Would have, should have, could have. How often have we said those words in our lives? I myself have said them too many times. Tell me one person who hasn’t? Grief in and of itself is all consuming but compiled with regret it can make you physically ill. When letting go of a pet, it’s normal to have deep regrets. It’s an enormous decision to end a life, even when you know that life is suffering and coming to an end on its own. If only they could tell us with no uncertainty, “I’m ready!” Because they can’t, even though we know in our hearts they can’t possibly take any more…some will always question that decision.
I myself am of the belief that when a pet cannot walk any more, cannot go to the bathroom, breathe well, etc., it’s time. That’s actually how I knew it was my cat Patches’ time. She couldn’t hold her bowels, was stumbling and looked just plain awful. The needle was barely inside her and she was gone. So yes, she was ready. Do I have some regrets? Yes, I do. There were things we should have and could have done while she was alive to better care for her. I was young and didn’t know there were signs. We also didn't know what we know now about proper nutrition and the diseases that senior kitties are prone to. But regardless of that, at 20 years old it was her time. And we gave her a long and happy life.
With Alex it was different because she died on her own and it was a shock. Even though she had been sick, she was doing well. I didn’t even have a chance to get her to the ER, she died in the car on the way there. I have PLENTY of regrets where that is concerned and that will most likely haunt me the rest of my life. Even though I know in my heart I did the very best I could for her through her illness, I still have doubts and regrets. My vet even told me she thought I was the best kitty parent she’d ever met and that I went above and beyond for her. It’s still not enough for me to stop that feeling, it’ll always be there, buried inside.
Blaming ourselves is normal and part of the grieving process. Sometimes that part never goes away completely but we learn to live with it or let it go. We have to in order to move forward. This is how we learn of what to do and what not to do next time around. And most of us DO learn those hard lessons. Think of it this way; if we weren’t good pet parents would we even care how good a life they have or if they went peacefully when it’s their time? Not at all. But instead of giving ourselves that moment of solace, we torment ourselves with “what ifs”. In order to love that deeply and strongly, we need to suffer for it. Why that is, I don’t know. It’s just the laws of the universe. But we are blessed with giant hearts and wide open arms that will yet welcome more fur balls into our lives. We cannot live without them and from what I’ve seen of most of my friends, their fur children lead the best lives possible with the greatest care.
Grieve! Do not deny your broken heart the chance to scream out in agony. Because that’s what it is when we love and lose them; sheer agony. But do not wade too long in that sea of regret or it’ll swallow you up. And your heart needs to mend for the next furry one that enters your life. Love yourself and give yourself permission to feel awful! But know you are a terrific parent and making yourself sick over regrets and what ifs will not change that they are gone. A fragile and broken heart should not be beaten to its core but treated as if it were a beautiful vase that can and will be mended. Even with a few cracks here and there, eventually it’ll hold the life of blooming flowers again.