The Loss of a Non-Human Child — The Legitimacy of a Mother’s Grief

I am mourning the loss of my son who was approximately 15 years old. I don’t know his exact age because my husband and I adopted him from a shelter in 2002 when he was about one year old. For 14 years, we shared a deep emotional love. I could not feel happy, at peace or secure without being able to touch him. He slept in our bed every night, curled up against my stomach and I couldn’t sleep unless I was holding him. He brought me joy. I loved him more than I’ve ever loved anyone. I am not ashamed to say he was my son because my love for him was every bit as deep as any mother’s love for her son. And my pain and grief today cuts me to the bone with the same intensity. He was my dog and he is dead. Like every mother whose child has died, my tears could fill the ocean and my sorrow is unbearable.

Like every mother who has lost her child, my life has a hole in it and I can feel his little body in my arms — a ghost I can never smell, touch, hear or kiss again. I sleep on the spot where he died in my bed. My husband feels the same way. He is grieving his boy and for him, losing his boy is the most painful thing that has ever happened to him. He was our child and we are not crazy.

Some people will think that I am diminishing the significance of the grief of mothers who have lost human children but I am not — I am merely pointing out that my grief is equal to the grief every mother feels when she loses her child. I am a vegan and therefore embrace a universal, anti-speciesist, non-violent philosophy — that doctrine requires the empathy to feel a cow’s grief at having her calf taken away from her. I am not saying that I am morally superior; I am saying that I acknowledge a mother cow’s pain as equal to my pain. And I want that acknowledgement and legitimacy from humans for my anguish. The pain of a grieving mother, whatever species she is, whatever species the child is, is a heart-wrenching, soul-destroying ache that sucks the wind out of you, hollowing you out, silent screams ripping from your gut.

A painting by Anna R.

I am not superior in any way — quite the opposite — I am merely able to situate my existence within this world relatively, as an individual who is interdependent with others who do not share the exact DNA that I have. I recognize their pain, whatever species and I want that recognition as a mother. Most humans are oblivious to the pain of individuals belonging to other species as they pile up tortured body parts in their plates. Because of their cognitive dissonance, they feel justified belittling, undervaluing my grief for a dog or a hen or a pig or a cow. I’m supposed to “get over it.” “It’s just an animal.” “ It.” My child was a boy child. He was a HE, not an it.

As a vegan, I am stating, no, I am demanding my right to have my grief be recognized as equal. My pain is valid, undisputable, irrefutable and I am not crazy. Every mother who loses her little one feels exactly like I do today. There are those who will criticize the depth of my grief, accusing me of anthropomorphizing. The word is speciesist on its face and those people who would make that accusation are callous and have never had the joy of a complex, deeply emotional relationship with someone of another species. My grief is every bit as painful because all animals feel anguish and a human mother who has nurtured and mothered a child of a different species deserves respect and the right to grieve equally.

A mother’s anguish — same as mine

That’s right, I’m not ashamed to grieve my son and I hope that others like me will come out of the closet and grieve their loved ones whatever species they are. It is important that our pain be recognized as legitimate. Do not undervalue my love for my child or underestimate my anguish. I am his mother and I will grieve as such.

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