A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

Saying Goodbye to Max the Dog

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When I was in first grade, I had a dog named Max. We had lived in an apartment building before that, and one day my parents told me we were buying a house, and they were ecstatic. All I cared about was what they promised me: when we moved into the house, I could get a dog. So I got this beautiful Lab and Great Dane mix. He was big, and I named him Max. 

My first-grade teacher was Ms. Silver, and I guess she thought I was a nuisance in her class. I'm sure I was. She and my parents came up with this plan where she would write me daily reports, and if I got a bad daily report, I couldn't play outside after school.

At home, we had this big picture glass window in a suburb, and I would watch all my friends play outside and I'd be stuck inside every day because I got a bad report. As a first grader, it felt like every day. In retrospect, I don't know that it was, but it sure felt like it. And so I would play with Max, the dog, in my backyard a lot. He became my best buddy. He truly got me through that period and helped heal my heart of the frustration and hurt, for me as a first grader, of not being able to play with my friends after school. Max weathered that with me. He was my buddy. 

Then, one day, I came home with another bad report, and so I knew I wasn't going to get to play outside. I came through the front door and Max came to the living room, but he didn't come to greet me this time. He growled at me, and he had never growled at me. Right away, my intuition told me something was wrong. I was confused by his growling. It scared and confused me. I went to pet him again, and he backed into a lit fireplace and singed his tail. I remember seeing him burn his tail and kind of slink off into the backyard. At this point, I just knew, even as a child, that something was really wrong. I called for my mom and she came in and I told her what happened. We looked at Max and he was outside vomiting, foaming blood at the mouth.

He looked like he was in really bad shape, and we were trying to figure out what had happened. Then, in our guest bedroom, my mom found a pill bottle. We had a guest staying with us, and I don't think she had dogs, didn't think twice of it, but she had left a medication bottle in her trash in her room, and Max had gotten into it and eaten whatever was left, which I guess was a good amount of pills. So my mom put together what happened and called the vet, and I guess the vet told my mom that it was not going to be pretty. Max was going to die, he said, and we had to stay away from him, and there was nothing that could be done.

So she called my dad, and my dad, who grew up in rural Illinois, told my mom that she needed to get the pistol that we had, and put Max down. My mom, if you know her, is not comfortable doing anything in that arena. And so, the confusion I had around this situation, and watching my mom get the pistol, and the fear that she had on her face, to have to do this to our dog, all of it was overwhelming for me. She was trying to steady herself to do this, not having been in this situation or anything remotely close to it, ever. I was taking this all in, powerless to help my dog, and all I could do was witness everything unfold. Right as my mother was mustering the will to do this, my dad bolted through the back door. He’d rushed home from work. He grabbed the pistol and put Max down.

The sound and chaos of seeing my dog die right there in front of me - I was supposed to be inside, but of course, I had to see - I'll never forget it.



Do you guys have anything like that in your life? Feelings that you replay, moments that seem unresolved, unfinished? Do you have trauma in your life that you don't know what to do with? Traumatic events can produce grief all around the event. That grief doesn’t just go away. It lives in us. It holds us back from the relationships we have, weighing us down like a coat of armor. It doesn't serve us. It's not a protective armor, but a buffer between us and who we want to be, keeping us from living life as deeply as we’d like because we have to keep our hearts safe. Do you know how many people I know have lost a loved animal and never can get another? Or how many people lose an animal and then try and replace it immediately, but can never gain that depth of relationship with another animal like they had with the other one, because they're unfinished with that one? 

We do this in many aspects of our lives: in our romantic relationships, and with our animals. We don't know how to complete what's unfinished, so we either try to replace it as fast as we can or we try and get this new relationship right away. I know people who named their dog the same name again, just one after the other: Fluffy One, Fluffy Two, Fluffy Three. We can't get back those past relationships, nor can we let go, because we first have to know what to do to say goodbye to the unfinished feelings. And there are things we can do. I know most of us don't have this, but I thank God I had a father who knew how to help me with this. 

He knew how to help me identify my feelings and where things felt unfinished with Max. He knew how to help me look at the things that I wanted to thank Max for. I wanted to apologize to Max for that whole event, and with the end of our physical relationship, I needed to know how to deal with my feelings about my whole relationship with him. What did I want to tell him about that first day I got him? What did I want to tell him about all those days when I couldn't play outside with my friends, but I could play with him, and he was always there for me? This is all stuff that would have lived in my heart and remained unfinished if I didn't know what to do with it.

If you have stuff like that too, there's a lot you can do. You don't have to carry it around with you. We have thousands of people like me who want to help, who know how to help, and who have done their own work first. That's important. Don't work around your heart, around your unfinished emotional pain, with just anyone. Don't work with people who are just kind of figuring it out themselves. Just because someone has experienced loss doesn't mean they should be the leader of a group of other people experiencing loss. Find one of us. Find someone who teaches the Grief Recovery Method, who's done their own work around the losses they needed to do work on, and now has a solid plan to share with you, and other people out there, the tools they learned. Just like my father did with me.

Please check out these related articles:

Why Pet Loss Hurts So Bad

Losing a Pet: Grieving the Loss of a Friend




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