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.