Relationship: A pet owner's anticipatory grief

My little dog was having a medical issue, so we made a trip to the vet. Mercy's left eye was looking a bit more milky than usual, and when the vet checked, she said that Mercy had a cataract and was completely blind in that eye.

I was a wreck. Was my little companion going blind? Was it something worse? How could this happen? She was only about 8 years old -- or so I thought.

We went to the only eye specialist in the county. She did a thorough exam and found that Mercy could see just fine out of her right eye. She recommended that we monitor the situation, because Mercy's quality of life would not be vastly improved with a surgery, and it would be better to wait.

That was great news, but the specialist also determined from her exam that my dog is closer to 12 years old, not 8. For me, this news was a bigger shock than her ailment. My thoughts immediately shifted to the realization that I would now have four fewer years with my beloved therapy dog.

When I rescued Mercy about a half a dozen years ago, I was told that she was about 2, and she is so puppylike that we all accepted this as her age. She has been to several vets, and no one ever mentioned to me that she was an older dog.

I felt some deep sadness and, though she sleeps with us every night, I had to keep her close to me for several days just to make sure she was OK. I could not let go of the fact that she will not be around as long as I'd thought.

Anytime you get a pet, you accept the fact that it will die before you do, and the gift in that equation is that you get to love your pet, and have its unconditional love returned, as long as your animal is here. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows this, and millions of people who are nursing their aging animals experience this daily.

The knowledge that our baby will not be around as long as we thought makes me sad. This is called anticipatory grief. It's not uncommon, and it can have a significant effect on your life. If you are experiencing something similar, or if you have already lost someone dear to you, know that help is out there.

These days, an abundance of support groups for pet and human bereavement is available. My suggestion is that you attend one, because it will make a positive difference. Grief is not something that you should have to hide or go through alone.

Loss is a part of life, and we all need to learn to accept it, but it is harder for some people than for others. Honor your feelings and allow yourself to grieve when you need to grieve. Please remember that getting support is an important part of your healing process, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

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(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author, most recently, of "The Happy Couple -- How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Email him at Barton@BartonGoldsmith.com. Follow his daily insights at www.twitter.com/@BartonGoldsmith.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com)

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