Three days after we said goodbye to our dog Sammy, a friend invited us to a big party at her rural Virginia farm. We all agreed it would be a good distraction from our grieving, so we decided to go and planned to spend the weekend.
Sadly, our good intentions didn’t work out as planned. My husband and I didn’t feel like boozing it up in the pool house with the merrymakers. I had trouble making small talk—that part of my brain felt paralyzed. We ended up isolating ourselves from the group, and we left early.
Trying to figure out what to do with yourself that week after you lose your beloved pet is a toughie. These nine strategies helped me:
Leave the house. Especially for the first few days, it was too hard to be at home, with Sammy’s missing presence so amplified. It was driving me crazy that I kept “hearing” him in the house. I went to close friends’ place for an evening and played with their daughter. I went for a walk in the neighborhood. One night I even sat in the car and listened to music.
Rearrange the furniture. Seeing the empty spot on the floor in the family room where his bed and toys were was heartbreaking. At the suggestion of a friend, I rearranged the furniture. I don’t love the design now, but we will leave it this way for a few weeks as we readjust.
Talk to friends online. Aside from a small handful of people, I wasn’t feeling up to seeing many people face to face. But I needed a way to share my feelings. Posting on Facebook and emailing friends helped, especially when I received supportive and empathetic notes.
Do a marathon baking session. If you were unsure about the depths of my grief, check out the food I baked on Friday: Eight cakes, four dozen chocolate chip cookies, 1 ½ dozen muffins and two dozen biscuits. Totally excessive, but it kept me very busy. I stashed some of the items in the freezer but shared most with friends.
Do nice things for other people. That second night after Sammy was gone, we went out to dinner. The waitress was quite excellent. So I wrote a note at the top of the bill saying “thanks for being so good at your job and being so cheerful.” Then I sought out her boss to share the compliment. It uplifted me to do something nice for someone else.
Watch funny things on TV. There’s a mindlessly silly program called “Impractical Jokers” on TruTV that gave me my first smile of the week.
Write a note to the person who gave you the dog. I found it cathartic to write my letter to the Washington Humane Society to say thanks for letting me take Sammy home back in 2000. The letter made me feel good, to share his legacy, and it also made them feel good about their work.
Do something challenging but unimportant. I found an old puzzle book I bought for a long-haul flight, so I spent one afternoon doing logic puzzles and crosswords. My brain was distracted but the task at hand was rather meaningless—an important aspect, since I’ve found my mind isn’t thinking straight yet and I wouldn’t want to screw up something important.
Read articles online about coping with pet loss. The articles reminded me it’s ok to be upset, that it’s ok if I’m not getting over this as fast as I think I “should” (whatever that means). It’s only been five days after all.