- what coping mechanisms do you use when you’re sad, angry, stressed or confused?
- when I had bulimia I’d punish myself with bingeing and purging and over-exercising
- 3 ways to cope with losing your dog or loved one that make you STRONGER
- 5 practical tips—from what we did the FIRST night after letting Rocky go to the No. 1 thing that helps me keep feeling CLOSE to a lost pet or loved one
- I’ve got 3 gifts to send in the post to people who tell me ONE thing ↓
On April 12th, 2023, at 2 pm we let Rocky go.
How to cope with losing your dog or any soul you love
A few years ago, when Rocky was in his prime, I thought I’d write about what he taught me whenever we had to let him go, feeling like it was a million years away. I’ve learned SO MUCH from him. And he’s the star of my website and both my books… without even trying.
Pictures are always so much better when Rocky’s in them!
He’s been such a good sport over the years letting me interrupt his walks to take photos.
Like his 3-legged-polka-dot-tootsie shake for my “Eat oranges instead of orange juice” post:
And my “Eat-more-natural-fat Avocado Recipe” post:
And the “Hot Girl Walk” blog post, when Rocky took off on me in his truck:
Or when he posed as TOTO in my: Judy Garland’s diet will change how you eat post.
And so many more.
Rocky’s even in a bunch of posts I have sitting in”Draft”.
Then over the last beautiful, exhausting, lost myself and found myself 9 months of his time on this planet, I said to myself:
“No. I absolutely cannot write about him.”
But right after Alex and I took Rocky out of our home in a stretcher, I knew I had to.
…for the 3 reasons I didn’t want to.
Why I’m writing about how to cope with losing your dog or loved one
I didn’t want to write about Rocky UNLESS it was going to be my Absolute. Best. Blog. Post. EVER—past and future
…because I love him so much. ❤️
Ugh, the paralyzing perfectionist mindset creeping in…
That same “all or nothing” self-sabotaging thinking I had for a decade
that got me saying I wrecked my diet after any tiny “mistake”
and then punishing myself by bingeing and purging before starting a new diet… tomorrow.
I was always looking for new ways to draw a line in the sand & make the stakes higher!
And it had to be MONUMENTAL…
Like missing an important exam, or buying a piece of symbolic jewellery
(with money I didn’t have)
so I could BELIEVE tomorrow would be different.
I thought if I SCARED myself enough, I wouldn’t “F-up” again
(as I saw it at the time).
I was so focused on the “willpower” of weight loss… the myth—
instead of the SCIENCE of weight loss… of being kind to your body and working WITH it.
All this new diet/fresh start stuff would temporarily ease my anxiety…
But in reality, it wasted hours of my time, energy and potential EACH DAY 🙁
The perfectionist mindset always triggered this vicious cycle:
So I’m writing about Rocky because whether you’re:
- writing a blog post ✍️
- building a healthy routine that unlocks your H 🙂 PPY Weight
- or asking someone who seems interesting if they want to meet up for a coffee ☕
Life is all about GOING FOR IT
& giving it your best shot RIGHT NOW.
If you’re not happy about something you ate, don’t throw the day away.
Don’t get “stuck”!
Instead, simply make your NEXT choice one you feel good about.
A life well lived is getting up each day and focusing on IMPROVEMENT not perfection.
Also, when I take away the pressure of perfection, in ANY part of life… I always do way better.
Lower the bar to do the best work you can for RIGHT NOW!
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
-Eminem, Song: Lose Yourself
Why I’m writing about how to cope with losing your dog or loved one
There was also a bit of “If I don’t write about losing Rocky, then… did it really happen?”
… you know, the tree-falling-in-the-woods kinda thing.
Or as the absolutely gorgeous soul, Michael J. Fox explained in his documentary STILL, he waited 7 years to tell the world his diagnosis because:
“If you don’t know I have Parkinson’s,
then it feels like it’s not really happening.”
There’s actually a name for this. It’s called: Avoidance Coping.
And it doesn’t work!
Why Avoidance Coping Doesn’t Help
Avoidance coping doesn’t address the root causes of stress.
So rather than solve problems, they get bigger, especially if you’re preoccupying yourself with:
- non-stop venting… that never leads to a discussion about possible solutions
- alcohol or drugs
- unhealthy behaviors (like the vicious cycle of restricting what you eat, bingeing and purging)
- the belief there’s nothing you can do to make things better, so you do nothing
Research has found that avoidant coping styles lead people to be anxious, depressed, stressed more easily and struggle with low self-esteem. And overall? They’re less happy and healthy than people with active coping styles.
It’s much more effective and healthy to address issues head on… like the 3 ways I’ll explain in this post.
As Michael J. Fox said ↓
photo by Alan Light, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
…once I looked at my relationship with alcohol I realized it’s a direct response to my Parkinson’s diagnosis… So when I addressed my diagnosis, instead of ignoring it, everything else fell into place.”
– Michael J. Fox, SUPERSTAR, heartthrob ❤️ & activist
& he’s raised more than 1.5 billion dollars for Parkinson’s Research
And amongst all these, and many more reasons…
Why I’m writing about how to cope with losing your dog or loved one
I also worried that writing about Rocky would just be too sad…
But not only is it important to open up…
As Alex told me when we first met:
“If you don’t share who you are, you’ll never get close to anybody.”
He said this because I always said “Everything’s great!”
It was my default response after years of hiding my complicated relationship with food.
I never wanted anyone to worry about me.
But everyone has experienced lossDon't change yourself so that other people will like you. Be yourself, so that the right people will love you— Oreki Houtarou
And when you talk about what you’re going through, and trust the people you tell, they trust you back. Then you can learn from each other.
(And I want to learn from you… will explain in a moment ↓)
I mean, the whole point of being on this planet is to connect with other living things by being honest…
Being REAL is also how you find the best people.
Losing a loved one is often sad because it’s been so good
And that’s something to celebrate.
On the other side of pain there is still love— Madeleine L'Engle, Author: A Wrinkle in Time
Pain is part of the human experience.
To live without pain is to live without love.
At the same time I worried I’d sound stuck in my own backyard, unable to see past me…
I mean, there’s a lot of BIG, devastating things going on in the world.
Hard things we need to acknowledge and cope with
Like just a few days after letting Rocky go I saw a documentary called 20 Days in Mariupol.
Through extraordinary acts of bravery Director Mstyslav Chernov got footage, evidence, of the war breaking out in Ukraine.
“No one would have believed the horror to come,
and without their courageous work, no one could.”
Mstyslav Chernov risked his life to take, what are now, some of the most recognizable images from the war, for instance, at the maternity hospital.
The first 20 days were horrific. And I can’t imagine the other 400+ days… so far.
But that’s why I went.
As I came out from the dark theater into the last rays of light, late on a Saturday afternoon, my first thought was:
I feel super self-indulgent feeling sad about Rocky.
Then I realized we need to learn to cope with very personal experiences that happen in our homes and across the globe because both are real.
We need to do the best we can to help in the ways we can.
That’s Rocky last July ↑
He loved these 2 amazing kids who we purchased blue and yellow friendship bracelets from with proceeds going to Ukraine.
Saving one dog will not change the world,
but for that one dog,
the world will change forever.’
– Karen Davison, author
There’s a really cute 85 year old woman in my neighborhood who has a sign on her front door with those words ↑ .
One day we were walking Rocky and I said “I love your bright red Tam hat!” and she replied:
“It matches my underwear!”
I think that’s fabulous.
And dammit, I need to make more of an effort 🙂
…So even though it’s sad:
Learning to cope with losing your dog or loved one is a SURVIVAL SKILL
One I haven’t mastered yet, but I’ve gotten better at it thanks to other people opening up about how they’ve coped.
Share one thing that’s comforted you—when you’ve experienced loss—in a comment at the end of this post. (I’ll ask again at the end!) You can leave comments anonymously or even with just one initial, like “L”. I know the other people reading this post would love to learn from you. xo And I’m going to send 3 MTC bags to 3 random people who’ve left a comment.
So I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you and encourage you to put your own spin on it because:
There’s no such thing as perfect help
When I didn’t get PERFECT help for my eating disorder in university, I dismissed the entire experience.
But how could I have gotten good help?
At each appointment I said: Everything’s Great!
I was ashamed and didn’t think my doctor—
who had a beard and wore Birkenstock’s with socks
(as do I… but I still held it against him!)
…I thought he wouldn’t get that I wanted to look good in stilettos!
He had a mahogany-framed photo of his gorgeous wife and 3 skinny daughters on his desk.
I didn’t think he’d understand the mess that was me.
Years later I realized strategies he suggested, WORKED!
While I was drawn to the oh-so sexy dramatic change approach—thanks to the Ugly Duckling, Pretty Woman and other Cinderella Stories we’re raised on—nothing lasted until I focused on progress rather than perfection.
Pretty soon I normalized my relationship with food and lost 30 pounds for good.
Turns out taking BABY STEPS, among many other ideas Dr. M shared, were actually, in hindsight, HUGE turning points for me. And they’re strategies I continue to use in every part of my life—which is why my book:
Is dedicated to him!
What to do with the help you get when you’re coping with loss
Figuring out how to:
- overcome addiction
- normalize your relationship with food and unlock your H 🙂 PPY Weight
- move forward from divorce
or any other struggle…
Including losing a pet you’ve spent every day with for the past 9 years…
I mean, I haven’t even gone to the washroom alone!
What is it with dogs always wondering in!?
I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Rocky also had severe anxiety (Dogs! They’re just like us!) so we literally did everything together.
On land and water.
Here he is on a sailboat ↓
Alex and I haven’t gone to a restaurant or even walked into a store together since he came home with us 9 years ago.
And for the last year even if I was going to hop in the shower, Alex would do stuff in the kitchen so he could be with him. Every move was highly orchestrated so Rocky was never alone. And easy to do, when you love someone!
Plus the last 9 years I’ve been writing my books at home anyways, so it was a BIG bonus to have him with me, which made it way more fun.
This won’t be the perfect article about how to cope with loss
But it will give you some ideas… some material to work with!
When we get help it’s our job to receive, reshape and then patch-work together the bits and pieces we’ve read and words other people have said, so we can figure out what works for US!
One truth that helps me cope after losing a dog or loved one
…is knowing that:
Every stranger I walk by.
Every cashier at every corner store.
And every face that appears on TV…
Everyone has experienced loss.
The loss of:
- people they love
- relationships that just can’t go on if they want to stay healthy
- innocent animals who naturally have shorter life spans
- a direction they thought their career would go in
And even the loss of doing things that used to be easy to do!
Like when I was in high school I told myself:
“I’m going to do a back handspring every single day for the rest of my life.”
Because I’d look at older people and wonder… when was THE LAST DAY people stop being able to do things?
“You never know when it will be the last time you’ll see your father, or kiss your wife, or play with your little brother, but there’s always a last time. If you could remember every last time, you’d never stop grieving.”
― Jonathan Tropper, Book: This is Where I Leave You
Spoiler alert… the daily back handspring didn’t happen and I’m not even going to attempt a back walkover:
…Something I used to be able to do on the balanced beam.
And still, all these people you see each day, they:
& Show up
Watching everyone else do their best to carry on is encouraging.
People are inspiring.
So in short:
Yes, loss is sad and painful.
But pain is part of love. And:
Love is the greatest power and it’s everywhere
Love is stronger than evil.
It will push past fear.
And love can’t be broken by death.
And this little dog (he’s actually big!):
That’s Rocky on his 17th birthday in March↑
(His “It’s my birthday” hat’s from the garbage room. I like to stay “on brand”.)
This dog who had to be removed from from his original home by the OSPCA (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) who was deemed “un-adoptable” due to his severe anxiety because he couldn’t be left alone…
(At his first foster home he chewed through his crate and then the dry wall, lost teeth and was considered a danger to himself…)
This dog was at the shelter for 9 months
And then I opened the shelter’s newsletter and saw his face:
I couldn’t unsee him.
Or his description ↑
(“Housetrained: Unknown” … count me in!)
When I struggled with a complicated relationship with food, I felt un-adoptable.
And I couldn’t believe how quickly my life changed—my marks went back up, I met Alex and I stopped being preoccupied by food, weight and hunger—when I got good information.
That’s Rocky, Alex and me in a canoe ↑
We all adopted each other.
So when I saw that lost soul who didn’t belong to anybody, living in a jail cell at the shelter, I wanted him to have the same opportunity I had, to experience that life isn’t over.
I wanted to tell him:
So Rocky came home with us and in the flash of an eye (9 years) he’s off on another adventure.
I know love never dies.
But I miss him.
I miss touching his head and kissing the top of it and it was just one minute he was in the house and the next minute physically gone. Now it all feels like 100 years ago.
It’s hard to get my head around this.
So… no matter what kind of loss you’ve experienced:
We need ACTIVE COPING SKILLS!
To quote Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s dad’s last words before leaving the planet:
“Let’s get the show on the road!”
Let’s talk about:
The top 3 ways to cope when you lose a pet or loved one
Here’s 3 big coping mechanisms I’ve learned:
Coping after losing your dog or any soul you love
DO: Share your loss or any trouble you’re going through, including disordered eating… but:
DON’T: Tell people who won’t care or understand.
Our vet told us that ↑ when we lost our first pet, Scaramoosh:
Between you and me… my first thought was:
What an odd statement!
Who wouldn’t understand?
Then I found out!
One of the first people we told said:
I’m so sorry to hear that. So what are you guys up to this weekend?
And that was it.
So yes, you will get some of that. Expect it!
And I should have expected it. This same person, to this day, STILL thinks an eating disorder is about liking cake! Like one Google search away and they’d discover the truth about eating disorders.
Disordered eating is a serious health issue
Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose
People who purge can experience electrolyte imbalance, that results in sudden death.
And many other deadly complications come from bulimia.
Anorexia and bulimia are serious health issues that need to be addressed head on.
9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime
And this doesn’t include all the people who are preoccupied by trying to lose weight
and investing time, energy and funds in Keto, Intermittent Fasting, Atkinson’s…
& all the other short-term approaches to weight loss.
In a college campus survey, 91% of the women admitted to controlling their weight through dieting
Dieting is restriction.
Restriction leads to building bad habits between diets, like overeating, bingeing and purging.
And 95% of people who diet gain all the weight and more.
So ya, dieting makes your eating disordered and disordered eating is all down the DANGER spectrum.
Coping after loss by sharing your story
When you tell people about something personal and painful to you, whether it’s:
- the loss of a pet
- disordered eating
- or that you’ve been targeted by a narcissist
There will always be people who react in an empty way you didn’t expect. So you just have to bless and release them. Then share with someone who’s opinion you value.
PS Sometimes you get THE BEST advice when you’re waiting at a stop light at a busy intersection and tell a stranger your biggest secret! I love living in the city for that reason. But… you can also get totally blanked! So you’ve got to go into this kind of conversation ready for any reaction. To me it’s worth the gamble.
For example… in this case it starts with someone saying:
“Your dog is cute!”
That’d be our dog Moon.
Ok… so when someone initiates you’re already in a good spot. Then I’ll say:
“Thanks! We just lost our old dog.”
Talking is therapy.
And then they’ll either say “Sorry.”
Or you’ll get their entire grieving process of when they lost their dog. And there’s always a gem to take away with you. God I love people!
Coping after losing your dog or any soul you love
Even though you feel low, stick to your ROUTINE the best you can
When I used to be stressed or sad or any emotion I’d end up bingeing and purging.
But for the last 24 years I’ve been healthy, I actually find the more difficult the situation the MORE I cling to my healthy routine because I KNOW it makes me feel good and in control.
There’s something magical about routines.
Or is it magic?
Routines are usually about basic needs:
- interacting with other humans at your office or on location… if your job’s fancy like that.
But when you meet all this bottom-rung stuff of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Androidmarsexpress, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
When you meet all these basic requirements for life, you create synergy and momentum that keeps you moving forward.
I guess that’s the magic!
The 1 + 1 = 3 bit.
The having a shower to go to work and finding yourself laughing with a colleague you love by the coffee machine while at the same time your heart is broken.
This kind of stuff keeps you putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward so time can tick on and start to heal the raw feelings we have around an event that we can not change.
Sticking to your routine is a key coping strategy
When you experience loss it can be disorientating.
After losing a pet our home always feels empty. But it’s more. You can feel lost in the familiar.
Similar to what a stranger told me this morning at a stop light:
“When my cat died I felt like I was living in an altered reality.
No one else is on the same page as you.”
Even when celebrities die the world feels so weird without them in it.
When Queen Elizabeth II passed away I remember thinking:
“I’ve never gone to bed at night without her on the planet.”
Routines help us feel like ourselves when everything else feels wrong
I’ve been asking myself why do I feel so tired every day? …Why can’t I remember where my keys are? I think it’s because your mind maps out a kind of reality… an imagined future, and that child is in that future… my brain had to rewrite that reality without Dixie in it… That’s what’s going on – I’m trying to break a story and remake it because we lost a main character…
– Michael Lewis, bestselling author of books like Moneyball,
(turned into Hollywood Blockbuster with Brad Pitt)
who’s daughter died in a car accident
Routines help us cope because one thing feels “normal”
When our first ever pet, Oliver, was diagnosed with cancer and came home for palliative care, we set litter boxes up all over the house. But he STILL went down a flight of stairs to our bedroom (our house is upside down b/c our BBQ is on our roof so our kitchen is upstairs)… Oliver STILL wanted to use the litter box he’d been using for the past 13 years.
I was just totally in awe of his fighting spirit to feel as normal as possible under heart-breaking circumstances.
And Rocky was the same.
Even at 17 years old, with a decrease in kidney function, Rocky would STILL do his very very best to go to the washroom as close to the park as possible, that’s through a courtyard and across the street from our home. And before he could get there he had to be carried down 2 flights of stairs and slipped into a wheel chair.
Animals are full of survival instincts so we need to pay attention!
We need to stick to our routines even when we don’t feel like it.
We need to GET UP, DRESS UP & SHOW UP.
There’s lots to learn from animal behaviors.
Coping after losing your dog or any soul you love
Write down what you LOVE that that person or animal taught you
And do your best to live it BIG!
Honor the soul you lost by living what you learned from them.
As Moneyball author Michael Lewis also said (as his ACTIVE COPING SKILLS are to exercise solution-based thinking)
The best thing I can do is live really well in her honor… I intend to find some way to make beautiful things that might not have been made otherwise.
Now, you might be thinking:
“A dog teaching you something is a bit of a stretch.”
But some of our best teachers don’t tell us what to do. Watching the way they are in the world takes you places you wouldn’t have arrived at alone.
Similar to falling for the cute guy in the corner who’s kinda quiet but you’ve already named your children… Maybe not?
…Anything with a heart-beat can have an affect on you.
Living what you learned from loved ones keeps them with you in deep, meaningful and DAILY ways.
So here’s a few UNIVERSAL LESSONS Rocky taught me that will stay with me forever:
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – A:
Go for a walk
Rocky got us out of the house for a solid morning and before-bed walk. And there is no better way to start and end the day than out in the world under the sun or stars.
Moving boosts your metabolism and builds muscle (and muscle keeps burning calories even while you rest).
...people who are on and off diets lose muscle and gain back fatty tissue... but fat burns 70% LESS calories— Dr. Mark Hyman (whom I love!)This is especially important because people who yo-yo diet often lose muscle when they restrict their energy intake. And then they gain back all the weight via overeating cake, cookies, ice cream and other processed foods “between diets”. This yo-yo dieting leads to gaining back fatty tissue. And fatty tissue burns 70% fewer calories than muscle.
One more time for the people in the back:
Fatty tissue burns 70% fewer calories than muscle.
Move your body each day!
Adopt a dog if it’s easier to let yourself down than a cute fluffy face.
Even at 17 years old Rocky walked 5 kilometers a day
And even for the last year of his life, he walked 5 clicks in a wheel chair… until 3 days before we let him go.
If he can do it, you can too.
And it’s just such a privilege to be mobile
Rocky reminded me that each day.
Get to know your neighborhood and watch the seasons change up close.
Last June we adopted 2 year-old Moon (who quickly bonded with 17-year old Rocky).
We weren’t sure if it was the ideal time to introduce another dog into our home, but I said to Alex:
“I’m always going to bookend the day with a walk for the rest of my life
and we may as well have a dog with us.”
(You gotta try new angles to convince people to adopt pets!)
Before Rocky lived with us we’d have dinner and go straight to bed.
But moving your body before you lie down for 8 hours:
- reduces stress and anxiety
- aids digestion
- boosts metabolism
- increases muscular strength
- reduces high blood pressure
- eases back pain
And all of these benefits and many more help you sleep better!
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – B:
Make TOday count
As we let Rocky go, Alex whispered to him:
“I wish we could go back to the start and do it all again.”
It’s a private, heart-wrenching moment but I had to share it because it’s true. Every day is so precious. And it’s so hard when you get past a point of no return.
Where did the last 9 years go?
Almost a decade of my life.
It feels like yesterday 3 people from the animal shelter had to push Rocky into our car because he was frightened to come home with us. And I was so worried about doing everything right that instead of driving home, I headed off to a suburb called Pickering, just north of the city, b/c I took a wrong turn when we hit the highway—a route I’ve driven 1000’s of times… while Alex was draped into the middle of the car (seat belt ON!) trying to soothe a dog who was barking like a banshee.
Us at the shelter the morning we took Rocky home ↑
He’s wondering who we are… and wearing a thunder vest!
And I’m wearing… well, what I was wearing the day before.
We’d stayed up all night dog-proofing the house for our cats and I didn’t realize the shelter would take a photo or else I would have feigned surprise after showing up, you know, in a white-laced ball gown with puffed sleeves, white satin pumps and a delicate pearl necklace… I’m vain like that!
Animals really mark milestones
And make you pause and reflect.
Neuroscientist and best-selling author Lisa Genova (she wrote Still Alice) says that we often can’t remember what we did yesterday but we can remember a coffee we had in a small cafe in Italy 10 years ago, in VIVID detail.
You can’t remember something if you don’t pay attention to it…. And so what do we pay attention to? We pay attention to things that are new, surprising, emotional, meaningful. So those are the kinds of moments and experiences and information that capture our attention.
– Lisa Genova
So I say, the key is to do one fun thing… one NEW thing every day to MAKE TODAY COUNT.
I’m sending 3 of those Make Today Count bags ↑↑↑ out to people who leave a comment at the bottom of this post to share ONE thing that’s helped you cope with loss.
Don’t throw days away like I did for 10 years by saying:
“I’ll restart my diet tomorrow.”
What’s something you could do this week that’s a little different?
- walk your dog on a new route
- try a new recipe
- bring flowers to a new neighbor
- watch a documentary in 90 minutes that took a crew years to create
- dig out your records and play an album you haven’t heard for years
The world’s full of surprising, emotional and meaningful activities that hardly cost a thing other than you taking a moment to come back at an every-day-situation in a fresh way.
Thank you for helping me pause and reflect, and make sure I do one fun thing every day, Rocky.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – C:
Focus on one step, not the whole staircase
When Rocky first started losing mobility in his back legs 3 years ago, I wrote in my blog post about applying Emma Raducanu’s winning strategy to weight loss and how we used that strategy to help Rocky get down the stairs.
Looking at the entire flight of stairs is daunting!
When he started focusing on ONE stair at a time by me standing in front of him:
…Rocky flew down!
- Master’s Degree
- weight-loss plans
- or coping with the loss of dog or loved one
feel daunting to you?
How can you break up those goals into smaller goals and focus on one “step” at a time?
I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous and therapy, which taught me to take one day at a time.
Eventually, things got pretty great.
-Michael J. Fox
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – D:
Trust your gut feelings & Advocate for yourself
Only you know your pet, your child, yourself…
On April 28th, 2022 our vet recommended we let Rocky go.
I drank the Kool-Aid and was devastated.
Alex said: Rocky’s strong, loves walks and has a great appetite. It’s not time.
Low and behold (do people still say that?) Rocky was a happy camper almost a full year later (until April 12th, 2023) and we picked up his ashes on April 28, 2023… a year later to the day. I know because it’s my birthday.
We waited an extra week to pick up his ashes because I never want to forget this lesson.
Not only the lesson that, well, to quote our vet:
“Rocky exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
YOU too can exceed everyone’s expectations!
When people underestimate you (and they do) don’t believe them.
SHOW them their wrong! Use it as fuel. Take it as a challenge.
But also the lesson that:
YOU are with your body and your loved ones 24-7 so it’s important to absolutely take medical advice but, it’s also KEY to:
Advocate for yourself
Often it can be the opposite where you know something’s serious but a doctor might not know all your symptoms and can minimize what’s going on.
Keep a diary.
Or grab a calendar to log significant experiences and changes so you can communicate better.
Shifting back to animals but this applies to people too, our cat Scaramoosh got constipated a lot and I’m sure if we presented a calendar to our vet so she could get a snapshot of the timeline, she would have suggested surgery sooner than she did. And if so, I know he would have lived longer than he did. (Scaramoosh was hit by a car before we adopted him. His tail was amputated and it affected his spine.)
It was the first time we had a sick pet and just 100% followed “doctor’s orders”.
Reality: Our vet had 100’s of patients at a time and wouldn’t have had the same finger on the pulse that we did.
Record your signs and symptoms in an easy-to-digest overview to present to medical professionals and advocate for yourself!
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – E:
Don’t live in the past or future: LOVE TODAY
Can you tell I’ve become re-obsessed with Michael J Fox since seeing his documentary STILL? (You can watch it on Apple TV+ on May 12, 2023.)
I LOVE his Type A, Alex P. Keaton persona (from his hit series Family Ties).
So forgive me for saying: Don’t go back to the future.
Live for today!
While reflecting and learning from the past and planning ahead is important, make sure you take some time to absolutely LOVE today.Nothing is worth more than this day— Goethe, German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, and critic
I bought a really cool bracelet with that quote on it even though I wondered:
What does this guy Goethe mean?
(The store was closing down and all the beautifully engraved sterling silver pieces were DEEPLY discounted! 925 baby! I love a deal. And sometimes you feel like you’re meant to learn something you come across but are unsure about.)
For years I’d seen Nothing is worth more than this day also painted on the side of a YMCA on Queen Street in Toronto.
Then I realized…
Today is the only thing that’s REAL
So grab TODAY and love it!
…We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables.
Since Rocky turned 12 (5 years ago!) I’ve said to Alex “I’m worried about Rocky… Big dogs don’t live past 12…”
I worried about Rocky every day when I could’ve been enjoying him.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – F:
Ask for help to get from Point a to point b faster!
I went into depth with asking for help in my Hot Girl Walk blog post.
But in short, when you have something going on…
- signs of entering the premenopausal stage
- struggling with fear of eating regular meals and over-exercising
- having a dog start to experience weakness in his back hips
Go to the experts!
Ask for help.
Save yourself precious time by investing your time, energy and trust in somebody else who’s already been there.
As a Type A person who used to think I haven’t tried hard enough unless I break (hence why I waited precious YEARS to ask for help with my complicated relationship with food) I LOVE the re-frame of asking for help so you can get back to what you’re good at FASTER.
“Don’t ask for help because you have a problem!
Ask for help to PREVENT a problem!”
Asking for help doesn’t just help you cope… it helps you THRIVE
Recently I heard the words below on a podcast and I had to keep rewinding it.
I love this message about HOW TO DO LIFE BETTER!:
The individuals who I call pilots, who are flying over everything in life and going from point A to point B faster, those are the people that go, “I’m going to keep investing to shortcut my time to learn the problems, learn the faults. I’m going to let somebody else do the craziness and learn from them so I can bypass that and get to my goals faster…
Look, I’m going to hop on the highest level of a program. I’m going to get into a mastermind. I’m going to go into a group that allows me to really interact directly with this higher-level human who’s gone through the roadblocks, gone through the stop signs, who’s flying above it all.”
– Anthony Trucks, former NFL Athlete
Even a seasoned vet thought it was time to let Rocky go almost 365 days before he was ready.
Thanks to a chance meeting with an awesome person named Sam who knew Rocky from years ago… who said:
“He just needs wheels!”
And the incredible Rehab Therapist, Christina… one of coolest people around…
AND two of the many, many incredible people we met through Rocky.
(Another lesson from Rocky: Do the things you believe in and along the way you’ll meet beautiful humans and have important experiences. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus… they didn’t meet by accident. They were all working toward a career in comedy and ended up on SNL.)
Thanks to these animal advocates, we were able to get exceptional help with Rocky’s toe-up shoes to stop him from “knuckling” when he walks:
And a wheel chair that takes about 10 seconds to pop him in:
Asking for help is a sign of strength
And help allows you to go from “Point A to Point B FASTER” (oh ya!) so you can do more things in this very, very short life.
Rocky taught me there’s always a solution.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – G:
don’t be a bystander
Earlier I mentioned that Rocky was removed from his original home by the OSPCA (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
How’d that happen?
A concerned neighbor (hero!) made the decision to report a neglected dog who was covered in open wounds (hence why hair never grew back on 1/3 of his body).
So I just Googled: all the evil in the world happens because of bystanders…
Because I don’t want you to just take it from me.
Here’s what came up:
The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.
-Albert Einstein, you know who he is
What’s happening around you that you should investigate further?
There’s no smoke without fire.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – H:
Find your people, Invest Your TIME wisely & don’t put your priorities last
It usually took about an hour and a half to do a 40 minute walk because Rocky was just so darn cute. He became a little celebrity in our neighborhood. Something he didn’t give a sh*t about. Rocky just wanted to walk with his people.
Rocky only loved us.
And these stop-to-talk chats made Alex’s and my stress bubble because we were already having trouble finding tiny pockets of time to be productive at work between walks.
Don’t get me wrong… I love Moon for being the opposite. She’s always in the park looking for:
- her Foster Mom
- a dog named Bh-lue
- a guy named Sergiy
- Amy the groomer who feeds the pigeons across the street from our home…
And Moon’s got tons of other friends.
That’s Moon recharging after coming home from a party at her Foster Mom’s house ↑
But here’s what’s interesting…
So many people we used to talk to (who Rocky had to sit in his wheel chair & wait to walk because we felt rude initiating a departure) … so many of these same people have seen Alex, Moon and I since and haven’t even asked where Rocky is!
The lesson here (Thanks Rocky!) is that:
Time is finite. Be careful how you spend it
So yes, a balance of Moon and Rocky is the way to go! But I love that Rocky had his people and that made him feel whole. He didn’t need the world to love him. He put 100% into the people he loves.
Keeping your priorities focal can be difficult for Type A’ers
- people pleasers
- peace keepers
- and perfectionists
It’s easy for us to put our BIG goals last and then feel upset at ourselves at the end of the day.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one – I:
And another thing Rocky taught me, because of the tug-of-war I’ve had with this post—even though he’s not here in the fur?
Look for negative patterns in your life & break them!
Sometimes I can feel that all-or-nothing thinking, that got me restarting diets for a decade… sometimes I can feel it creep into other parts of my life.
Like as I said at the top… when I was wrestling with writing this post b/c I wanted it to be perfect.
But now that I know to look for self-defeating patterns, like being paralyzed by perfection, I can shut them down pretty quickly. That’s the beautiful part of ageing. Now I know myself so much better than I did when I was 14. And 24. And so on.
I bet there’s tons of ways you know yourself better too!
5 Practical Take-action Tips on:
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one
Here’s 5 choices YOU can make:
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one: Choice #1
Write a list of your favorite things your pet did as early as you can
There was this corner at the end of our walk when Rocky would speed up in the hopes we’d turn away from home and keep walking… he’s done this for years and even in his wheel chair. And every time it made us laugh. The night we let Rocky go Alex and I separately wrote a list of memories… You think you’ll remember but you won’t so write them down as soon as you can.
Like the day I got back from the shops and found Rocky at the front door waiting so he could kiss me when I got home… like he used to. That’s 2 flights of stairs long after he stopped being able to do them alone. Alex’s back was toward him because he was making us lattes (Breville Espresso Machine… best ever thing Rocky helped us find on a dog walk). Since then, the stairs have been blocked with make-shift baby gates.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one: Choice #2
Remove items at your own pace
Alex had planned to throw Rocky’s bed out on the night we let him go. (Trust me… This bed has been through the ringer.) He said “If I don’t do it THAT day I’ll never be able to do it.” But when I went down for the night I saw he’d made Rocky’s bed with the sheets and pillows. You don’t know how you’ll feel so while it’s ok to plan, don’t be hard on yourself.
Moon sleeps in his bed on and off throughout the night now and when I wake up to drink water I often find our cat Gunther there too.
We also left his wheel chair at our door for about a week after we let him go.
Then one night it felt right.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one: Choice #3
Don’t replay the last moments
As someone with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that can be hard for me.
Many of us replay previous events in our heads, especially if they evoke feelings of regret or guilt. However, in some cases, replaying these events can be a symptom of OCD… called “real event OCD.” It involves having obsessive thoughts about an actual event… analyzing what happened… and a focus on what you did or didn’t do in a specific situation.
– Psych Central
Real-life OCD symptoms include obsessive thoughts such as:
Did I offend that person?
Do my actions make me a bad person?
Should I have done something differently?
However, now that I know replaying events, images, etc. “is a thing” it’s easier for me to recognize this pattern and do my best to break it. I’ll try to think of something in the future I actually have control over and can feel good about, like the next task I need to complete today.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one: Choice #4
Don’t dwell on the time your pet was ill
If your pet wasn’t ill they’d still be here with you, right? So while that illness is painful to think about it’s a necessary part of the life cycle. Try putting an elastic band or easy-to-remove bracelet on your wrist. And when those sad memories come up, put your bracelet on your other wrist and think of a fun memory, like heading off to your cottage together or going to the pet store with your dog to get his favorite treats.
Don’t get lost in the details.
You love each other.
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one: Choice #5
The No. 1 thing that made me feel better
When our cat Scaramoosh passed away I wondered why it wasn’t the headline of every newspaper. Yes, that sounds bonkers now, but at the time it was a thought that went through my mind. Scaramoosh was the first pet we lost.
My aunt sent me a little orange stuffed animal in the mail, something someone had done for her when she lost her cat:
And I brought that little guy with me everywhere…
Obviously I didn’t walk around town with him on my shoulder… (or did I?!) He was tucked in my purse.
For the first little while it was a very tangible way for me to “compute” that while Scaramoosh wasn’t here in his fur-form,
he will always be with us.
Now this little guy sits on the headboard of our bed.
Most actionable quote I ever heard about coping with loss and pain
Sometimes at night I look out my window at all the high-rises surrounding me. And there’s 100’s and 100’s of windows lit up, twinkling across the city. Each representing a person.
And I think of all the babies having their first night “at home”.
People toasting the purchase of a cottage they’ve been saving up for, for years.
Kids who are scared to go to school.
Someone who’s just switched the light on in an empty home after sitting in the waiting room at an emergency vet for hours.
A green thumb who’s satisfied after a day of digging up and dolling out her perennials.
A person feeling trapped (… not realizing, yet, that frustration triggers ACTION!)
And others who have set themselves free. Free from painful family dynamics. Free from years of struggling with food. Or free because they accept that life isn’t and doesn’t need to be perfect.
The quote below helps me with those complicated feelings:
Thank you to R. A. Dickey for sharing these words, that took him years of therapy to come across… that we get to read in 10 seconds because he opened up.
apardavila, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Ultimately the thing that helped me find some healing [was when] I learned that life is not about turning the page, or getting to the other side of something. It’s about holding what is broken about the world and holding what is joyful about the world, and being able to take a step forward with both. That is living well in the moment. And that’s what I’ve tried to make a discipline of.
R. A. Dickey, baseball player and sexual abuse survivor
3 things my partner, Alex, says that helps me cope with loss
- Love can’t disappear. It’s an energy and energy lasts forever. (Alex can be very mathematical!)
- Rocky (insert name of your loved one) is fine! You’re sad for yourself because you miss him. (Sounds cold but is true.)
- We WILL see him again.
A few resources to help you cope with loss
I love kids book’s because they distill complicated messages and make them tangible.
Here’s a few:
- The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A story of life for all ages
- Badger’s Parting Gifts
- The Invisible String
- The Invisible Leash
- All there is with Anderson Cooper that explores grief and loss in 9 episodes
I haven’t listened to this yet but I know whatever Anderson Cooper does is excellent.Ok, so I started listening to this podcast on the weekend and cannot stop. Definitely recommend it.
Let your pet go at home:
Rocky HATED being in a car. He must have thought he was going to get abandoned again. (Moon thinks she won the lottery every time we rent one and can’t stop leaning into the front of the car and kissing us!) Being able to let Rocky go at home was the best choice we made. And though he is the 6th pet we’ve lost, this was the first time we’ve done this. Can’t say enough positive things about this difficult experience. I feel much more at peace after losing Rocky than any other pet. And I think this is partially why.
What to give to someone you love:
All the incredible women I get to work with 1:1, past and present, have been so incredibly kind, always emailing and messaging me to check up on Rocky. What greater gift is there than that?
And one women I worked with sent me the beautiful Rainbow Bridge Poem along with a wood rainbow. I’ll have it forever:
Allow yourself to grieve but know, the inescapable grief will pass and with time you will feel better.
And what will be left?
Make Today Count
Clearly I could write about how to cope after losing your dog or loved one FOREVER.
I’ve got 22 pages of notes that I wanted to include but didn’t.
Not all the ideas will work for you.
But what’s one strategy I’ve mentioned that you can keep in your back pocket for the future to help yourself or the ones you love?
Which strategy about how to cope resonated with you the most?
Or do you know someone going through loss right now who you can comfort in one of the ways mentioned in this post? If you do please share this article.
Build healthy habits, a healthy weight will follow
Next steps to cope with losing a dog or loved one
Preparation is everything. Even though you can never fully prepare for loss. But making the topic about death something you can discuss openly before it actually happens can make it less scary.
One of my amazing clients told me about Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Podcast called WISER THAN ME where she speaks to women about their 70+ years of living. I’m LOVING the conversations. One of Julia’s guests said… and it might have been Jane Fonda? She said that her relative panicked 20 minutes before dying because she didn’t have her lipstick on! She wanted to start her next leg of life looking her best. I think the more we can talk about death as a celebration and believing the person or animal we love is always with us, the healthier it is for those of us “left behind” … for now.
It seems to me that all we can do is be grateful for the time we had with them. And for the time we have left with each other. And that’s all.
-Jimmy Kimmel, talk show host
Music can meet you where you’re at when you’re coping with loss
This video is sad… but the song is actually about the 2008 recession! (Alex looked up the meaning.)
But to me, I just love the melody.
And I am sad.
I want to hear sad music. It’s ok to not feel ok. Or to take yourself to a sad place once in a while. To accept. You have to go through all the stages of grief. And I love MGMT. But most of all I LOVE what happens in the last 30 seconds of this video.
If you find this video too sad (as Alex does) close your eyes and just listen to the melody, it’s also hopeful.
As Moon’s foster mom said:
“I can still see him in my mind so I know he’s wheeling about the stars.”
Rocky slowly aged-out of his body, just like in the video above.
The first thing he stopped being able to do was wag his tail, 3 years ago.
Alex called Rocky The Skin Horse since the day we brought him home b/c he only ever had half his hair that never grew back.
…If we’re lucky enough to live many years we will lose ourselves (and find ourselves) bit by bit too.
But that’s ok. It’s part of being REAL
Besides, when you’re REAL, you don’t mind being hurt.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day… “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
-The Velveteen Rabbit, my favorite book of all time
Rocky, I know you’re out there somewhere
“Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
And now you know all the mysteries of the universe.
CONGRATULATIONS on all the hard stuff you got through in this life and all the love you injected into each day.
We WILL see you again.
Please don’t forget me.
What’s helped you cope when you’ve lost a dog or loved one?
Was it a book?
A spiritual passage?
Something a friend told you?
Please let me know in the comments below so other people can learn from you too!
You can leave a comment anonymously, with just your first initial or your full name.
It would mean the world to me!
And I’ll be sending 3 Make Today Count canvas bags to 3 random people who share:
How to cope with losing your dog or loved one
Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that help the most.
Long live Rocky.
And long live all the people, animals and creatures you love. ❤️
You'll also be subscribed to my newsletter. Don’t like it? Unsubscribe in one click
You'll also be subscribed to my newsletter. Don’t like it? Unsubscribe in one click
Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it
Hi Kelly! Thank you so much for sharing your beloved journey with Rocky, and helpful grieving process advice and encouragement! Pets truly are part of our family and the loss is real, as real as love! I find journal-writing (and prayer) greatly helps me process life, especially difficult emotions. (I haven’t finished reading this mega-post yet, but will!) Big hugs, Kathy
“As real as love.” That’s such a beautiful statement Kathy. ❤️ And I also love your journal-writing idea. Bottling things up is unhealthy. And often you can be surprised what comes out of you when you write. THANK YOU SO MUCH for these ideas!!! xo
Love you Kelly! I’m so sorry for the hole in your heart right now, I know Rocky meant so much to you. You’re in my thoughts and prayers, dear friend. I love your post, it really gave me so many good reminders to just keep trying and to not give up. I thank you and Rocky for that. And I think that what you’re doing is also part of coping well, because you’re always trying to help others, even on your darkest moments. Thinking of others vs. getting lost in our problems is one of the best ways to cope that I’ve learned.
But especially when I’ve lost a pet, the thought at Matthew 10:29 always helps, “Two sparrows sell for a coin of small value, do they not? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.”
Just knowing that I’m not the only one who cared about that sudden moment between when the animal was alive to when there was no more life, makes me feel comforted. And thankfully, that thought also assures us that if our animals are so very precious to us- how much more(and it must be a lot because our animals are sometimes the most precious thing to us) so are we precious to our maker. And if we are precious, then we are worth not giving up on ourselves. We are worth fighting for, just like you fight for us. Thank you for your bravery and your love Kelly, you are absolutely precious and wonderful. Sending big air hugs your way! ❤️❤️❤️
Air hugs received! And back at you! 🙂 xo Thank you Lacie!!! “Thinking of others vs. getting lost in our problems is one of the best ways to cope that I’ve learned.” I love that you said that. Definitely getting into a routine during Teacher’s College and getting focused on the kids vs. what I ate, helped me be more flexible with food. Outward instead of inward thinking! And you’re so right about not giving up on ourselves. The people who achieve things in life are usually not the people who are “the best” at it… They’re the people who stick with things and see them through. That’s why missing a work out or having fast food here and there is no big deal if you keep moving forward. And I agree it feels good when other people keep the person or animal YOU love alive in their hearts. We talk about loved ones we’ve lost ALL. THE. TIME! Your citation about the 2 sparrows is really beautiful. It reminds me of that quote Gandhi said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Every living thing is precious. Thank you so much Lacie and love ya too! xo ❤️
It took me 6 months to finally acknowledge that my first husband had died. As he travelled a lot I just imagined he was away and I worked all the hours there were, so I could go to bed exhausted and not think about it.
One day I opened his wardrobe accidentally, which I had not done and seeing the clothes and smelling “his” smell was my undoing. It was only then I finally could acknowledge that I was alone and he was not coming home. I joined a group for single people, who went out together for a drink, show or dinner. A few years in I met my second husband and we have been happily married for 28 years. Indeed there is life after death. Thank you Kelly for your lovely post. Marianne
Marianne, wow. What an encouraging story. First I’m so sorry for what you went through. Working hard seems like a way to protect yourself while coming to terms with the shock… like Michael Lewis said: “I’m trying to break a story and remake it because we lost a main character…” Everyone has to grieve their own way and trust themselves. And I love that you took the time to sort of re-calibrate. And then I love that you turned to people for company and companionship and that it turned into love. I believe love is like “loaves and fishes” – the more you give the more there is to discover, and it’s wonderful that you’re celebrating 28 years. Thank you for your beautiful ideas on coping. Lots of love, xo Kelly
We loved walking in the woods or in the garden – not always talking but definitely communicating. That you are not there hurts but the woods and the gardens are still there and when I still walk there, we are still communicating.
Yes!!! Getting out in nature is such a great suggestion Gill. I feel so much closer to the things that matter when I’m out in the world and close to trees and gardens and birds and insects… and life renewing itself. The natural world is so comforting and we are part of it. And I love your suggestion of continuity… going to the familiar “That you are not there hurts but the woods and the gardens are still there.” And you got me thinking about the idea of “not always talking but definitely communicating.” I definitely believe that too. And I like the idea of not worrying about words that don’t always capture our most important feelings and thoughts. Thank you so much for these ideas Gill. Lots of love, xoKelly
My dearest Kelly – I have just read your latest blog and feel so moved. Sadly no one can ease the physical and mental pain of grief, only time can help. As you know, those the heart has loved it can never lose. Those we love are always with us of this I am certain. I still cry sometimes when I think of my Mum and Dad but I remember the things they taught me, the things we did together and all the love they had for me and I feel comforted. I am so heartened that you have Moon (and the 2 feline Herbert’s!). Rocky knew he was loved and no one could possibly have loved him or done more for him than you two – you were his God send when you went to the shelter, ball gown or not, to collect him. xxx
Thank you so much Carole! And you’ve both been such great sports accommodating Rocky! Like on the way to the cottage in Peterborough ordering lunch to eat at a picnic bench so Rocky could be part of it!!! (It was that day when you tried Poutine for the first time!) I love what you said about time being the great healer and your Mum and Dad. You’re such a great example of living what you learned and passing it on. Thank you! Lots of love, xo ❤️❤️❤️