In the past three months I’ve had quite a few conversations with people who were unable to physically be with their dog when the dog died, and they feel guilty and even angry. If you’ve ever felt the same way I have a few thoughts that might be of help:
I think it’s safe to say that most people want to physically be with their dogs when they die. Being able to hold a dog you love as she leaves her body is important and provides a kind of closure. But, due to a variety of circumstances, being there physically isn’t always possible. How do you get over feeling guilty for not physically being there?
If you’re unable to be physically with your dog—for whatever reason—when she leaves her body it’s important to understand that even though you may not physically be present, your thoughts and feelings are there and your dog knows that. As I’ve said before, dogs process everything emotionally and intuitively, and your love for your dog exists on more than the physical plane. She can feel your presence. She knows you care. She knows you feel sad. She knows that you don’t want her to leave. She knows you love her. Trust the connection you have with your dog. That connection isn’t broken by dying or even death.
Don’t contaminate the grieving process with guilt. Grieving is hard enough without piling guilt on top of it. Playing the “shoulda…woulda…coulda” game only makes it harder to deal with the death of your animal friend. Dogs don’t judge, and you shouldn’t waste your time and energy judging yourself either.
I understand that what I’m saying is easier said than done, but look at it from a broader perspective. We’re spending time right now being physically apart from most people. Does that distancing mean that people don’t know what other people are feeling and thinking? When you care, those feelings find their way to those who need to know they aren’t alone. Remember the ripple effect. The same process is true of the connection between you and your dog.
Dogs are better at dealing with emotions than we are, but perhaps one of the lessons you’ve learned from your dog is that feelings are really as tangible (and much more important) than thoughts. You can say goodbye in your heart and those feelings will be felt by your dog.
During the time your dog shared your life you taught her that she wasn’t alone. It wasn’t really a conscious teaching on your part; you showed her in every way you could that you loved her and were there for her. You didn’t need to be standing in front of her to get that message across. That same principle applies when she leaves her body to move on to her next expression of spirit.
Here’s the bottom line: Trust that how you feel and everything your dog meant to you exists in your dog’s mind and heart when she leaves her body. She won’t feel alone if you can’t physically be with her because she’s had a life with you that filled her with love and taught her she was never alone. She leaves her body with a full heart and mind.
Please let go of the guilt and anger. Those feelings get in the way of the grieving that’s necessary for you to honor the memory of your dog. Accept what is and understand that your dog knows you’re with her when she goes Home regardless of where you are.