The Measure of Grief


   In the past two months I have talked to three people who had lost their animal companions and all three mentioned in a hushed tone, that they felt a deeper pain losing their dog or cat, than when they lost a sibling or parent. We’re always a
little embarrassed when we say it out loud, a little disappointed in ourselves, as though the feelings were wrong. But why should that be? And why is the loss of our animal companion so crushing?

     The ‘why’ is a little less clear if we stay in the realm of what society openly allows for grieving. We are given parameters as we become adults as to who and what is important or, should we say, more important than another. And, there is always the time frame. You have ‘X’ amount of time to grieve, and then move on. If it takes you longer or less time, then there is obviously something wrong with you. But if we throw the social order out, things become more sensible.

    The answer lies in the unconditional love vs. conditional love. When my father died I was crushed. We had a wonderful relationship, especially after I had grown. He taught me to dream, be creative, how to build a house, how to weld a copper line for plumbing (I’m a woman of many talents), how to be responsible for my own actions and many other lovely life lessons. I loved him with the fullness of that statement. But, several years before my dad passed I incurred a loss that literally brought me to my knees. My beautiful Leonberger girl Eclipse had an emergency c-section and we lost everyone, Eclipse and her puppies. I could not nor wanted to be, consoled. I was devastated.

    So what is the difference in the two losses?

    Our human relationships are, to some extent, conditional. This does not make our relationships undesirable, it makes them Human.  And we all do the best we can, most of the time. For example, we do not want to disappoint our parent or spouse. We modify who we are to fit the circumstance; we appear one way at work, another at home. We will modify our responses so as to not upset someone. Others have expectations of us such as how you should respond to something, you are this label (Brother, Daughter, wife) and so you should be this. We learn those lessons as we grow. If you behave badly, you will probably lose a friendship. If you say something in anger, there will be repercussions. These are not better or worse, but they are conditions placed on relationships.

    The relationship we have with our animal companions is more pure, at least from them to us. They have no expectations of us, they do not require us to be or do anything. They think we are the most wonderful thing that walks on the earth. Period. We don’t have to prove anything to them. It matters not that we get angry, or act inappropriately towards them. They do not care if you live in a mansion or sleep on the street. They do not take offense when we act stupid, goofy or unkind. They do not have time to get bent out of shape because we betrayed them. None of that is relevant, not to them. Would it be relevant to a spouse? A parent? A close friend? Of course it would because we are Human Beings.

    It is not a question of loving one more than the other, it is the realization that one is Human, and one is pure. One is conditional, one is not. One you have to earn and nuture, one you simply have to exist to reap the benefit. And that kind of beauty, when it passes, is indeed unbearable. So be kind to yourself, you haven’t done anything wrong. After all, we are just Humans Beings trying to learn better ways.

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