1/24/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

A woman whose 5-year-old dog died from cancer is experiencing profound grief over her dog’s death and realizes she is neglecting her relationship with her husband and feeling extreme pain. Advice columnist Amy Dickinson addresses her loss.

Dear Amy:

I’m devastated with grief from losing my beloved dog to cancer five weeks ago. He was only five.

I have good counselors, supportive friends and family, and a loving husband, but I’m struggling a lot with depression and grief.

I’m almost 40, but have never lost anyone close to me before, and this was my first pet.

I loved that dog wholeheartedly and can’t seem to come to terms with how that sweet, innocent dog had to suffer, and how much emptier our life and home feel without him.

I know we gave our dog a wonderful life and did everything we could for him, and I know so many other people have also experienced this loss, but I’m still swimming in grief and in so much pain that I haven’t given much attention to my relationship with my husband or nurtured him during this time (though I manage to be functional with work and other activities).

My husband is also grieving, but not visibly the way I am, and he’s often in the role of consoling me.

One of his wonderful qualities is that he is patient; at the same time, he is feeling insecure about our relationship because it feels like I’m not fully there.

I can’t seem to get outside of my grief.

Do I just give myself time for this grief to run its course, or is there a way I can course correct and not make my husband feel ignored and unseen during this time?

– Sad Pet Mom

Dear Sad:

Losing a pet is a loss like no other, because we love and care for our animal companions differently than we do the humans in our lives.

Caring for an animal, especially through a long illness, is truly the essence of selfless and tender loving care.

Now is the time to apply some of that tenderness toward yourself and your husband.

Researching your question, I came upon a number of Facebook groups devoted to the death of a pet. (Do an internet search on “pet loss bereavement.”)

Once you join a group, you will be able to post a photo of your beloved dog and write about your experience. The humans participating in these online groups tend to be extremely kind and supportive. And scrolling through the many postings, you will know that you are not alone.

Related: A pet owner struggles with guilt after a dog’s painful death

Related: Are pets allowed in retirement homes?

While I have never necessarily subscribed to the comforts offered by the “rainbow bridge” concept, on one of these Facebook pages I saw a collage of photos of the late, great animal lover (and all-around wonderful human) Betty White, posing with her many dog companions over the years.

Knowing that in her very long life she had experienced this tender love and loss over and over again was truly inspiring, and I found myself hoping that her dozens of animal companions were waiting for her at the other side of that mythical rainbow bridge.

I hope you will find similar comforts as you process your own grief.

Dear Amy:

As a pet groomer, kennel owner, breeder, competition dog sports participant, etc., I read with interest your response to “Sad Pet Mom,” who had recently lost her first dog.

Something I share with clients in this situation: The death, and then the grieving and recovery, is one of the biggest gifts we get from our pets. Because they don’t live as long as we do, we have an opportunity to rehearse processing such a huge and personal loss.

It gives us the experience and resilience to process the inevitable loss of family and friends. This is their final gift.

– Bonnie

Related: When to get a pet after one dies

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – such as this one to a reader experiencing profound grief over her dog’s death to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

Related: Review of ‘Lessons from Lucy: The simple joys of an old, happy dog’ by Dave Barry

Click here to read more Ask Amy columns curated for a baby boomer audience.

Amy Dickinson