Good Grief

“Grief, for lack of a better word, is good . . . Grief is right.”

No, this is not a paraphasic quote from the Gordon Gecko character in the 1987 hit movie, Wall Street.

This is proven wisdom on Main Street, USA, where more and more people are honoring the grief process before and after losing a pet.

Three years ago, after the searing surrender of Louie, our Boston terrier-Boxer mix, I walked into a pet loss grief group.

I didn’t think that I belonged there. Our pet hadn’t died, nor was he about to. We’d voluntarily returned him to the rescue agency from where we’d adopted him the year before.

Our home was not well-suited to our boy. He needed more space, fewer surprises - an environmental makeover.

So focussed on my own insecurity in relation to the group, I barely noticed that other people - in their grief - were questioning their very fitness as pet parents. Every person said that they should have done more, been more, known more. Somehow, if they were only imbued with x-ray vision, that fatal malady would have been detected sooner - and their beloved would not die.

Over time, I learned that I had much more in common than not with my fellow group members. Our community grew close. New members shared their stories. Old-timers nodded knowingly and produced Kleenex for the newcomer almost with a magician’s sleight of hand.

Until one day, an entire family walked in: mother, father and son. They came to grieve together. Collectively, they were poised and grounded, and open as I’d hope to be while enduring life’s cataclysmic shock-waves. Their togetherness, the very way in which they told their story - and the fact they were telling it out loud - brought home two fundamental truths about grieving the loss of a pet.

First, our very grief is testament to our capacity to love courageously. We could have chosen to lead relatively insular lives and not devote ourselves whole-heartedly to beings that will - in the vast majority of cases - expire before we do. Part of life’s irony is reconciling that we cannot discover and fully receive the depth and power of that gift until our fur-child is gone.

But would we take it back? Never!

Second, the sharing of our grief with others affords them the permission to share their grief and so on and so on in an outwardly-expanding circle. The grief process is legitimized by its very utterance in the presence of another, regardless of their reaction. Some will get it. Other won’t. It doesn’t matter because the momentum of acceptance is sweeping across the pet-loss world.

Twenty years ago, pet loss support groups were an anomaly. People generally suffered in silence. Since then, support groups have sprung up like wildfire, offering safe haven where the bereaved can honor the departed and find the strength to love again.

Whole families, grieving together.

Perhaps one day, we’ll be able to call our employer and say, “Sorry, I can’t make it in today. There’s been a death in the family.”

And when they ask who, we utter our fur-child’s name without the slightest hesitation.