When is the time to let go of grief?

How do you know when it’s time to open your heart up once it’s been broken?

We’ve been talking about getting another dog. I keep checking the Dogs Trust rehoming pages to see if a suitable rescue dog might need my love and attention. Sometimes I see a West Highland Terrier and I look more closely to see if it might be Mac, which is ridiculous because he’s gone. But I still look. I couldn’t rescue another Westie though; it wouldn’t be right. They wouldn’t live up to the enormous expectation I have for them to be Mac.

But another dog, maybe. At least that’s what I want to believe. We talk about it, I make all the right noises, say all the right things; but I’m not sure I can do it. Not yet. We keep mentioning Christmas, as if it’s a marker that by then my grief might be gone. We both know this is not true, but we pretend it could be. There’s discussion of a puppy. The boisterous energy and time, dedication, and the patience needed for this rules it out. We love our furniture too much. Sharp, gnawing teeth would not be welcome here.

I look back on my photographs of Mac – a poor substitution for the warmth of his stale-smelling fur that I miss more than anything – and think: “Not again. I couldn’t allow another companion to settle here only for it to be taken away again.” In short, I have the fear. The emptiness that consumes my insides and settles there, like a great, black stone anchored at the bottom of the sea, is beneath everything and even in the darkness it is inescapably present. I can’t deny its existence just because I can’t see it in the light of day, or because I want to pretend it’s not there. I still feel it pulling me down on occasion, not as often as before, but sometimes.Will it ever truly go away? Probably not.

No matter how I feel now, it is worth it to have loved this ragamuffin.

This is the burden of pet owners: we outlive our best friends more often than not. Put simply, I am afraid of loving another dog because of the inevitable grief that would eventually follow thereafter. And, in order to welcome a new companion, I need to forget the anguish that is still so fresh in my heart that I can’t yet let go of, not yet, not so soon. But I must release it someday, otherwise I may be engulfed by the fear. And, therein lies the rub: I must let go of it. It will never release me unless I offer it release. I must want to give up feeling the grief before it can be let go. Am I ready to let it go?

And still, every dog I look at – wondering if this is the one that I could love next – is always tested by two criteria: could I love it enough to abandon the fear and; will it fill the hole in my heart where Mac used to be still is?

Until I stop asking that second question, another dog is unlikely to be the answer.



Published by Cat Lumb

Writer, Writing Coach, and Writing Workshop Facilitator

3 thoughts on “When is the time to let go of grief?

  1. Your post resonates with me so much. Our family dog is getting very old and poorly. Everyone keeps telling me to ‘be prepared’ but how can you? I’m scared of that day. My heart goes out to you and your loss. I hope in time you can bring yourself to give another pet your love.

    1. You can’t prepare, but you can brace yourself to accept the sometimes necessary decision that age forces upon us. Inevitably your heart will be broken, but as the old saying goes “it is better to have loved and lost…”.
      For me, a quote that helped was something I found saying “better a week too early than a minute too late “. In the end, I believe wholeheartedly in the accuracy of it.
      All the best. Keep enjoying your time with the family dog. And take lots of pictures! That’s one thing I wish I’d done more! Xx
      Thanks for commenting too.

  2. It’s early days and you’re still feeling raw. Another dog will never replace Mac but, in time, could make you happy. That’s not to detract from Mac’s memory. Pets all have their own personalities. You’ll know when you’re ready to take that step. If we stop loving for fear of the pain of loss, we’re already dead ourselves. Take care!

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