Gypsy’s Story – Grief in the Family

By Lavinia Ball-Marian, MA, LPC

Lavinia Ball-Marian, MA, LPC

Photo by Cristin Spielman Photography, LLC

Eleven years ago we decided to adopt a pet. We went to the Humane Society and looked at dogs; of course we came home with one. We picked the one that was kind of shy but did not leave our side while we hung out with her. Her given name was Star but we decided to name her Gypsy – our dog found wandering on the streets of New Mexico.

The Humane Society did not know much about this dog, but it did not take long to figure out that she had terrible separation anxiety. We found out when we came home to the potted plants turned upside down, the blinds chewed and destroyed, along with many other things. We thought that our dog must have been very traumatized as a little puppy as she could hardly stand to be alone.

We did the best we could to offer her stability, providing her with consistency, routine and predictability. Despite seeming happier and more playful, she was never a super happy dog. But, she was the best guard dog ever!

When our daughter was born, we both knew that if the dog was not good with her she would have to go to a different home. What a relief when we saw that not only was she a great dog with our baby, but she also provided her with pony rides, mess cleanup, and big kisses. She was frequently used for pulling up when our girl was barely able to walk. A best friend, she was always on the watch for our daughter and never left her side. She was not overly playful but was always good to our child and other kids who came to our house.

Last week, unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to this wonderful pet. We had to euthanize her due to some major complications and possible cancer. It was a day I dreaded and it came unexpectedly. We all learned how much it hurt to lose her going through trauma and loss in the process. It was especially hard for me to see how my daughter suffered, wanting to do all I could to keep her from such sadness, but death is an inevitable part of life and my daughter was submerged in those feelings.

As much as I wanted to guard and protect her, I wanted to be honest with her and let her experience first hand, how hard it is to say good bye. Nobody ever wants to say good bye, nobody ever wants to lose someone they love, but it is part of who we are, part of life on this earth.

It was very hard for all of us. We each expressed our grief and sadness in different ways. We all recounted memories we had of her and we said prayers for her.

What seemed hardest was going through my own grief while having to be a good support for my daughter going through her grief. We all process through that very differently. All I could do in that moment was to allow her to cry, to ask questions, to hug and kiss the dog goodbye. I could not tell her, “It is ok.” I could not normalize anything for her, I could not console her with, “But Gypsy had a great life with us.” Instead I sat there, holding her in my arms, letting her feel her feelings fully. I could not tell her how to feel, I just needed to be there. I needed to accept her and her feelings. I could not tell her to stop crying anymore or to not make such a big deal, because for her it was a big deal! It was her first pet, her first furry buddy, who followed and played with her. Gypsy meant different things to her than she meant to me.

So I sat there and I looked in my Gypsy’s big sad eyes and then in my daughter’s. Both expressing so much pain. Even though it was hard, I felt blessed to be able to carry my daughter’s pain feeling like a good parent, like I did the right things, and was able to be strong for my child.

As parents, sometimes all we need to do is be there for our child, holding them, offering them a safe space to express their feelings, helping them process, and simply accepting them for who they are.