by Elissa Leibowitz Poma, WHS supporter and adopter
Three days after we said goodbye to our rescued dog Sammy, a friend invited my husband and I to a party at her rural Virginia farm. Betty suggested it would be a good distraction from our grieving, so we decided to go and planned to spend the weekend.
Sadly, our good intentions didn’t work out as planned. My husband and I didn’t feel like yukking it by the pool with the merrymakers. I had trouble making small talk—that part of my brain felt numb. We ended up isolating ourselves from the group, and we left early.
- Leave the house. Especially for the first few days, it was too hard to be in the house, with Sammy’s absence so amplified. It was driving me crazy that I kept “hearing” him in the house. I went to close friends’ house for an evening and played with their daughter. I went for a walk in the neighborhood. One night I even sat in the car and listened to music, just to escape.
- Rearrange the furniture. Observing that empty spot on the floor in the family room where Sammy’s bed and toys once were became a surefire way to get the tears flowing. At the suggestion of a friend, I rearranged the furniture. I don’t love the design now, but it’s serving an important mental purpose for the time being.
- Talk to friends online. Aside from a small handful of people, I wasn’t feeling up to seeing many people face to face. But I needed a way to share my feelings. Posting on Facebook and emailing friends helped, especially when I received supportive and empathetic notes.
Do a marathon baking session. If you were unsure about the depths of my grief, check out the food I baked one Friday night: Eight cakes, four dozen chocolate chip cookies, 1 ½ dozen muffins and two dozen biscuits. Totally excessive, but it kept me very busy. I stashed some of the items in the freezer but shared most with friends.
- Do nice things for other people. That second night after Sammy was gone, we went out to dinner. The waitress was excellent. So I wrote a note at the top of the bill saying “thanks for being so good at your job and being so cheerful.” Then I sought out her boss to share the compliment. It uplifted me to do something nice for someone else.
- Watch funny things on TV. I found solace in mindlessly silly shows like “Impractical Jokers,” which gave me my first smile of the week. Sitcom reruns were ideal during the nights when I couldn’t sleep.
- Write a note to the person who gave you the dog. I found it cathartic to write a note to the Washington Humane Society to say thanks for letting me adopt Sammy back in September 2000. Sharing his legacy and impact made me feel good about the years we spent together, and it also made them feel good about their work (See tip No. 5).
- Do something challenging but unimportant. I found an old puzzle book I bought for a long-haul flight, so I spent one afternoon doing logic puzzles and crosswords. My brain was distracted but the task at hand was rather meaningless—an key aspect, since I’ve found my mind wasn’t thinking straight that week and I didn’t want to take on any important tasks.
- Read articles online about coping with pet loss. The articles reminded me it’s ok to be upset, that it’s perfectly normal if I’m not getting over this as fast as I think I “should” (whatever that means). It’s only been a week after all.
This blog was originally posted August 18, 2013 on the author’s blog. A copy of her gracious letter to the Washington Humane Society can be found in the Fall 2013 edition of The Scoop newsletter - Download Fall 2013 Scoop. We are also happy to report that Elissa and her husband recently welcomed another Washington Humane Society dog, Brody, into their family.
Pet Loss Support and Counseling
Intense grief over the loss of a pet is normal and natural. It's not silly, crazy, or overly sentimental to grieve. The Washington Humane Society has a partnership with the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing to offer Pet Loss Counseling.
These group sessions are a place to connect with experienced clinicians and other animal lovers for conversation, guidance, understanding, and support. Attend one or several sessions based on your needs.
Pet Loss Counseling is offered on the 3rd Saturday of every month from 1-2pm.
Fee - $25.00
4201 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20008
(near the corner of Connecticut and Van Ness)
To RSVP, please contact Sarah Jo Albertson at the Wendt Center: