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What My Dog Taught Me about Resiliency

Brandi was a good dog.  Nope, Brandi wasn’t a good dog; she was a great dog.  The kind of dog that would put her head on your lap when you were working at the computer.  That would immediately snuggle up to you if you laid on the floor.  That took any bit of food so gently from your hand you wondered if she even wanted it.  That would meet you at the door with a stuffed toy in her mouth as if offering you a present.  She was a sweetheart.  No matter what, always a sweetheart.

At 12, a Golden Retriever is pretty old.  And she’d been slowing down – getting up more slowly, slipping on the stairs.  And recently, having bad seizures.  Really bad seizures.  Foaming at the mouth; loss of control of her bladder; stumbling and confusion for quite some time after.  It was heartbreaking. Then she had two very close together.  After that, she had jerky movements throughout the day.  Her legs would collapse from under her.  She seemed confused and scared.  The vet thought it was probably a brain tumor.  Brandi would look up at me with those big brown eyes that seemed to say, “Mom, make it stop.”

Brandi was a great dog.

It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.  I had to take her to the vet and end her suffering.   It’s awful enough to hold a beloved pet when they pass; it’s another thing to know you made the decision to end it.  The worst moment was walking out the door of the vet’s without her.  Knowing she’d never follow me again.  The grief and guilt overwhelmed me.

So why am I telling you this sad story?  Because you will have your own sad story.  If you live and love anything on this planet, you may lose it someday.  A loved one who passes, a home destroyed by flooding, a relationship you didn’t want to end.  It’s just part of the deal.  And I want to help you get through it.  When I left the vet’s, I had to drive five hours for a speech the next morning.  I had to pull it together just like you may have to.  I didn’t have the luxury of curling up with a stuffed unicorn, I had commitments to honor.  So here are some ideas for resiliency:

1.) Move.  Work your plan.  I had to gas up the car and get on the road.  That helped me from going home and having a pity party.  Keep doing what needs to be done – whatever that is.  Even if it’s just brushing your teeth.  Keep taking action.

2.) Remind yourself that guilt and regret are wasted emotions.  I can feel guilty as much as I want, it’s not going to change anything.  I know I did what I thought was best for Brandi, now I have to let it go.  I can make myself sick over all the times I was upset with her or I can tell myself I can’t change that.  I can do better going forward, but I can’t change the past.  Learn from those emotions and then let them go.  If you start feeling them again, remind yourself.  These emotions don’t change anything – but your actions can.

3.) Distract yourself.  I knew I had to pull it together and could not spend the 5-hour drive weeping.  So, while driving, I listened to an audio book I was halfway through.  It didn’t work 100%, but it helped.  Don’t allow yourself the luxury of wallowing.

4.) Exercise mental discipline. The top cause of depression is rumination – pulling the scab off, replaying your pain over and over again.  That’s what I was doing for a while – replaying Brandi’s last moments, having a good cry, feeling sorry for myself.  No!  Stop!  Don’t think about the jerk who left you and replay all your most romantic times!  When you find yourself doing this – toughen up!  I told myself I would grieve later, that I had work to focus on, and I did.  Mental discipline gets easier every time you exercise it.  You have more control over what you think about than you realize.   I’m not saying to never feel pain or grief.  I’m saying there will be times when you must put them aside and focus.   The American Psychological Association defines mental resiliency as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”  When the going gets tough, the mentally tough have techniques to keep going.  Retreating into your pain is not an option.  Your pain is not some sort of gift to the departed.  Treat what you love well now when it really matters.

5.) Reach out.  It was comforting to talk with my boyfriend and get reassurance that we made the right decision.  And to talk about our beloved girl.  When you’re ready, reach out to those who care about you.  Our neighbors who knew Brandi (and have an older dog of their own) have been a huge comfort.

6.) Sleep.  Luckily my speech wasn’t until later the following day.  Once I got to sleep, I was able to sleep in.  Pain is exhausting and it’s harder to control your emotions when you’re exhausted.  Remember, feelings don’t change anything.  I can feel as bad as I want, but that won’t bring Brandi back.  But I can write this article and use her passing to help others.  Isn’t that a better way to honor her?  It’s my version of bringing you a stuffed toy.

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jessica white
3 years ago

Look at those huge soft eyes!!! Just a beautiful gal!!! Prayers for you for comfort and peace. Thank you so much for this article. It was very useful.

Wanda Guest Downs
4 years ago

I’m sorry for your loss. I sit here barely able to type this because I have tears in my eyes. It brings back this very situation with my cat more than a decade ago. It never leaves you! Hugs for you!

Sissy Kelly
4 years ago

How I know your pain, Denise. We lost our Dachshund, Sassy, Aug. 10th – and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and ache. But, we have to make those painful decisions because to allow them to suffer is far too cruel; I know in time the grief will subside. On another note, with all of the natural disasters it seems everyone, everywhere has been through lately, your tips about dealing with loss/grief/etc. is very timely. I don’t know anyone not in need of encouragement and support at this time – thanks.

Melissa St. Clair
4 years ago

Hardest decision to have to make. She lived a long, well-lived life filled with love. Sending hugs!

Sandy Kragiel
4 years ago

That picture looks just like my Zoe! She also was 12 yrs old and went through all the same symptoms (not the brain tumor but difficulty with getting up, etc.) My husband and I are in our 60’s and Zoe was a whopping 100 lbs. She was unable to get up to eat or go outside so we made the hard decision also. We were with her all the way and the place we went was so nice and understanding. We spent time with her through the whole process and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She was the… Read more »

Beth Mizelle
4 years ago

I am so sorry. My puppy (I still think of her as a puppy) will be 11 years old on November 4. She is still doing well, but I know I have less time with her than we have had so far. It overwhelms me sometimes. HUGS and thank you for the article.

Susan L. Milliron
4 years ago

Thank you for the pep talk this morning, Denise. Our home, as well as my workplace, was flooded by Hurricane Florence. First I cried over the house thinking, “well, at least I have work to go to when we’re done with this mess”. Then I found out my workplace also flooded and our staff of 5 is now working out of a 12 x 12 office. I was homeless “everywhere”. I cried alot, and still do from time to time. But now the tears are out of gratitude. (well, sometimes it’s still a little painful but I know that will… Read more »

Lisa Lee
4 years ago

Denise, I know exactly how you feel. Our Golden, Ginger, grew up with my children and was such a super dog.
She lived to be 14 and mirrored your dog’s symptoms. They blessed us in so many ways that our choice to make the end easier for them was our blessing to them. I choose to smile and remember the goofy things she did and know that I made her end more comfortable. I thoroughly enjoy reading your newsletters.

Karen Valenzuela
4 years ago

Feeling miserable is so easy to fall into and especially when we hurt. Losing a fur-baby puts you in that space very quickly! We have lost a family of fur babies (mom, dad, 4 grown puppies and an adoptee) over the past few years and each loss just crushed our hearts. It sure doesn’t get any easier when we see them go, but looking for the positive in anything-can change the outlook of everything! We have a beautiful garden where their bodies rest and beautiful roses and lillies grow strong. Each blooming season reminds us of the beautiful days that… Read more »

Loretta Yingling
4 years ago

Oh Denise, I’m so sorry about your loss of Brandi! Thanks for sharing such wonderful lessons learned from this sad experience!

Marguerite O'Brien
4 years ago

Oh Denise, I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved Brandi. Thank you for sharing those lessons through your grief. Our sweet Holly is 15.5 and I’m dreading what will be. However, instead of worrying about a future we don’t control, we enjoy each moment with her as today is all we have 🙂

Melinda Mowry
4 years ago

What a great read this morning! My house flooded in Hurricane Florence and we are currently living with my in-laws. Then I go to work and that sustained substantial damage and has to be closed for several months. I keep trying to look on the bright side…we are getting the kitchen remodel we have been talking about but at the same time it is difficult to stay positive. I don’t have much of an option because I have two young kids so I am trying to explain to my eight year old that we will replace what we lost. I… Read more »

Christine Thompson
4 years ago

I had to do this very same thing on July 25, 2014 for my dear sweet Smiley. I was fortunate (don’t think I could of driven home) that I had a vet come to the house on this summer afternoon and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. While I still think about her often it does get better with time and the good memories are in my heart and mind and no one can ever take that away.

4 years ago

So grateful that this was in my inbox this morning. Ironically, I had to put my dog down yesterday afternoon. She was 16. Our faithful Myrtle’s health was failing. I wanted to tell the vet I had changed my mind. But I held her close all the way to the end and cried all the way home. But I had guilt that she trusted me going on a car ride, not knowing it would be her last. That’s been the hardest part – the fact that I decided she was going to die.