Coping with loss: a personal story

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 at 6:09 PM

Very few experiences in life compare to the peaceful reassurance of coming home to your pet. There is undoubtedly a rush of endorphins, which radiates throughout an individual’s body, as they anticipate their pets’ “greeting” and an eagerness to focus on the love they share for one another. This encounter is a type of comfort, a moment of stability which many rely on each day to heave way to the hectic world around them. Furthermore, there is a type of inner shell blossoming for a human when they embrace the outer shell of their pet, which can be displayed by actions such as rubbing a dog’s stomach or stroking a cat. 

I came across a quote by Anatole France, a French poet in the late 1800s, that spoke volumes regarding the richness of the pet and human bond. The quote states: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Sadly, like all interpersonal relationships, the pet and human bond does eventually cease in the physical world. Losing a pet, regardless of the who, what, when, where and why is heartbreaking. 

It is imperative to acknowledge that according to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet. To clarify, that abstract percent equates to 85 million families. This data personally reassures me in my own loss that I am not alone in my story and multitude of emotions. 

Based on the mass amount of people affected by pet loss and for other specific reasons, I feel compelled to share a brief narration of my cat, Jazzy, via this media outlet. The four reasons for my disclosure are as follows:

1. To celebrate the human-pet bond in the physical world and beyond.

2. To share personal coping strategies to aid others in the healing process.

3. To create an open dialogue regarding pet loss.

4. To pay tribute to Jazzy.

The following paragraph is a concise overview of Jazzy’s life with my family and I.

We acquired Jazzy through my sister’s babysitter at the time who could no longer care for her. For over a decade, Jazzy became an integral member of my family, one who always made my family and I smile, laugh, and truly enjoy the present moment. Jazzy had quirky personality traits that were vital in establishing our bond and connecting with her, such as biting her nails and squeezing herself in board game boxes much too small for her. 

In addition, Jazzy was enthralled when my sister would give her what we called a “tummy yummy,” which was merely just rubbing her stomach. The bond my sister and Jazzy had was really beautiful in regard to how they visibly cared and loved one other. Jazzy would throw herself all over my sister’s homework, jump into baby doll crates, and follow her around the house. As all of my family (including Jazzy) aged over the years, the dynamic of the household shifted too as Jazzy became less fearful of noises, strangers and, I believe, herself. Simultaneously, her health began to decline due to her age and other medical issues we were not aware of. In November of 2016, Jazzy fell ill, the vet declaring it a bit of a mystery, but concluding she was severely dehydrated and had other medical problems that were commonplace for a 12-year-old cat. Just as we started to lose hope, Jazzy’s body miraculously started functioning normally again. My family and I got another full year with her before her ultimate departure in November of 2017. 

My dad joked around and said, “She must just not like the month of November.” As we laughed at the irony of both her sicknesses occurring in the same month, we also knew her latest illness in 2017 was far worse than before and would most likely take her life. 

Her body became so frail and weak, she struggled to walk without wobbling over, her breathing became loud and strenuous, and her overall quality of life was diminishing. We had to make the excruciating decision to put her down to end her suffering. Again, I share this story to exemplify how my own fears, anxieties and sadness of the overall experience may resonate with at least a few of the 82 million families who own pets. 

It has been two months since Jazzy died and although I do and always will miss her physical presence in our house, she will indefinitely remain in our hearts. Moreover, I have implemented several coping strategies in my life to help me gain acceptance and peace with her death. 

1. Picture her in her favorite spots in the house.

2. Openly talk about happy moments I had with her, instead of focusing only on the sadness of her loss.

3. Allow myself to feel any and all emotions without judgment.

4. Acknowledge her loss with grace and understanding that we all will pass in due time. 

In addition, there are several services and resources on campus, such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), to aid an individual through any type of mental health hardships. I encourage all people to consider that any and all type of loss is valid, and the feelings that erupt from this event need to be addressed appropriately for closure purposes. Yet, there is not one right thing to say or do to expedite the healing process. In my opinion, it is most important to not bury the loss, but to plant seeds of healing with those around you, allowing you to move forward positively in life. 

JoAllie Paluchak can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: voices

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