Grief And Loss: Why Pet Bereavement Is Very Real And Should Be Respected In The Workplace

By Wendi Weiner |

On October 19, 2021, just five days after I wrote my article, Career Lessons I’ve Learned From My Senior Rescue Dog, I unexpectedly put my 16 1/2-year-old shih tzu, Riley, to sleep. It not only put me into a state of shock but engulfed me with such enormous grief that I couldn’t even function. He was the center of my universe for 15 1/2 years, more than a third of my life. I completely shut down the day I lost him — falling into a deep, dark black hole. I flipped on my email autoresponder and closed myself off to work for the past week.

Riley was the first dog I’ve ever had, and the most special — I adopted him from a rescue on May 1, 2006, and he was between 1 and 2 years old at the time, making him possibly as old as 17 1/2 when I put him down. He came into my life after experiencing the deep, emotional loss of my grandparents and filled my world with joy. His demeanor was exceptionally soft, docile, and shy due to being abused by his prior owners — it matched his beautiful coat, and his presence was overwhelming. People would simply marvel at his disposition. Groomers would fawn over him as he sat patiently waiting for them to finish. He needed zero training, just an owner with a big heart. He loved the simple pleasures of going for rides in the car and anything that afforded him the opportunity to be by my side. He walked the walk with me through career heartache, breakups, marriage, and major life and geographic changes.

In the past two years, he slowed down, but never in his joy for living life. In June, routine bloodwork showed that he was in stage 3 renal failure, and we began a course of weekly fluid therapy. His behaviors slightly changed the weekend of October 15, marked by reduced appetite and lethargy. He had a seizure on Monday morning, bounced back, became more lethargic by Monday night, and lost all motor function by Tuesday morning. While his last day was spent in the comfort of me, my husband, and my parents, the act of putting him down (even by his long-time vet) was one of the most painful and grueling decisions. In the months leading up to it, I tried to prepare myself — reading as many articles as I could and talking to friends and family who had put down dogs. I even found myself grieving before he passed. My anxiety levels were through the roof — I shielded many of this from close friends and even clients. I performed at exceedingly high levels, yet no one knew of my sleepless nights, intense fears, and deep emotional pain.

No matter how much self-talk I did, nothing prepared me for the days leading up to Riley’s ending and the days after it. I oscillated between feelings of regret and guilt, shock, despair, and extreme sadness. I wandered around my house aimlessly, staring at his things and just frozen in angst. I wept in the shower, in bed, and on the couch. I couldn’t talk on the phone, and I didn’t want to see anyone other than my parents and my husband. I went completely dark and retreated into my cocoon. I logged my feelings in a journal, swiped through old pictures and videos on my phone, researched ideas for pet memorials, read websites for grieving through pet loss, and listened to podcasts about pet loss. I came across several helpful sites: the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (a nonprofit), Rainbows Bridge, and various support groups on Facebook. I realized that as alone as I felt, many were walking alongside me and before me. As the days have gone on and I continue to process the grief, I remain committed to healing my heart for my own mental health. I would be doing a disservice to myself and to my clients to have not taken this time away.

As I learned this past week, the loss of a pet is one of the most deeply life-altering events, yet seldom respected or acknowledged in the workplace. I never worked at a law firm or company that allowed for pet bereavement, let alone condoned and encouraged paid vacation time to grieve over the loss of a pet. I remember co-workers losing pets along the way and witnessing them being made fun of by partners and other associates.

I now think of one of my most favorite quotes from “To Kill A Mockingbird”: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Grief is a very individual process — though someone may appear functional on the outside, they may be juggling turmoil on the inside. Mental health is talked about in the legal profession, but rarely encouraged, and rarely celebrated. If my story can help just one person ease their grief, or have a boss realize that their employee needs the time off to grieve, then my job is done. To all of the pet owners who have lost their beloved, I stand by you, I see you, and I grieve with you.

 

Wendi Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and founder of The Writing Guru, an award-winning executive resume writing services company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, executives, and C-suite/Board leaders for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications about alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach her by email at wendi@writingguru.net, connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.

October 26, 2021 at 12:53 PM

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