Summating some stuff I've read on this over the last few weeks and thought I would share it.....a lot of it held true for me...
If any emotion rules supreme when a pet dies, it is guilt. No matter what the circumstances of our loss, guilt is there. It haunts our days, ruins our sleep, and tarnishes our memories.
If a pet dies through an accident, guilt is quick to follow. If only I had known... If only I had been more careful... If only I had come home sooner... If only I had been watching... The final memories of the pet become a litany of failure.
If a pet dies of an unexpected illness....thoughts like these follow: why didn't I notice the symptoms sooner? Why didn't I visit the vet immediately? Why didn't I get a second opinion? How could I have let it go so long, been so blind, done so little? This was my experience.
Euthanasia is the grand master of guilt. No matter how certain we are that we are doing what is best for the pet, few pet owners actually feel comfortable with this decision. Very few can walk away from the vet's office without nagging doubts, without wondering what the pet felt or thought in that final moment, without asking whether we should have waited longer or tried harder. Many of us feel guilty of what we feel was murdering a family member.
But even if there is nothing in the pet's final hours to trigger a guilty response, we don't let ourselves off the hook. If we can't find something in the pet's death to feel guilty about, we'll find it in the pet's life. I did this too a little. If only I had spent more time with her... If only I had given him more attention... If only I hadn't pushed her off my lap, if only I hadn't ignored those pleading eyes, if only I hadn't been so busy... Before long, we convince ourselves that we were abominable pet owners who made our companions' lives miserable. And now it's too late. We cannot make amends, redeem ourselves...
Why do we feel this way? Because we are believers in cause and effect. When something goes wrong, we want to know why. How did it happen? What went wrong? Could it have been prevented -- and if so, how? Who is responsible? What could/should have been done differently? Rarely can we acknowledge that there are often no answers to these questions. Rarely can we say, "no one was at fault; it simply happened." Rarely can we accept that nothing could have been changed or done differently in many instances.
This reaction is intensified by the profound sense of responsibility we feel toward our pets. Pets occupy a similar role to very small children: no matter what happens, we feel responsible. We can never expect our pets to understand why they shouldn't run into the street, chew on the electric cord or take unhealthy scraps from the trash. We are always their guardians and protectors. And so, when something happens, we view ourselves as responsible for that as well -- and it is only a short step from feeling "responsible" to feeling "guilty."
A little bit of guilt, for the right reasons, can be healthy. Next time, we'll vaccinate; next time, we won't feed the pet bones that splinter or scraps. Next time, we'll consult the vet immediately about that odd behavior change. A lot of guilt, however, is not so healthy. Left unchecked, it can prevent us from eventually seeking the joy of a new pet -- and can even ruin our lives. So if you can't eventually shake the sense of being "to blame" for your loss, you could be in for a long, rough ride -- unless you choose to eventually change direction. At its core, guilt is a belief -- a conviction that we have done wrong and must suffer for it. The only way to break that conviction is to change what we choose to believe.
Here are some choices that can help us oversome guilt.
1) Choose not to rehearse guilt. Do you find yourself repeating the same guilty thoughts over and over again? They won't go away by themselves. You must choose to make them stop. First, catch yourself. When you find yourself wandering down that painful mental path, put up a mental stop sign. Focus on something else, focusing on something positive in the future is a conscious reminder that there is more to your life than negatives from the past.
2) Choose to accept what cannot be changed. A self-imposed "penance" for past mistakes accomplishes nothing. It doesn't change, or make up for the past; it simply ruins your future. Chances are that you've already changed anything that needed to be changed (such as vaccinating your other pets). Can you change anything else? Can you undo what was done? Can you change the outcome of your actions? If the answer is "no," choose to accept and realize that the only thing you can change now is your future.
3) Choose balance. Guilt keeps us focused on the times we feel we failed -- the times we were "too busy" to take a pet for a walk, or play with it, or cuddle it. It blinds us to all the other times when we weren't too busy. So the next time your mind drifts into those unhappy thoughts, choose to refocus. Actively remind yourself of the good times, the times when you were, indeed a responsible and caring pet owner. Chances are, that was most of the time. Remember what went right. No, you weren't 100% perfect. But neither were you 100% flawed.
4) Choose forgiveness. Ask yourself: could you have had a relationship with your pet, if you couldn't "forgive" the puddles, the torn drapes, the gnawed belongings, the broken heirlooms? And it works the other way as well: how often did your pet "forgive" you for coming home late or ignoring it or yelling at it? Forgiveness has always been at the foundation of your relationship with your pet and now you need to make it the foundation of your healing. Each time guilt tries to remind you of some past mistake, acknowledge that mistake -- and eventually forgive it. If you did wrong, it's done, it's over, and it will be time to eventually move forward. Treat yourself with the same degree of love and acceptance that your pet gave you. Only then will you be able to heal and love again.Pet owners who "don't care" will never experience guilt. Only caring, responsible pet owners go through this agony. The trouble is, too much guilt can prevent you from becoming a caring, responsible pet owner again, if you choose to. Don't let guilt keep you locked in a lifetime of misery. Choose to forgive, to love, to move forward and to move on in order to make a difference in another pet's life....
Although I have been enlightened by many of my readings and by the many posts I've read on this forum, one of the most healing messages I got out of all of it is this one statement, "only caring, responsible pet owners go through this agony". It has helped me understand that through it all, I deeply loved my pet and did the best I could and knew how in caring for him. And his life being cut short by cancer was sadly, unfortunate fate.