Pet loss can be devastating; there’s no doubt about it. In this personal story of pet bereavement you will learn an alternative path along the grief journey, one which will lead to an everlasting relationship with your beloved companion.
Eight months have passed since Tika, my 14.5 year-old German Shepherd soul dog, crossed the Rainbow Bridge (May 28, 2021). I’m sitting on the couch where she used to lay, surrounded by photos and her box of ashes at my side. Only now do I find myself at a place along my grief journey, where I am able to revisit my deepest emotions and share Part Two of Tika’s story with you.
Moving With vs. Moving On
Shortly after Tika’s departure, a huge roadblock developed; I was unable to write a single sentence. Subconsciously, I felt that by writing Part Two of this story, it would play a big part in me moving on. But I didn’t want to feel like I was moving away from my baby girl. Over time however, I discovered that I’m not moving on or away from Tika, but rather I’m “moving with”…. with grief, with love, with Tika.
Along my grief journey I’ve learned to connect with Tika in such a way that I never feel alone. She continues to fill my heart and mind, day and night. Grief has strengthened our bond and we are now closer than ever.
Tika’s Story and Legacy
Tika’s story is given in two parts. Part 1 documents our experience with providing care and comfort for our 14.5 year old senior German Shepherd dog with Degenerative Myelopathy (paralysis of the spine). It is a heartwarming story of unconditional love, compassion, inspiration and devotion.
After publishing Part 1, I was humbled by the countless messages of support and gratitude that came in, learning how our story touched pets and parents around the world. Helping others and making a difference for pets and parents in need has become an integral part of Tika’s legacy, and so I must continue to share her story. In doing so, Tika’s spirit lives on.
Part 2 shares a touching personal story of pet bereavement, where you’ll learn how to move forward with love and grief, without ever having to say goodbye to your beloved companion. This story covers how we made the big decision, what was involved with the big departure (before, during, and after), and the overall grief journey.
**If you have been touched by Tika’s story in any way, I’d love to hear from you in Tika’s Guestbook (comments) at the end of this post.
Tika Tribute – Highlights of Tika’s Life
This story was a big project for me; it took months to “complete” (is it ever really complete?). Aside from the emotions involved, one of the most challenging aspects of pulling this together was the selection of photos and videos! While I can only put so many in a blog post, I decided to make a “Best of” video tribute of Tika’s life, which summarizes our 14.5 years together in 11 minutes. I do hope you can find the time to watch this, as I’m sure you’ll be touched by Tika’s beautiful spirit. (You will also find a video playlist featuring Tika on my YouTube channel, @coldinyk).
The Big Decision – When is it Time?
Many people have asked how we made the decision to bring Tika to the Rainbow Bridge; how did we know it was time? As a loving pet parent, this was the most difficult decision I’ve faced.
In early May 2021, at almost 14.5 years old, despite the paralysis and incontinence, Tika was alert and responsive. She was eating and drinking normally, her sight and hearing were surprisingly good. You could see Tika’s spirit shine through everything. Tika was virtually no different than she was the day before her departure, or even a few months prior.
However, after 2.5 years of living with this debilitating and progressive disease (Degenerative Myelopathy), we could see it was taking a toll on her. Tika was holding out for us, I’m sure of it. She saw the love in our eyes and the constant devotion we gave to her. She was living life for us, despite her condition; I’m sure of it. That’s how loyal she is!
We knew the stages of Degenerative Myelopathy. It already caused paralysis in Tika’s hind legs and it was only a matter of time that it was expected to progress to her kidneys and front legs. Bowel incontinence was a daily reality for about a year and pressure sores were beginning to develop on her elbows. In March/April 2021, Tika began to stumble a little on her front legs (while we held up her hind legs as we walked behind her); this imbalance sometimes caused us to fall.
With the weakening of her front legs, we knew it was just a matter of time before Tika had an injury. We didn’t want her to experience any pain from injuries or from the progression of the disease (which we knew was imminent). It was time to put Tika’s well being above all else and do what was best for her, not for us.
Setting the Departure Date
One evening in early May, Doug and I had the dreaded discussion which culminated in setting the departure date (in three weeks’ time). As emotional as it was to lift the veil of denial and face this harsh reality, it felt as if a massive weight had been lifted.
Knowing what was going to happen and how much time we had remaining together, this helped a great deal in preparing for the big departure. It gave us the opportunity to have the most fulfilling and precious final days together. We were able to give Tika the greatest gift at this stage in her life – a pain-free and peaceful departure, with both parents at her side, comforting her all the way to the Rainbow Bridge.
The Final Countdown
During this very tender time (including the months before and after), I was on a sabbatical. I had no distractions and no other obligations; Tika was my life during those months and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Doug and I worked out a care schedule, which meant we were able to give Tika nearly 24/7 daily care and attention for several months.
There were three weeks remaining. When we were ready, we shared our decision with only a few people. This was our time and we wanted to give our complete focus and attention to our baby girl.
Preparing for the Departure
Ten days out, Doug gave me a piece of paper with a listing of things we needed to discuss and decide prior to Tika’s departure. Things like: sleeping schedule for her final nights; which of her things we wanted to keep and to giveaway; when to arrange a final video call with Tika’s “grandparents;” when we’d give Tika her final bath; what the schedule will be for the departure morning; which blankets to use during the procedure; etc. I would never have thought about having to make these kinds of decisions and I’m grateful that Doug did.
If you are preparing for a departure, I would highly recommend making a similar list; it will make your overall experience much more manageable.
Creating Final Memories
By having a departure date set, this allowed us to plan out our remaining days together and do everything we wanted to do. These became the most tender, fulfilling and memorable days we’ve ever had!
We went for drives throughout the day and parked at Tika’s favourite spots. We laid in the car together with the back opened up and watched the birds, dogs and people pass by. Of course I photographed and recorded all of these precious moments, and if that wasn’t enough, we even had some professional photographs taken by a dear friend!
At these special places where we parked, I’d have meaningful conversations with Tika. I told her everything I wanted to tell her. I thanked her for being my daughter, for all the life lessons she shared with me, for loving me, inspiring me, and filling my heart. She would look at me with her sparkly soulful eyes and talk back to me. I knew Tika understood every word and emotion I shared with her; she is a wise old soul.
As you may recall from Part 1, we made all kinds of artwork, including paw print impressions and paw prints on paper, wood, and many rocks that would later be displayed throughout the house and garden. You can see the great fun we had in the video below!
Final Doggy Date
I arranged for Tika’s long-time boyfriend Hogan (Dad is Cory Vanthuyne) to come over for a final date. These two love dogs knew each other for most of their lives. Watching Tika’s excitement as Hogan entered the yard just warmed up my heart. They had one of their longest visits ever, just laying on the deck looking at each other, with Tika barking out and Hogan (literally) playing hard to get.
I think they both knew what was coming. There was a definite sadness in the air, but I could also see how happy Tika’s spirit was at that moment.
You often hear that when an old lovebird dies, their partner follows soon after because they can’t bear to be apart. Sadly (or not so for these two), this is what happened. Mr. Hogan joined Tika not even one month after her departure, on June 24, 2021. They are now both happily frolicking around on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, just like when they were young pups!
I put together this touching video compilation of Tika and Hogan’s Love Story. While I don’t have many videos from their younger years, the love they shared is apparent, right up until the very end!
With the departure date set, I was mindful of everything becoming the “last” this and that, recognizing their absolute finality. This awareness allowed me to be present in every moment and absorb all that was happening. There was the last bath, the last walk, the last supper, the last sleep together, the last morning wake-up cuddles, the last brushing, the last car ride, the last throw of the ball, the last ice cream and banana pancakes, the last fill of Tika’s water bowl, the last treat.
Then there was our last selfie out on the deck, the last sound of Tika’s voice as she barked at Doctor Hughes’ arrival, the last feeling of Tika’s big paw and rough toes in my hand. Then came the last tender kiss, the heartbreaking final embrace, and the last visual of my baby girl’s lifeless body being picked up from my arms, carried away and placed into the back of the Doctor’s Jeep, headed to the crematorium, never to return again in the same physical form.
All of these final moments have been branded into the depths of my heart and mind, never to be forgotten.
On Tika’s final night, even though it was Doug’s turn to sleep with her, he selflessly gave that to me. I cuddled with Tika and had another heart-to-heart, thanking her for her love and life. I moved my pillow to the foot end of the bed, so that I could lay alongside her for our final sleep. I didn’t want the night to end, but the emotions were draining me and I knew this had to happen.
The big day arrived, May 28, 2021; we woke up at 5:40am and Doctor Hughes was due to arrive at 10:15am. It was a beautiful peaceful Spring morning – blue sky, sun was shining, birds were chirping. The forecast called for rain, but Heaven delivered a perfect departure day for our baby girl.
The next 4.5 hours were ultra-precious; not a second was wasted. We gave our everything to Tika. We put on a smile (trying our very best not to show our sadness) and showered her with all the love in the world. This touching video captures our final morning together; you can clearly see the love and strong bond we share.
After our morning cuddles, we went out on the front rock where I had my morning coffee and Tika laid at my side. I then made one of her favourites… banana pancakes, which she gently nibbled from my fingers; this was followed by vanilla ice cream and dog treats. We played catch with the ball on the couch and I gave Tika a good brushing. She was soft and clean and well-groomed for her big journey.
I was surprised and happy when Doug mentioned he wanted to take Tika out for one last drive. I thought we already had our final drive the day prior, so this was a bonus! We drove around to all of Tika’s favourite sites and made a special stop to see her boyfriend Hogan; they barked out to each other! Maybe Hogan was telling her that he’d soon be joining her. It was heart-warming and touching for these old love dogs to see each other one more time.
Just minutes before Dr. Hughes’ arrival, Tika and I laid out on the deck where I took numerous selfies of us; our final one (below) was at taken at 10:07am.
Then they arrived… Doctor Hughes and his wife Jeannie explained the procedure to us in detail and let us know what was happening at each step; they are such gracious and compassionate people. I can’t thank them enough for doing what they do and for giving us this precious opportunity to have the departure take place in the comfort of our own home. This meant that our baby girl was calm, comfortable and at peace before, during and after the crossing of the Rainbow Bridge. I couldn’t have asked for a better departure.
I laid alongside Tika’s back, holding her front left paw in my left hand. I kissed and gently stroked her, telling her: “It’s OK. You’re such a good girl Dee-Dee, you’re the best dog in the whole world and Mommy loves you so much. Thank you for everything Teeks, thank you for your love and life. I love you forever and always my baby girl.”
Up until this moment, I was never more aware of time and the transitory nature of life; it was disappearing right in front of my eyes. There was nothing I could do to stop it or slow it down. I could not hang on, no matter how tightly.
Then there was the moment when Doctor Hughes checked for Tika’s heartbeat and he softly said, “She’s gone sweetie.” The thought of Tika’s heart not beating and the finality of her life suddenly hit me. I gasped for air and wailed as I held on tightly to my baby girl’s lifeless body, not wanting to let her go. But it was time for me to surrender and share my baby girl with God and his Angels.
The whole experience was surreal. It was emotionally draining, raw and tender; I felt a heaviness in my heart that stayed with me for weeks. Thanks to being on my sabbatical, this gave me all the time in the world to be with my emotions and navigate grief.
For the days and weeks following Tika’s departure, I intentionally replayed in my mind all of our final moments together. Each morning, I was mindful of the hour and I often relived whatever we were going through at that same time on May 28. I wanted to remember everything.
By reliving those moments, I was able to create memories that photographs could never capture. While this may sound like it was self-inflicted emotional torture, it wasn’t. On the contrary, by facing and embracing grief, this brought Tika even closer to me.
DEPARTURE vs. LOSS
Most people view the death of a loved one as a “loss,” as an end to the relationship; this makes it very difficult to “let go.” But death doesn’t result in a “loss;” rather it leads to the departure of the spirit.
I believe that when we are born (all living beings), our spirit is put on this earth for some purpose. Our spirit is equipped with the temporary use of a body (or costume) that is intended to assist us in navigating life and discovering our purpose. Over time and use, this body will change as it succumbs to age, disease, or damage. While we don’t know the rental period of our body, we do know it will expire at some point. The body is only a temporary costume for the spirit.
Where does the spirit go? I don’t know. But what I DO know, is that it wasn’t Tika’s physical body that I fell in love with; rather it was her personality, uniqueness and spirit.
Unlike the body, the spirit has no expiration date; there is nothing temporary about it. The spirit continues and remains forever. When you have a strong bond with your beloved, as I do with Tika, that bond will keep you forever connected like a permanent super glue. Our relationship continues.
On May 28, 2021, I had to fully surrender and let go of the physical body that I was hanging on to. It was time for Tika’s spirit to depart and graduate to a higher realm.
Of course I am profoundly grieving the loss of the physical aspects of our life together: our cuddles, Tika’s scent, her sounds, the feeling of her body laying beside me, our conversations, the softness of her fur, the sparkle in her communicative eyes. All of these end with the expiry of the body, while the spiritual attributes that developed during our life together, namely the love, connection and bond – these are forever. You don’t “lose” them.
So when someone says to me, “I’m sorry for your loss,” I thank them for their kindness and compassion and I share with them that I didn’t lose Tika. Rather, she remains right at my side and in my heart, connected through love and spirit, forever and always.
When your pet graduates to this higher realm, their spirit is waiting for you to acknowledge their presence and continue to include them in your life. They are right beside you, eager to continue filling your heart. All you need to do is reach out to them.
Grief is often misunderstood, mishandled or neglected in everyday life. There is a desperate need to provide helpful information in this area, particularly for pet bereavement. We don’t openly talk about it or reach out for support. Yet it is almost certain that every single one of us will face grief at some point in our lives, with each experience being as unique as a snowflake.
Grief doesn’t have to be messy, painful or taboo. Instead, it can be beautiful, gentle and insightful. For me, my experience with grief has been a reflection of the great love and bond that Tika and I share. It has been the most enlightening journey I’ve ever experienced.
Tika’s life (and death) have had a profound impact on my life. Her departure was incomparable to that of any human death I’ve experienced thus far. The grief was intense and consuming; it hit me over and over again like a tsunami without any warning. Once I understood that Tika’s spirit is not her body and that I wasn’t losing her, this provided me with great comfort.
Grief – A Special Guest
In the early days of grief’s arrival, the emotions I felt were incredibly raw and tender. As much as it hurt, instead of bottling it up, I acknowledged and welcomed grief into my life like an old friend coming for a visit. I opened the doors of my heart and created space for grief.
I refrained from anything that would numb my emotions because I wanted to be fully present with this special guest. We’ve been spending a lot of time together, grief and I. This relationship has evolved in such a way that I feel as connected to Tika now through my grief as I did when she was alive, possibly even more so. This is because I came to understand that grief is love. Once I came to this realization, I fully welcomed grief into my heart and Tika and I were once again reunited.
Grief Is Love
“Grief is just love with no place to go” (Jamie Anderson). Over the past several months, I found places to channel my pent up love: helping others who are facing similar circumstances with their pet; random acts of kindness in Tika’s memory; and continuing with my fitness journey and overall self-care. (Tika was the impetus for my weight training and overall fitness transformation; she continues to motivate and cheer me on in spirit. She is my inner compass and personal trainer!).
I found it incredibly healing to feed my grief with joy; for instance, I gave garden flowers with a card and photo of Tika to random people, paid it forward in the Tim Horton’s drive thru, gifted Tika’s leftover treats to my dog friends, and bought myself my favourite flowers. These acts of kindness lifted my spirit because they lifted the spirit of others and I know this made Tika happy.
There is No Practice Run
We don’t learn about grief in school, work, or everyday life. There is no practice run. It just arrives, sometimes when you least expect it. You have no idea what this heartache will feel like until you actually face it yourself.
To help prepare yourself for the inevitable (if you can prepare), start by reading books on the subject of grief and pet bereavement. And most importantly, take time for yourself to connect with your emotions and navigate grief.
I am very grateful for a dear friend who gifted me two books that were PIVOTAL to my grief journey: Megan Devine’s “It’s Ok that You’re Not Ok” and Joanne Cacciatore’s “Bearing the Unbearable.” I can’t say enough good things about these two books and highly recommend them to everyone –those who are grieving and those who care enough to support someone who is.
It’s incredibly important that you build yourself a support network, in advance if possible. Reach out to family and friends and let them know how they can support you (even if just to say you need space). If you find that you don’t have the kind of support you need (and trust me, this is very possible!), seek out support groups (online or otherwise); there are plenty of helpful resources out there.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge Doug, Tika’s Dad. While he had his own emotions to process, Doug was always there for me (and Tika). He was my rock and I could never have gone through this without him. In fact, the main reason that Tika lived as long as she did and had the amazing quality of life that she had, was because of our co-parenting, joint commitment and shared love for our baby girl. We were quite the tag team for Tika and each other and were truly blessed to go through this experience together.
Letting Grief In
Welcoming grief into your life is not easy by any means. But I promise you that by acknowledging grief and giving it space to breathe, attending to it as a special guest in your heart/home (rather than an unwanted guest), this will smoothen the path forward and allow for a deeper relationship with your beloved.
If on the other hand you suffocate and starve grief, numb your feelings and keep your mind occupied, you are denying your love for your beloved. Remember, grief is love; they are dual protagonists and you simply cannot have one without the other. Honour grief and you honour your beloved.
Moments of Connection
Eight months have passed since Tika’s departure and I still have my moments. While the emotional intensity has abated, I imagine I will continue to shed tears for my baby girl for a long time to come. And that’s ok. I find my tears to be cleansing and I feel most connected to Tika during these tender moments.
For example, tonight, just as I’m finishing up this story, I was about to prepare some moose meat for dinner. This meat was originally intended for Tika. We ended up not giving it to her as we didn’t want to risk giving her a bad stomach on her final days. Just before I unwrapped the moose meat, I suddenly discovered one of Tika’s hairs stuck to the side of a plastic container that I just put some leftover soup in. There is no other dog in my house and I haven’t been around any dogs for weeks. After working so hard on this story and cooking up her moose meat, Tika was checking in on her Mommy; she was letting me know she’s here. These kind of things happen from time to time and they’re such special moments of connection.
I don’t speak of Tika as being absent from my life, because she is omnipresent. I continue to talk to Tika and acknowledge her throughout the day and night. Aside from my parents, Tika has been the next biggest influence in my life. Her spirit continues to inspire me and push me further in all that I do. She’s my soul dog and she’ll always be with me.
Memories and Mementoes
One of the most difficult things to endure when a loved one departs is the loss of sensory experiences with them. If you’re lucky enough to have photos, videos and recorded sounds, these are such precious items to help preserve your memories. But there is no equivalent for the sense of touch or smell.
What I would give to be able to inhale one more time the scent of my baby girl. Most of her blankets were washed immediately after she departed, but there were a couple put away in my closet. From time to time, I would pull out one of the blankets, bury my face in it and desperately sniff away, trying to find a remnant of Tika’s scent trapped in the blanket’s fibres. But now, months later, time has erased her scent, completely.
While I was unable to preserve Tika’s scent and physical feeling, I’m grateful for the mementoes that I do have and for all the memories involved with creating them!
Tika’s favourite stick is displayed on the fireplace mantle, with her red leash wound around it. Next to her stick is a large jar of little white rocks we collected on a path we frequented. Her red collar hangs from my car mirror, along with a little vial of ashes and fur. Each day I proudly wear my compass pendant, which contains a pinch of Tika’s ashes and is inscribed on the back with: “Tika, Forever and Always Guiding the Way.” Her ashes are contained in a beautiful handmade wooden box that I move around with me daily in the house.
These mementoes are placed throughout my house, yard and car (and even my office), as a way of continuing to include Tika in my everyday life. It brings me great comfort to see her everywhere.
Moving Forward with Love and Grief
In the beginning of this journey, grief was really heavy; it lingered above me like a ready-to-burst rain cloud. I didn’t know how to navigate this bumpy path, I had no roadmap. But in time, grief became more manageable as I began to understand its ways.
After opening my heart to grief and giving it time and space to just be, I experienced a profound expansion of love. It turns out that grief was a strengthening agent in the super glue that bonds Tika and I; we are now closer than ever.
Having experienced such compassionate unconditional love, this has brought me on the most insightful and transformative journey of my life. I take great comfort in knowing that whatever lies ahead for me, I am able to move forward with love and grief in my heart, and Tika as my guiding light.
So What Now?
For the majority of Tika’s 14.5 years, I have been single and mother to only her. I share this with you because perhaps it will shed some light onto what Tika really means to me (if it’s not apparent already!). In the absence of children and/or a significant other, all of my love and devotion has gone to Tika. And she was the source that filled my heart with unconditional love.
With Tika’s departure, the heartache I felt was not due to a heartbreak, but rather my heart was so full of love that it was overflowing; I didn’t know where to channel that abundance of love. One of the most important things in life is to feel that you matter and to have a purpose. I mattered to Tika; she needed me as much as I needed her. Being her Mommy was the one thing in my life where I knew what my role and purpose was. So what now?
Path of Discovery
What is my role and purpose now? Where do I put this abundance of love I have to give?
Many have asked if I will get another dog. Like a first love, no other dog will ever take Tika’s place in my life and heart. Of course I absolutely miss the companionship, love, entertainment, and overall enhancement of life that a dog brings. But for the first time in my adult life, I find myself at a critical juncture, with no major obligations and no one needing me. I have some big questions to ponder. Bringing a dog into my life right now (especially on my own) would completely change the possibilities before me. The day will come, I’m sure of it, but I’m not going to rush into anything.
Tika wants me to discover my new purpose. Until I figure it out, I will walk gently down this path of discovery with an open mind and heart. I may not have a roadmap, but I do have my baby girl Tika, my internal compass, guiding me every step of the way.
Sharing is Caring
If you’ve made it this far, Tika and I wish to thank you for taking the time to learn about our journey and for connecting with any emotions that may have surfaced. Feeling those feelings are necessary for growth and healing. It would mean a great deal to us if you helped share this story far and wide, so that it reaches other parents and pets who may be in need of new perspectives, guidance and compassion.
While this story ends with written words on a webpage, Tika’s story is far from over. Her spirit and legacy lives on through all those whom she has touched. I have aspirations to share Tika’s story in a book format and I will begin exploring this. If anyone out there has any connections in the book-publishing world, I’d be ever so grateful for an introduction. If you’d like to keep posted on my progress, be sure to stay connected!
Tika’s Guest Book
If Tika’s story has touched you in any way, please consider signing Tika’s guest book by leaving a comment at the end. How did you come to know about Tika’s story? Has it helped you or your pet? Feel free to share anything from your own experience that might be helpful to other readers, because we’re all in this together.
“Let our hearts be stretched out in compassion toward others, for everyone is walking his or her own difficult path.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing our journey. I hope that our experience enriches your own.