A delightful woman I’m married to sent me this column by Drew Magary from Defector. While primarily a sports website, he answers all types of questions from readers—typically in a fun, playful tone. However, in this edition, he received a more serious, challenging question.
A reader named Kevin described the heavy weight of grief he was carrying after the unexpected death of his dog. Magary’s went from sports philosopher to Gandalf the White in a blink—and I found myself upended. His words and sentiment are beautiful, poignant, and wise.
I’ve shared both the letter and his response below.
This isn’t a fun question at all, but I am searching for anyone with advice for this. I’m upset, and writing this out will help. My dog died early on Monday morning. It was unexpected. He was healthy and happy until Saturday afternoon, and then he gradually declined until we got the call from the emergency room early Monday morning. I can’t explain all the details, but he just started fading and never recovered. We were in and out of emergency vet visits Saturday night and Sunday. He got admitted to an ER on Sunday night for treatment. The vets we took him to ran tests, but found what was wrong too late. His poor little organs couldn’t handle it. He died of what was basically liver failure. We went and saw him Monday morning after getting the call he was receiving CPR but was still unresponsive. He just looked so helpless. Just like he was sleeping, but he wouldn’t wake up.
What do we do? He’s not here anymore. All of his things are around and everything makes me think of him. We can’t sleep in our bed. We can’t go near his toys or his kennel. We also just sent out a Christmas card that is serving as a pregnancy announcement, and he’s in the picture. We have so many people congratulating us about being pregnant, but we can’t be happy. We’re just coasting through days. No food sounds good, but I’m eating so I can encourage my wife to eat because she’s pregnant. Everything seems empty. Christmas is coming, but who cares? My pup is gone. What do we do? How do I get through this? I don’t have any major expectations of getting a good answer. I just needed to write something out. My constant companion and best friend is just gone, and I don’t know what to do. I have to send this or I will keep getting misty-eyed while my Chemistry class is working on an assessment.
And here is the response:
I’m so sorry, Kevin. I really am. Anything I tell you, including that “I’m so sorry,” is bound to sound hollow in the midst of your grief. That’s how heartbreak works. It’s indomitable. It feels like it’s never going to go away, and that you are the only person in the world forced to carry it with you. No one else understands this pain. Not the way you do. And it’s morbidly addictive, in a way. You don’t wanna do anything else but wallow in the pain, because the pain is all you have left of what you’ve lost. Within that pain lies all of your memories of your dog: the day you got him, the nights you spent with him, every funny thing he did, and the bitter three days leading up to his death. It’s hard to let that pain go because it means letting HIM go, and why would you want to do that so soon? It’s only human to keep that pain alive, because it’s a macabre way of keeping your dog alive.
You are hardly alone in suffering this way. Again, perhaps that rings hollow right now. Perhaps you want to be alone in this moment. But as the days pass, and your first child comes into the world, and perhaps you get a new dog, you’ll loosen your grip on the pain ever so slightly, you’ll hear from friends and strangers who have experienced similar losses (I’m certain that our commenters below have their own stories of losing pets they adored), and you’ll appreciate the time you had with your dog more than you’ll lament all of the potential extra time you could have had with him. A smile to your face before a tear to your eye, etc. In time, you’ll gradually become more open to what’s in front of you than what you’ve left behind. It’s such a reliable process that you can practically chart it.
But I can’t guarantee it’ll be a smooth process. No recovery, be it physical or mental, ever is. You’re gonna have hard days, but you won’t be alone in having them. More important, you’ll remember that love is always, ALWAYS, worth it. It always beats living in a vacuum, and it’s always there for the taking. When you get a pet, you know that you will likely outlive that pet. When you get married, you explicitly say, “til death do us part,” knowing that one of you will be left heartbroken when the other goes first. When you’re very young, you realize that your parents will die one day, and you wonder how that can even be possible. All of those losses are inevitable, and yet people choose to fall in love anyway, because they know that love is the only sure thing in this world: the only thing guaranteed to make people happy, no matter its ultimate cost. I don’t know if that makes you feel any better, Kevin. All I can say is that I wish you and your new family more love this year, and every year thereafter.