Zac – the difference between the death of a dog and the death of a child


 I’ve been trying to write about my first year without Clea. I’ve even gone so far as to have the manuscript assessed. The report provides some very good points and it is obvious that the manuscript requires a lot more work. I appreciate most of the comments by the assessor but there is one particular point where I take exception.

The assessor has written that he or she loses sympathy for me because I fail to understand the correlation between the death of my daughter and the death of someone’s pet. I retell the story of a colleague at work telling me that when her dog died, she planted a tree in the garden to nurture. To lose a pet, the assessor says, can be as devastating as losing a child.

It is obvious that I did not explain myself well otherwise I do not believe anyone would make that statement. The assessor says, it is possible that I do not understand the deep connection or love a person has with their cats, dogs, etc. I do not know who the assessor is and I do not want to know but I would like to set the record straight.

I grew up on a farm with many animals around. Some of these animals were for work or for food but some were well loved pets – cats and dogs mainly. My siblings and I would spend hours playing with our pets, dressing the kittens and puppies in dolls clothes and attempting to keep them in the doll’s pram. We spent most of our childhoods playing with our dogs and cats.

There was one particular dog; Zac was his name. He was a special dog. He was my loyal and faithful friend for more than 12 years. He stood by me during a toxic and volatile relationship. He was still there when I married my husband. Zac was loved and did love. If I went away for a weekend, he would refuse to eat. If my husband went away, he would sleep in the flower bed beneath our bedroom window – he did not normally sleep there. I have very fond memories of Zac.

Zac developed a heart condition where the blood was pumping into his stomach. Initially, I thought he’d simply eaten too much wool during shearing. He was bloated and had to take medication. Like any dog, he hated tablets but I would force them down his throat hidden in butter. Eventually, I had to make the decision to have him put down. I paid the extra money to have the vet come to the farm, about half an hour from the nearest town, because I wanted to bury him at home and I did not want to undertake the journey of taking him to the vet and then returning with his dead boy.

I sat next to him in the sun early that morning, patting him as the vet injected the toxin into his body. I watched the life leave his body and I lifted his limp body and placed it in the grave my husband had dug in the parched earth. We placed a special white rock on top of his grave and it is still there today. I have not wanted another dog because I found his death so upsetting. I said at the time that it felt worse than my miscarriage the year before because I knew Zac; I did not know the life within my body.

Losing a pet is more common than losing a child and therefore it is easier to understand such a loss. There are many people who have lost a pet and they feel deep sadness. I do not doubt that and I have felt it myself. Luckily, it is not common to lose a child and not many people have to cope with the tragedy of such a loss.

I do know what it is like to lose a pet. I also know what it is like to lose a child. There is no correlation, believe me. Those who say there is a correlation, have never lost a child. It is almost an insult to try to compare the loss of a child with that of a pet.

I fed, bathed, cuddled and cossetted Zac but I did not give birth to him and hold his hand as he told me his dreams for the future. My future was not destroyed by his death and I did not cry almost daily for more than two years following his death. I did not feel his death weighing heavily within my heart and soul. I did not mourn the loss of his dreams, his expectations and his life. He was not my child.

The colleague also mentioned nurturing plants and the assessor noted that I did not understand the nurturing of plants as being like that of nurturing children or animals. We have been given a number of plants since Clea died. We have planted camellia bushes, magnolia, dwarf apple, azalea and a fig tree in our garden. My husband has also planted many flowering plants that he now grows only for our daughter’s grave. We have also planted Clea’s Rose beneath Clea’s bedroom window. And yes, dear assessor, you are right, I definitely fail to see the connection between nurturing plants or animals with that of nurturing children.

So dear assessor, I think it is you who fails to understand the devastating loss of a child. It is also me who did not explain this devastation properly. I am not impervious to the suffering of others but it is my fault that that is how you think of me.


About huntersoledad

Mother of three. Bereaved mother of one. Survivor and victim of 2009 Samoan tsunami. Could be if would be writer.
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5 Responses to Zac – the difference between the death of a dog and the death of a child

  1. Losing a child is so devastating…there is no way that it compares to the death of a pet. I agree.

  2. insaniteen says:

    The idea that the assessor had the audacity to tell you that you didn’t understand correlation between death of a pet and death of a child is astounding. You have handled that feedback with grace and dignity. Congratulations for that. I’m not sure I would do as good of a job. It is not the same, losing a child versus losing a pet. Both are difficult, both can be devastating, both can cause grief. Still, it is not even close to the same. It is the assessor’s inability to fathom the devastation that comes with losing a child that is the issue.

  3. Nat says:

    So true – there is nothing that can compare with the loss of a child. The assessor is unfortunate in his/her choice of words and obviously ignorant to this kind of grief. Keep writing the way you feel you want to write because you are touching so many hearts and keeping Clea’s memory alive in all our hearts. xox Nat

  4. griefsupportservices says:

    You are absolutely right- someone who compares the loss of a child to the loss of a pet is frankly, insensitive and definitely not the person who should be assessing your writing. That person clearly doesn’t have a good understanding of loss and grief. I have experienced several significant losses, including pets who were like children to me. I also lost my baby daughter and there is no way you could ever compare her death to that of a pet or to any other death that I have experienced, including that of my father. People who haven’t lost a child just can’t understand what it’s like living with that every day for the rest of your life and it is very difficult to find the words to make them feel it. It has been many years now and I have learned much about this which is why I am embarking on a new line of work to try to help people understand how different it is. I wish you strength and hope as you continue to share your thoughts and memories with others. cindy

    • Absolutely. Well said. Although I understand people get very attached to their pets and do grieve the loss, I struggle to not be offended when the death of a pet is compared as equal to the death of a child…and have to remind myself that they simply do not understand the depth of loss when a child dies. I pray they never have to go through such a loss.

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