22 July 2019 05:53 PM

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RASHMI OBEROI | 12 JULY, 2019

Leaving Pawprints On Our Heart

The house is empty and silent


By far the most incredibly painful experience for me has been the loss of a pet. If you’ve loved and lost a dog before, you’ll understand what I mean as I write on.

After all, a pet isn’t just an animal you own – it’s someone you consider a member of your family. You share a special bond with them, and they become your best friend and companion. And losing that friend for life can bring deep sadness. You need time to grieve and process the loss of your beloved pet before being able to move on. Those around who have not experienced this pain may not understand.

Our Pasha, was gone much before his time. It was sudden, cruel and so unexpected. For the last few days the family has been plodding on with our daily burdens, each of us grappling hopelessly with the numbing realisation that a bright and constant light had been snuffed out. So often, a black cloud rolls in and blankets out your world.

The hot summer breeze and the erratic rain storms blow in ancient tufts of discarded fur. They roll around in the same corners as Pasha would choose to have his intermittent daytime naps. My eyes play tricks on me as I imagine seeing him in his favourite spots…or when I am jarred with a sound at a distance that resembles his seasoned bark which only seems real and the house lingers with his faint smell that is oh so familiar!

My father’s meal times will never be the same again as he ate all his meals by his side. Now, the house is empty and silent; the front garden and backyard look forlorn without his presence and his football that was constantly in his mouth as he lumbered around with it in his jaws – sometimes one, sometimes two and even three in one go. The murky rainwater lying in small pools can collectively be the family’s tears.

Grief can hit you anytime and the impact it has on children too is overwhelming. The dark clouds hovering above us were unwelcome. Grief of this nature after the death of a pet is absolutely normal – we are neither crazy nor overly sentimental, we are just human to experience such degrees of sadness. There are fundamental truths about the legitimacy and strength of the human-animal bond. The bond leads many of us to see our pets as family. Therefore, when our pet dies, we experience feelings akin to those of losing a family member. Grief is grief, regardless of whether the one we love, who has died, has two legs or four. Many of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions. For us, a pet is not ‘just a dog’.

I don’t think we will ever forget the night of Pasha’s cries and the deep breaths he took and the moaning and howls that shook our home in the darkness of the night. Yes, we duly wept for our pet as we lay on the floor holding him tight while his life ebbed away. His dark brown eyes looked deep into ours with an acknowledgement of love and compassion. I remember making eye contact with Pasha before he slipped away – he flashed me a look that was an endearing blend of confusion and the reassurance that everything was ok because we were all by his side.

No one tells you how much your heart hurts as you say goodbye. No one tells you that your legs feel like jelly and you can barely walk without your companion by your side. No one explains the depth of your sobs and how your whole body is consumed with grief…that washes over you so powerfully that you can’t control yourself. It comes in waves for hours that first day, and is immeasurable. As are the never ending tears. No one tells you how cavernous and empty your house feels when you enter it for the first time. And how heartbroken you are all over again when you see the food bowl or bed.

No one tells you that you will still see your pet even though they are gone for weeks afterwards. You see them laying on their favourite chair, you look for them behind the curtains, and you swear you hear them barking. You can still smell and feel their presence. No one tells you that you will still accidentally try to feed them the morning after, or close the doors quickly so they don’t get out. It took years to build a routine and will take months to break those habits. No one tells you that you will reach for them at night, and ache to hold, hug, pet, and kiss them just one more time

We must acknowledge that the death of an animal is indeed the loss of a true love and friend and that our life, of course, will never be the same again. Alas, a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives, has gone away. The worst part about owning a dog is having to say goodbye, and that goodbye often feels far too soon. A pet owner’s worst fear is losing a beloved companion. For those who have experienced this loss, there is usually a poignant story to share about a cherished pet’s passing. From one pet owner to another, we understand the intense pain and emptiness that occurs after this loss. There is no correct way to grieve and work through this process, as everyone walks down a different journey with a pet.

The magnitude of pet loss grief is immense. A pet is truly a gift that can change your life and bring you monumental happiness and gratitude. Pets teach you responsibility, patience, kindness, discipline, playfulness and, most importantly, unconditional love. Even if your dog chews your couch, scratches your doors, and manages to eat every sock you own, you still figure out a way to share your home and heart with your companion.

What is it about dogs, exactly, that make humans bond so closely with them? Perhaps one reason our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our human relationships is that dogs provide us with such unconditional, uncritical positive feedback. Not surprisingly, humans respond positively to such unqualified affection, assistance and loyalty.

Our memories of Pasha are of not of how he died but how he lived. We often laugh about his antics, build great legends about his life, and express gratitude for his all-too-brief presence in our family. Thank you Pasha. You were magnificent. And you were an angel who took away all the negativity that was around, leaving only positive vibes for us.

~ A dear friend who is a not only a military doctor but a gifted poet wrote this for my Pasha:

“A friend lost a friend today. This is for you, Rashmi Oberoi.

It'll be fine.
Go on. Go. They are waiting there,
like we did for you those many years back
when we said, come, come here. Good boy.
Don't look back. This part is done.
A new place beckons. New people. Friends.
Fresh smells and sounds.
Sights like you've never seen.
Squirrels and birds to chase
for your legs will be young again.
You can eat all you want and not be fat.
Your fur will shine like it never could here.
Go. Go on. Don't stop. Good boy.
And if you should ever lose your way,
not sure of where to go
you know this home.
The bowl will have water
and you already know where the biscuits are
and the leash will be in the corner
unclasped without you on the other end.”

                               -Kannan Narayanan

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