Per Psych Central’s Pet Mourning site as well as PetLovers.com’s similar site, guilt is a pretty normal part of this process. On one hand, “normal” makes it feel better. On the other hand, if it was really so normal, it wouldn’t be guilt. Guilt, IMO, is rooted in feeling like your actions are not justifiable, not warranted. Clearly, *something* tells us that our actions were wrong somehow, and that leads to guilt. What that something is…hell, I could spend a year thinking and still not know. There’s the fairy tale endings of movies and TV shows, where the characters rarely make these kind of questionable decisions (or when they do, it works out for the best in the end). There’s one’s own feeling of power over things we really don’t control. I’m sure that last part is a big contributor. If a fully hatched adult person dies, you usually know there was very little if anything you could do to stop them from dying. You’re not their doctor. You aren’t personally responsible for their well-being, whether they eat poorly or not, etc. But with a pet (and I’m guessing with a child), you are responsible. They do not make decisions about their health; you do. They don’t voice concerns; you guess their concerns and react. They don’t buy their food and medicine; you do. So, as a pet owner, you feel guilt at their passing, because you feel responsible for them. (This could lead to all sorts of theological wondering…does an overhanging deity, if such a being exists, feel guilt when each of us dies? Or are we considered independently responsible for our fate?)
To bring this wandering back to my personal situation, I have guilt. I have guilt that I was late in giving her medicine that day. I have guilt that I didn’t take her into emergency immediately…that I waited thinking it was a hairball or something similar. I have guilt that I didn’t let them cut her open and remove the growths/tumors that may have been the ultimate cause 2-3 months ago, that I didn’t have them biopsied at the very least. There’s guilt every time my mind finds a silver lining…that I don’t need to call the catsitter to arrange for care while we’re at Bridge Nationals in a few weeks…that I can prop a door open to bring in groceries without worry. I think that’s a “normal” shame to feel, too. If you’re a caretaker for anyone, and that being passes on…there’s a relief, a rush of freedom. And then there’s the guilt that comes with euthanasia…did I do it at the right time? Did I assess the situation correctly? Was she scared? Without being able to really tell me, was she begging me to stop? Or was it a welcome relief? It’s nice to think it’s the latter, but as I’ve mentioned before, my brain is mean to me. And, I darn well know that neurologists have pretty much proven that cats and dogs have very little sense of future…like babies to some extent. The present is all there is to them. They don’t “know” that pain will go away. They don’t “know” that tomorrow the weather will be different than today. They react to what is in front of them, what is current. That being the case, having any thought of Maggie knowing what was right for her and thus having any opinion on the matter is ridiculous. She didn’t know; I had to know for her. And in my logical head, I know that we fought the things we could fight…and we let her go when it became apparent that though battles could be won, the loss of the war was imminent…and that the collateral losses along the way would be many. Blah…I hate using that kind of analogy, but it matches close enough without me having to go into a ton of detail.
I can handle the guilt about everything except the freedom guilt. The freedom guilt really kills me. I would never choose the freedom over Maggie. I mean, please, I always had that option. People give pets away for freedom reasons all the time. Granted, I consider those people horrible, but there you go. I’m not one of those people, else I’d consider myself horrible. But it’s like I feel every time I have a moment of “wow, I don’t have to do X” or “hey, I can do Y now”, a part of me says “NO! BAD PERSON! HOW DARE YOU!” And all of that really comes from an even bigger guilt…did I (and I almost can’t even type this) decide to let her go because of freedom reasons? Of course not, I say to myself…of course not. But I don’t know. It was very fast, it had to be. I can’t go through and say for certain every little factor that came into my head. And every time I feel that “freedom” relief and the subsequent guilt, I’m really questioning that decision, as if somehow leaving a door open was a bloody factor in my head then…and it wasn’t. I damn well know I didn’t think of that, else it wouldn’t be surprising to me now when I realize it…and yet I blame myself like I did.