Four weeks ago, we made the difficult decision to put down our five and a half year old lab. He had been fighting medical issues for nine months. Every time we thought he was on the mend, a new ailment appeared. Our amazing vets determined that Outtie had autoimmune issues. He was taking seven pills daily to feel no more than “okay sometimes.” His joints ached, making him unable to comfortably stand up and walk around until after his anti-inflammatory pills kicked in two or so hours after he took them. Being the best, sweetest lab ever, Outtie tried to put on a happy face for us. When he stopped eating and refused to take his medicine, even when covered in peanut butter, my husband and I knew that it was time.
Having both grown up with dogs, we know the pain that accompanies losing a family pet and the unfair reality that we never get enough time with our faithful companions. This is our second dog as a couple. We lost our first dog at the age of fourteen; he had a long and love-filled life. Our then three-year-old son was sad but bounced back much quicker than his parents. (In his defense, Jakey was pretty laid back and didn’t play much by the time Liam came around, reminding us of a thirteen-pound guinea pig.) Losing Outtie hit us in all the feels. We sobbed when we made the decision and broke the news to Liam. We sobbed together at the vet. We sobbed on the way home and most of that evening. We teared up and cried daily as we adapted to our new, dog free home. Liam begged us for another dog to fill the void. We are still too hurt to think about replacing our buddy.
Outtie was the dog we will use to compare any future dog. He was loyal, friendly, and full of energy. When he was well, he would chase a thrown toy until your arm tired. He had a special place in his heart for each of us. He and I went for long walks, hikes, and runs. I talked to him the entire time, not caring how silly I looked to people passing by a grown woman having a full on conversation with her lab. He followed me around the house while I did household chores, listening to me the entire time. For Liam, he taught the unwavering love of a dog. He played with Liam, listened to him practice reading, and played tug. As for my husband, it was clear that, while Outtie loved all of us, he was Mike’s dog. I often joked that I would never love Mike the way Outtie did. (Partially because I will never wait for Mike outside of the bathroom.) A month after his loss, we still have tear-filled moments of grief. (I’m crying as I write this.)
Anyone who knows me knows of my love/hate relationship with Facebook. I’ve deactivated on a few occasions. As I get older, I’ve learned not to take Facebook personally and to use the Unfollow and Unfriend buttons as my mental health requires. I use Facebook to post pictures of my son and our adventures. I use it to keep a hilarious group message going with my yoga girls and to participate in a few running groups. I make a conscious effort to keep my interactions there positive. I did not post of my mother’s death on Facebook, choosing to call the people who needed to know and sending an email containing her funeral arrangements. A few people contacted me after reading her obituary. in the paper. Obviously, I didn’t post anything about losing Outtie. It was too raw and painful. I wasn’t ready to share my pain with 300 of my closest friends and acquaintances. As the weeks go by, I find myself having to explain what happened to people. We walked Outtie twice a day; we’ve had to explain to our neighbors why they haven’t seen us out and about. When we have friends over, we have to explain what happened. Each time, I tear up as I explain how hard it was to watch him suffer and that we know our difficult decision was for the best. Every conversation includes a comment that they didn’t know and didn’t see it on Facebook. I have to explain that publicly sharing grief just doesn’t feel right for me, not that there’s anything wrong with it. When friends post about deaths of family members, I’ve been thankful to be in the know, sending cards and stopping by wakes when local.
After sharing news of Outtie’s death three times this past week, we’ve wondered if it would have just been easier to post it on Facebook, “like” a bunch of condolence comments, and continue healing. Would it have been easier for people to share a quick, “I’m sorry, how’re you holding up?” when we see them rather than having to explain where the dog is and trying not to cry. As the weeks go by, we’ve donated his LL Bean bed, food, and supplies. I sweep up less and less of his hair each time I sweep. I teared up each time I dumped piles of fur in the trash. Now, I get upset when there isn’t much fur. As time goes by, I wonder if I should have relied on Facebook for more than updates about where the local food trucks will be parked throughout the week. I wonder why I refuse to rely on social media as a place to share grief. Maybe there are still social interactions that I believe should be face to face. However, this experience with losing our beloved family pet is making me think that sharing pain and loss on social media may become a new part of our healing process.