Silent and misunderstood mourning for the death of an animal: 'The kind of love that man cannot give' (2023)

My dog ​​died yesterday. The pain is so deep that it scares me because it covers everything. It's so deep that all I can do is sit and cry and think about loss or love for others or death.”So began a letter sent to EL PAÍS by a reader last week.. More than 30,000 people liked the Instagram post he shared; More than 400 comments sympathized with the sender's pain. The support and words of solidarity of such a send-off testify to the deep connection between animals and the people who live with them. Among the celebrities: Last Tuesday, Paris Hilton also mourned the death of her 23-year-old dog, Harajuku Bitch, with an Instagram post that read, "Rest my sweet baby. Thank you for filling my life with unconditional love."

In a survey conducted by Spanish pet website Wamiz, 90% of dog and cat owners said the pain they feel when they lose a pet is similar to that of losing a loved one. Animals are also our loved ones, and their death affects us accordingly. In recent times, the perception of animals, especially pets, has undergone a significant evolution; Enrique, a 45-year-old forestry engineer, witnessed this with his own eyes. "Ten years ago, I told my boss that I couldn't go to work because my dog ​​was sick and I didn't want to leave him alone. He laughed, thinking I was joking. When he passed away a few months ago, I noticed a different reaction around me. It's a great relief not to have to make excuses to cover up something so important.”

Hiding your feelings is the most harmful thing you can do in a situation like this, according to psychologist Beatriz Cuervo. "Minimizing what we feel has no positive consequences. The pain of loss is normal," he explains. "We may be embarrassed in certain family, social or business contexts to admit that we are sad or that we feel the emptiness that comes with the absence of a pet. In that case, it would be appropriate to try to talk to someone who has been through a similar situation, even if it's not our best friend, but maybe someone we know when we take our dogs to the park.”

Silent and misunderstood mourning for the death of an animal: 'The kind of love that man cannot give' (1)
Silent and misunderstood mourning for the death of an animal: 'The kind of love that man cannot give' (2)

Laura Alberdi, manager of a pet shop in Oviedo, Spain, has often been the subject of those lamentations that some people cannot express in their own environment. "There is a 70-year-old woman who still gets emotional when she tells us about the canary her grandchildren gave her when she became a widow. At first, Platanín seemed like a nuisance, but later he became his dearest friend. People are surprised by the affection of animals, no matter how small they are, but they easily recognize those who are good or bad with them. His departure destroyed her. She says she misses him more than her husband. She says it quietly, as if she is afraid that they won't hear her.

This is not an isolated case. "We don't know most people's names here, but we know every animal that comes in," Alberdi continues. "People feel understood when they tell us their story." And it's not just customers: "One day, the delivery man who was delivering the goods started crying when he saw his cat's favorite toy, because he had died the day before. He took out his mobile phone, showed the pictures and stood for a long time telling his pranks."

say goodbye

Marcelino's end was very painful. It came after months of hospitalizations, ineffective medications, stress and a significant but unavoidable financial outlay. After his death, Alba, a 42-year-old music teacher, decided not to go through it anymore because "forgiveness is too painful." He shared his home for eight years. She adopted him after someone left him at the door of a veterinary clinic and he changed her life. "Contrary to what people think, cats are very affectionate. He greeted me at the door, mingled with everyone who entered the house and knew my emotions better than I did. Statistically, I've lived alone, but I've never felt anything like it: a cat turns four walls into a home.” It's been over a year since he died, but she still has no plans to get any more pets. She can't even look at his pictures without breaking down.

Silent and misunderstood mourning for the death of an animal: 'The kind of love that man cannot give' (3)
Silent and misunderstood mourning for the death of an animal: 'The kind of love that man cannot give' (4)

Sometimes the end is quick and unexpected. Marga, a 51-year-old civil servant, took her dog to the animal hospital because she thought he was just suffering from a persistent cold; it turned out to be a tumor mass. They did everything they could for a month, but in the end they had to make a decision. Euthanasia is a daily reality for animals, a moment that can be very traumatic and in which the sensitivity of professionals plays a decisive role. "Her vet made that terrible moment somehow comforting, we said goodbye for an hour, I kissed her and she fell asleep peacefully in my arms. I was in a kind of limbo for two days; so i broke down.

Rita, who had been abandoned twice, came at a crucial moment in his life. - She helped me to pull myself together. They barely lasted a few years together, but despite the unfathomable pain, she admits that every day was worth it. "Of course it's like the death of a close relative or worse," she says. “You don't share so much of your life with anyone as you do with them; their little faces are the first thing you see when you wake up, they follow you to the bathroom, they snuggle up to you on the couch, they welcome you with the same joy, whether you're coming back from a week's vacation or you've just taken out the trash. They never judge you, they love you unconditionally, they don't care if you are a millionaire or homeless. Such love does not exist in humans."

When Rita died, Marga decided to take a break. She felt that bringing another dog home was a betrayal of her memory. A month later, however, Frida was already there, because "life without a dog is not complete". The case of Frida, a ten-year-old crossbreed dog, is an example of what can be called the mourning of life: her owner had to say goodbye when she entered the nursing home. "It's a common case," says Eva Rodriguez of the animal protection organization Adoptastur. "Sometimes this is inevitable, because the elderly person is alone and animals cannot enter the care homes, and sometimes there are family members who take away all the material things, but get rid of the person who is the person's only companion, as if person. useless piece of garbage.

Silent and misunderstood mourning for the death of an animal: 'The kind of love that man cannot give' (5)

The effect is often devastating, both for the elderly and their pets. "Especially in the case of cats," explains Rodríguez, "these are animals whose pain even leads them to die." Animals also know in their own way what sadness is and experience it both for their humans and for other animals they live with.

Rodriguez herself knows this pain well: hundreds of animals passed through her house, but only one was her "companion dog." When Dana, the bull terrier who came into her life after years of abuse, died, she felt a pain she never thought possible. “We've been through a lot together; we went through five houses, several partners and even a pandemic. She was my friend anyway. Dana's favorite place, "where she felt safe in recent months," now has a large photo of her. "Sometimes to close wounds, in addition to talking about it, it can be helpful to consider some kind of farewell ritual, a small tribute," says Cuervo. "When we lose a loved one, we need those symbols that, without any conviction, help us enter a new phase and gradually get used to the idea of ​​that absence."

This parting can be especially painful for children, says Cuervo. "Maybe they don't understand what happened or they blame themselves. It's important to give them age-appropriate explanations, but don't lie: forget "to a better place", "gone to heaven" or "gone to the farm". , and the more they feel guided and understood, the better off they will be."

When bringing home a new pet after the death of another, it's important to be aware that it doesn't replace the one that's gone, Rodríguez adds. "There are people who call the animal adoption association, and what they are looking for is a replica of an animal that no longer exists. This is impossible and causes a lot of frustration, because no animal, whether of the same breed or even of the same litter, is the same."

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