Just days after the death of a loved one last year, I had to travel halfway across the country for a conference. Because I carry grief in my stomach, I couldn’t eat. Weakness from not eating combined with the usual exhaustion from travel had me feeling sick. At a lunch meeting, couldn’t bring myself to explain why I wasn’t eating; the grief I bore was the kind that dare not speak its name.
The beloved who had died was my dog.
If I had been mourning the death of a person, my life would have been understandably put on hold. I wouldn’t have been expected to go to work the day following her death. I could have cancelled my trip. I wouldn’t have found myself sitting at lunch with two editors, trying to force down a bit of soup and a couple forkfuls of salad while staidly trying to keep my game face on.
When a family member dies, the bereft are offered sympathy, support, and condolences, from meals and visits, to cards and flowers, to the funeral service, burial, and beyond. Not so when the family member that dies is a pet.
When we mourn the loss of a pet, we mourn alone. We go to work, we have our lunch meetings, and we come home. Perhaps we share our grief privately with other members of the household, but not, generally, with the world. No cards in the mailbox. No meals dropped off. No obituary in the newspaper.
I’m not going to argue that it should be otherwise. Nor will I argue that the death of a pet should be treated with the same moral, emotional, or social weight as the death of a person. It should not. But this kind of grief—the inconsolable grief that comes from losing a much-loved non-human companion—does have much to teach us about our humanity, our Creator, ...1
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