Updated: Dec 27, 2021
People cry with me all the time.
On the phone, in their voice mails, and in person, every single day I hear from people who are crying. Sometimes, I cry with them. I can’t help myself – my fountain of tears flows easily, and it always has. I am here to provide hospice, end-of-life care, and at-home euthanasia for pets, so tears simply come with the territory for me.
What always trips my heart up is not the crying – it’s the apologies people offer for their crying. When people call me or see me, they seem to have this idea that they should be able to hold it all together. But I know they are reaching out to me because they are facing the death of a beloved pet. Of course they are crying! Yet they are also apologizing.
. . . For what?
The death of a loved one is not the time to worry about maintaining our composure. Yet we feel we should be tough. Maybe this idea comes from our culture. “There’s no crying in baseball,” we are told when we’re young. It’s shameful to cry at work, or in public. We are so stoic, as a nation, as a people. Too stoic.
I understand the inclination to be embarrassed by our tears. “Crying is like diarrhea,” I always used to say. “You have to get it out, but you try not to do it in public.” Overt crying makes us feel naked, exposed, and vulnerable. Yet Brene Brown, renowned author and PhD shame researcher, writes that -- while vulnerability feels risky -- it is also the very tool we need, to open our hearts and experience the richness of life. Vulnerability is the way we make real connections in our close relationships. Being vulnerable is the opposite of weakness.
“Vulnerability looks like courage and sounds like truth,” she writes. “Truth and courage are not always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”
It is impossible to avoid vulnerability when facing the death of a pet. Pets are our family members. Sometimes they are our children. Sometimes they are our partners. I realized, early in my career, how normal it was for people to say things like this:
“I feel terrible! I have cried more over losing my dog than I cried over losing my spouse/parent/friend!”
“This cat helped me get through my divorce.”
“I never could have gotten married if not for what I learned from my dog.”
“She never left my side throughout my cancer treatment.”
Once we have experienced a pet’s true, unconditional love, it’s no wonder that even those of us who are normally straight-faced can’t help but cry upon facing the end of their life.
For people like me, who have always cried easily, tears are a natural release. My long-time mentor, Ralph, notes that he has always cried easily, too. He told me that when he was younger, he was embarrassed by how readily he would tear up in public. But, after a while, he came to realize that his eyes would only well up when he experienced something significant, meaningful, or moving.
“As I get older,” he said, “I have slowly stopped being embarrassed about crying easily. Instead, I have decided to stop wasting my time on things that don’t make me cry.”
These, my friends, are words to live by.
Now, every time one of my clients apologizes for crying, I immediately say: “Please stop apologizing for loving your pet. You are crying because you love her!” Our relationships with our pets can be some of the most significant, meaningful relationships of our lives. To grieve their loss is right, and good.
Loving someone enough that it hurts to let them go is really the whole point of life. If you love your pet so much that it hurts to let them go, you’re doing it right.
I am here, truly, to bring peace at the end of your pet’s life, and to help you through one of the most difficult experiences of yours. Tears are part of that. Grief is part of that. I welcome your tears and your emotions, and I am so uplifted to see the love that my clients share with their pets. If you love your pets so much that it hurts to let them go, you’re doing it right. And there is no need to apologize for that.
- H. Howells, DVM