DREAM ADVICE COLUMN: COPING WITH LOSS OF A PET

My question is about death. I had a puppy for five months and, out of nowhere, he got sick and passed away. I’m numb, empty and heartbroken. He followed me everywhere, gave me unconditional love, and I loved him with every last morsel of my being. I love him so deeply and am feeling so much pain… why does this happen? His life was meant to be this short? What is this supposed to teach me? Thank you for listening.

XO, C

Dear C,

I chose to respond to your submission, though it’s not a dream, because I could feel your pain as you describe this waking nightmare of losing your innocent pup. I can picture the special bond you two shared — frolicking in a field on a sunny day, playful tussles over a dirty sock, and snuggling into bed at night — the kind of relationship with a dog one dreams of. Where once your pup’s little body lay close to your chest is now empty, and in his place a heavy load of questions as you search for meaning. Maybe I can help you along. 

 

If you read my blog post regarding the Pop Tart dream, I had my good friend, Freudian psychoanalyst and author Mikita Brottman chime in. I return to her work again today as she wrote an entire book on the psychology of the human-canine relationship. In The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Exceptional Dogs, she wrote of her own aging French Bulldog: 

"Yet although he may be a god to me, Grisby is mortal, like the rest of us, and starting to show his age. He’ll die, no doubt, in the next four or five years, a thought that makes me less unhappy when I remember how unaware his is of his own mortality. I remind myself to follow his example and live in the present, instead of worrying about what life will be like without him." [1]

Perhaps like Mikita, you can take comfort in knowing that your pup has no concept of past or future, no weighty existential dread or sense of impending loss. He lived in the immediacy of his relationship with you, and the treats, smells, and sounds that punctuated the day. He had no idea of his life as being long or short, happy or sad, healthy or ill; those are your human narrative words to describe what for him was always just “right now.” While he gave you so much love, allow him to give you this gift of the present moment.

In a dog’s eyes, we’re never too sensitive, too fat, too much, or not enough; they can’t hurt us the way people can. Thus dogs are safe to love and be loved by and they allow us to return to a more child-like state of innocence. So in the loss of a dog, and in your case a puppy, innocence is lost and the child within is heartbroken. Perhaps you can take comfort in thinking symbolically about how your puppy helped you rekindle a connection to the inner child, and right now that child needs a lot of space to grieve and heal from his loss. In Grisby, Mikita reminds us that our relationship to our pets is largely colored by our own projections:

What makes a dog exceptional is its owner. In other words, any dog can be exceptional if it’s loved enough. We see our dogs through human eyes; this is the transformative power of projection… For some, a dog is an alter ego; for others, a substitute for a child; other people use their dogs to keep the world at bay, to heal wounds inflicted in infancy, or to recapture their playful, preverbal selves. [2]

For you C, you gave your puppy the depth of your heart, every last morsel of your being, and in turn he loved you back unconditionally. While I’m sure he was a spectacular pup, really it’s your capacity to share yourself wholeheartedly that’s so exceptional. 

[1] [2] Brottman, M. (2014). The great Grisby: two thousand years of literary, royal, philosophical, and artistic dog lovers and their exceptional animals. New York, NY: Harper.

*DISCLAIMER: Dreamwork is a collaborative process that relies entirely on the associations of the dreamer to create a dream meaning. Without the dreamer’s input, I can only describe my personal associations and amplify the dream images as they exist symbolically on a cultural level.

See original post on the Free People blog here

Illustration by Erica Prince

Melissa Daum, LMFT  | 119 Washington Pl. Suite C, New York, NY 10014 |  (301)873-0572 |  contact@melissadaum.com                                            Background image by Witch and Watchman