, the way he leaned into my legs when he felt insecure, his floppy ears and massive neck, the way he trotted like a Tennessee Walking Horse, his terrible vision, the way he hid bones from his sister and often forgot where he put them, his steamroller hugs, his curly tail, his affinity for rugby balls and the way he lit up my life by just existing in it.

My husband and I rescued him during the fall of 2008 when he was just over a year old. He was an abused stray--dropped in the night box without so much as a note--and his vertebrae, spine and hips grotesquely protruded from his frame: 65 pounds of dog starved into a 42 pound body. We took him in, fattened him up and gave him what I desperately hope was three years of an amazing life: hiking, snowboarding, playing in the ocean, wrestling and sleeping right between us in our always too-small queen-sized bed. We also taught him about love, and trust, and my husband showed him that not all men want to hurt him, and I showed him that he would always have food and water and shelter and comfort.

And now he's gone. And I'm absolutely devastated.

My husband and I don't have kids yet, so Bridger and his sister Naia have literally been our entire lives. And his ABSENCE is suffocating. All-consuming.

I feel like I'm drowning.

I was doing some internet research today, and I found a good article in the New York Times called "Mourning the Death of a Pet" that begins to scratch the surface of the depth and intensity of pet loss. The author, Tara Parker-Pope, had this to say:

Last year, researchers from the University of Hawaii’s animal science department conducted a study to determine the level of grief and stress that a pet owner experiences when a pet dies. Among 106 pet owners interviewed from a veterinary clinic, 52 percent had lost one or more pets from natural causes, while 37 percent had lost a pet to euthanasia. Although many pet owners experience significant grief when a pet dies, about 30 percent reported grief that lasted six months or longer. Severe grief that resulted in major life disruption was less common but was estimated as high as 12 percent of those studied.

It’s not only animal researchers who are taking note of the grief that occurs when a pet dies. The journal
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care noted that the bond between people and their pets can affect both physical and mental health, and that the grief reaction that occurs after a pet’s death is “in many ways comparable to that of the loss of a family member. Unfortunately, the loss of a pet is not recognized consistently by friends, acquaintances or colleagues as a significant or authentic occasion for bereavement.

Here's some advice from "Grieving the Loss of a Pet: Understanding and Coping with the Grief of Losing a Pet" on HelpGuide.org:

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. Some people find grief comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.

The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk with others about them.

Sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death. Like grief for humans, grief for animal companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
  2. Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends, family members, therapist, or clergy do not work well with the grief of pet loss, find someone who does.
  3. Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
  4. Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion.
  5. Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.
  6. If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but may also help to elevate your outlook too.
I'm trying to take all this advice, but mostly, I'm just trying to survive right now.  And I'm now on a rampage against soft toys, so please, please, please read this article from PetMD.com about the symptoms, treatments and preventions of canine intestinal blockages: Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs.

I'm really, really, really missing Bridger.

20 comments:

E.R. King said...

I'm so very sorry to hear about your horrible day. I'm sure it will take time for you to overcome your sorrow. Until then, it's okay to be upset. Grieving is natural, and totally normal. *Hugs*

Beckah-Rah said...

I'm so sorry! My Mom lost her dog Harvey earlier this year. She (yes, a "she" named Harvey!) was a part of our family for over 17 years. She was very old and it was her time, but it still hurts. Dogs are the most wonderful animals in the world. My thoughts are with you and your husband!!

cherie said...

I'm so sorry, Lisa! I hope you and your husband will find the peace and comfort that you need at this time.

When I was 11, our dog was poisoned by a burglar who attempted to get into our house in the middle of the night, but our dog stopped him. By morning we found our dog dead, and nothing was taken from our house. He died a hero, but nevertheless, we were heartbroken. I remember crying so hard, and so did my siblings. It's never easy to lose someone you love. :(

Robin Weeks said...

So sorry!!!

lindy said...

Sweetie, this is so completely devastating. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am for your loss. And for it to be so abrupt. I'm tearing up thinking about it. I lost my Rottie, Caesar, six years ago and refuse to get another dog. He was part of our family, I'd had him since college. The night of his death, I poured out a little liquor (Michelob Ultra, actually) and ate a bar of chocolate on his behalf. I cried for weeks, okay, months. Seriously. And I had two kids at that time to help offset the loss. But really? No one can replace a loyal friend. You're in my thoughts and prayers. Hang in there!

Lori M. Lee said...

*hugs* I'm so sorry for your loss. I understand your grief, and I hope you can work through it. If you need to talk, I'll always be here to listen! <3

Alleged Author said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's hard to lose someone who loves unconditionally without asking anything in return. He will always be a member of your family, and I 'm sure you gave him the best life a dog could hope for. Much love.

Perri said...

Bridger sounds like a wonderful ...and lucky... dog. I can't say I know exactly what you are going through-- each grief is its own dark tunnel-- but my thoughts are with you.

When I experienced my first devastating loss, people said "Time heals all wounds" and it seemed so pat a response. But I found it really was true. It doesn't stop hurting exactly, but I grew a sort of callus around it.

Anyway, so sorry for your loss.

Michelle Fayard said...

LisaAnn, my heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine a more beautiful, tender and love-filled tribute than the one you just wrote for Bridger. Like you, my husband and I don’t have any two-legged children, and our rescue cats are the center of our universe. I hope you will soon find a sign from Bridger that he still is and always will be a part of you; love truly is eternal, no matter from what dimension it now is coming from.

LisaAnn said...

Thank you so much for all your words of support and encouragement. Your stories are heartbreaking, but it is comforting to know I'm not facing this void alone. I appreciate your words so much.

Donna Perugini said...

Lisa,
So sorry to hear about Bridger.
I have encountered so many grief stricken pet owners due to making memorials for them.
Our dogs were always put down. I'd hoped they would just peacefully pass on, but they have such courage and strength they never gave up even when in pain. We kissed them goodbye and remember them as family members forever.
I'm glad you still have a part of him in his sister's presence. Peace to you!

Eliza Tilton said...

: (

losing a per is the worst. Hence, why Marley and Me is the worst movie in the world...

I'm so sorry. That really sucks. Sending BIG hugs and prayers your way.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I'm so sorry! It sounds like he was an amazing dog, and that you had an amazing bond.

Girl Parker said...

Oh, LisaAnn, I'm soooooo sorry. There's nothing I can say, but I'm sure glad Bridger fell into your laps, quite literally. He deserved a loving home and he got that and much more with you and your husband. Rest assured, you saved him and plumped him up with love. That's the best life.

squirrel_e_girl said...

Sending gentle hugs your way...and lots of ear scritches to Naia.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Oh, my dear friend. I'm so sorry. Take time to heal, and be there for Naia. She'll need you now. Sending a cyber-hug your way and wishing it could be the real thing. Take care, and let yourself remember all of the sweet times you had with your Bridger.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

oh man, i wrote this really long comment and now that i've come back i see that blogger ate it. So here's me, trying to recreate it.

I'm so so sorry to hear about Bridger. I can't even think about losing any of my dogs without losing it. I don't know how i'll cope when I reach that point. I know when my first dog, my sheepie Winnie died at 16 yo, i was devastated for a long time, probably close to a year. It's only been recently that i can think of her without crying.

I know nothing helps, but here's one of my favorite poems, just in case.

I am standing on the seashore-

A ship spreads her white sails in the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean-

She is an object of beauty and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky meet to mingle with each other-

Then someone at my side says, "There! She's Gone!"

Gone where? Gone from my sight that's all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my sight, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination-

Her diminished size is in me-
not her-

And just at that moment when someone at my side says, "There! She's Gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices take up the glad shout, "There she comes!"

And that is dying.

LisaAnn said...

Oh my gosh, I can't thank you guys enough for all of your support.

@Donna: Thank you, and yes, our Naia definitely needs us right now, too.

@Eliza: You're right. The WORST movie ever.

@Girl Parker: Thank you so much. I so hope we did right by him.

@squirrel: Naia definitely appreciates it.

@Anita: Oh man, I could definitely go for a real hug about now.

@Falen: You have officially made me cry. A lot. But very good tears.

Lora R. Rivera said...

I'm sorry I read this so late! I hope you're coming out of the mourning process, but here are my condolences anyway. It's hard to lose someone who takes pieces of your heart with them. Sending thoughts your way.

Dinda Amanda said...


Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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