Infertility and the loss of a furry companion
“Grief is a reminder that love was present, and that even if it’s no longer in its original form, that love still exists.” ~ Michelle Maros
Several months ago I wrote a post about the companionship we get from our furry friends. While pets don’t replace human babies, they do tend to offer us emotional support, especially through the lows of infertility. I shared a little bit about my pet rabbit, Yarrow. She brought us so much joy and comfort when she came into our lives. Sadly, our beloved Yarrow passed on last week, on Wednesday night. She was almost seven years old (rabbits tend to live up to 10 to 12 years) and although she had her fair share of health issues over the years, we didn’t expect to lose her so soon. We had little time to prepare emotionally. Naturally, we are heartbroken. We didn’t realise that her loss would impact us as much as it has. The Peggy Tabor Millin quote – “We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace.” – rings true in this situation, because the absence of this tiny bundle of fur has left a profound emptiness in our hearts and in our home. At various points in the day, I half expect to hear her or see her playfully bouncing about. We catch ourselves going to check on her or thinking that we should refill her food bowl, forgetting that she is no longer there. It’s those simple little things that make me realise just how much a part of our lives she was and how tough it will be to get used to the idea of her not being around anymore.
A few days ago, my husband said that something about this experience made him think of the time we went through our ectopic pregnancy loss. I knew exactly what he meant. The sense of loss brought all those feelings of grief and emptiness back up to the surface, amplifying them once again. It took me a bit by surprise, however, I do understand that this is a reality we’ll have to face periodically because grief is not linear. There will always be experiences that trigger the underlying sadness tied to infertility trauma and pregnancy loss. It seemed ironic that in the past, Yarrow’s presence was one of the things that would have offered me comfort when I was feeling low, yet now we were mourning her passing too. I’ve allowed the emotions to flow through me, giving myself permission to feel what needed to be felt. Nothing good ever comes from suppressing or disassociating from your feelings after all. At the same time, we don’t want to get stuck in the wallowing. It was thus important to discuss how we would allow space to mourn, how we wanted to remember Yarrow and how we would start moving forward.
Simple acts can be healing. I made a slideshow with some of our favourite pictures of her and shared that as a tribute in a social media post. We also decided that we would plant a tree in our garden to remember her by. We cleaned her cage, blankets and belongings and decided to donate them to our local animal rescue shelter. These felt like small steps forward in a positive direction. Over the weekend, my husband and I made a point of getting out of the house and spending time in nature. On Friday, we both finished work early and then changed up our usual routine by spending the afternoon at the botanical gardens. It was lovely to lie down on the grass in the toasty sun, just watching the clouds float lazily across the bright blue sky. Saturday we took a drive out of town to picnic at a lovely dam in a wildlife reserve. We found the perfect spot at the water’s edge where we enjoyed our food, watched the abundant aquatic birds, chatted and read a few Mary Oliver poems. Being immersed in a thriving natural environment always renews my sense of hope and connection to life. It was so relaxing. The dose of nature therapy lifted the fog of heaviness a bit.
In searching for guidance on how one copes with the loss of a pet, I found a Harvard University article by Clinical Psychologist, Dr. David Topor, that offers a few points which I found very useful. Dr. Topor’s suggested strategies for those grieving are as follows:
- “It is important to recognize the depth of feelings of the loss. Your pet may have been with you through the ups and downs in life and may have even helped you cope with other losses. Give yourself the necessary time and space to grieve. Individual, group, and family psychotherapy may be helpful to process the loss and make meaning of the pet in your life.
- Keep focused on your daily and weekly schedules of personal and professional responsibilities, and make sure to incorporate pleasant activities for yourself into your days.
- Identify triggers for your grieving and identify ways you can cope. Triggers can include the pet food aisle in the grocery store or driving by a special place you shared with your pet.
- Try to find ways to meaningfully grieve. This can include creating a memory book, journaling, building a memorial, or donating money or time to a pet welfare cause.
- Explore self-help groups at a local animal shelter or ASPCA. Almost all schools of veterinary medicine have telephone support hotlines. There are also a number of online community forums that allow people to receive support while they grieve and process their loss.”
Have you lost an animal companion that was dear to you? What helped you cope through your grieving process?