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Honoring Memories and Finding Comfort: Navigating Loss

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of Toby's passing with you all. Toby, our patriarch, left us a week ago, leaving a void in our lives that will be difficult to fill. In the wake of Toby's departure, Memphis has stepped up to take on a new role. Starting next month, we will be introducing "Moments with Memphis." It is a way for us to remember Toby's legacy while embracing the new chapter that Memphis is leading us into. Grieving is a deeply personal journey, and during these times, I find solace in certain rituals that help ease the pain of loss, even if just a little. I wanted to share some of these with you all today.  

Toby had been unwell for a while. At the age of 13 years, he had a grade 5 heart murmur, was deaf and was also going blind. Toby was suffering from anxiety and needed to be close to someone. Touch and scent appeared to be his prominent senses as his other senses waned. He was on a variety of medications and under the care of a Vet Behavioural Specialist as well as his Vet care team at Blayney. 

Toby presented with a blockage which couldn't be investigated without surgery. We had already identified gallstones previously and Vet Will felt there may be something more sinister going on for him. (He clearly wasn't a Labrador puppy who had just swallowed a ball or something simple). He was miserable.  

Toby's grade 5 heart disease meant a huge risk of his dying during surgery. Stomach surgery is major for all dogs. A lot depends on where they find the blockage and what it is. Even if they could remove the entire blockage, he would require weeks of recovery and rest. Older dogs don't always heal well so there was no guarantee he wouldn't die of infection after the surgery. 

My friend Renai asked me if I wanted Toby to die without me. My answer was an emphatic 'no'. The hardest death for me has always been the loss of our Cavalier Gemma who had a fit and died alone in a cage at a Vet clinic without me. Sadly no one even contacted me to tell me she had died. I found out when I called to enquire about her the following morning. 

Everyone is different. For me, my dogs have devoted their lives to me and I feel it is my duty to be with them at the end of their lives. I believe my dogs trust that I will always do what is best for them -  no matter how hard it is for me. I want my face to be the last thing they see, my voice telling them to sleep soundly to be the last voice they hear and my arms cradling them as they go off to eternal sleep. Toby fell asleep within seconds....

 

I am very fortunate in that I can bring my dogs home to be buried here on the farm. I am looking out of my office window over the rose garden - where my dogs are all buried - as I write this newsletter. It is very comforting for me to have them nearby where I can visit their graves. Not everyone can do this so a Pets at Peace cremation is often a good option.  Some people can't bear the thought of taking their animals home again once they have passed. That is ok too. 

I love that I get to bring my dogs home so my other dogs can say goodbye. I think this is important for them. We all hang out together (just as we always have) while Justin digs a hole. We have recently started making a makeshift coffin from a box that I decorate with hearts and expressions of my love for them. Justin says The Lord's Prayer (even though we are not religious lol) and I order a new special rose for the grave from a friend who owns a nursery.   It is never easy and my heart breaks at every loss.  I know yours will too. I will say 'I don’t know how many more times I can do this' but I will do it again anyway. There are so many animals out there to be loved.  

Naturally, we will grieve the loss of our animals. Sometimes we will grieve them as much (or even more) than we grieve the loss of our human friends and family. Sometimes we are closer to our animals - with their unconditional love -  than to humans. Sometimes our animals are the last remaining link with a human loved one which makes the loss all that much harder... 

These rituals help me to normalise their passing. My dogs at home seem to take it all in their stride. They react differently at times to the dogs that I bring home. Sometimes they will sniff them and wander away. Sometimes they will lay close to them and fall asleep. The older dogs often check on me and stay close by. They never seem to be bothered or stressed though.  I think they know and understand death much better than I do. 


It's important to take the time you need for grief and follow any rituals that may help you. I know for a lot of friends, the return of their loved ones from Pets At Peace brings comfort. Having them close again means they are safe and back where they belong.  

There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. There is just your way. Some people like to talk about - and to their animals - as if they are still with us. Some people like to keep a candle near their animal's photograph or ashes. Others like to keep their collar, paw print or a lock of hair as a momento. Some like to bury their favourite toy or teddy bear with their animals. Others find it difficult to speak their name for a long time. It is still hard for me to hear Toby's name or look at a picture of Toby without breaking down. I know this won't feel as painful forever but it will take a while. I allow myself to cry when I need to.  

I don't know if we ever get over the loss of loved ones. I think we are adapting to a 'new normal'. No animal replaces another animal - or human for that matter. There are many resources available that are specifically dedicated to the loss of a pet, including online support groups and certified Pet Grief Counsellors. I have a friend who is certified and available to anyone, if you feel you need her. Please get in touch if so.  I am also available to chat with you so reach out at any time. 

 

I was told once that if we have live animals, we will also have dead animals. The joy of living with (and loving)  a pet also brings with it the sorrow of losing that pet. I choose to believe that my animals are still around me and I have 'felt' them and heard them at times. We heard a scratch at our kitchen door the day after Toby passed. The dogs were inside with me. We all heard the sound and went to the door to investigate but there was 'nothing there'. Who knows?

I have no plans of adding another dog to our crew at this stage but our new little foster (Mr Wicket) has decided that the spot under my desk may be a nice place to lay. That is Toby's spot. I wonder if Toby is telling me something? 

On a final note, I would like to remind you all to love your animals (and your humans) passionately. Cherish every moment you have with them. You never know how long you will have together. 

Thank you for being a part of our journey, and I look forward to sharing more "Moments with Memphis" with you soon. Warm regards, Debi Coleman The Dog Lady


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