Redefining my grief

Reflecting on how I dealt with the loss of my dog

Matthew Yoshimoto

At 2:45 a.m., sprawled across my bed in pitch darkness, I was startled by the sound of my door creaking open and the sight of my mom’s silhouette in the doorway. Before I even got a chance to sit up, my mom blurted out a sentence:

“Matthew, we have to say goodbye.”


“We have to say goodbye to Kirby.”

At that moment, my mind grew disoriented and overwhelmed with denial. My disbelief persisted even as I sat in the ICU petting him for the last time. Only six hours earlier, my dog’s veterinarian had estimated that Kirby had two months to live — which in itself was difficult to hear. But all of a sudden, the unthinkable became a reality. Just yesterday I was outlining exactly how I wanted to spend his final months, from taking him on a walk whenever he pleased to going on daily night drives so he could peek his head out the window. But now, he was gone.

During the months following his passing, it felt like I was reliving the loss over again every time I got out of bed. His sudden and unexpected absence in my daily life created changes that I did not anticipate. He was no longer there at the foot of the bed, wagging his tail with his eyes lit and ears alert. Every breakfast without him searching for crumbs under the table, every afternoon without him jumping on me when I returned home and every night without our routine game of fetch became an unwanted reminder that he was gone. 

No matter how hard I tried, I could not hide from the reality of the loss. Initially, I tried my best to run away from my grief by distracting myself with schoolwork and watching TV. Yet ironically, watching TV is what helped me come back to reality and come to terms with his passing. 

A phrase I heard during my re-binge of the Marvel series “WandaVision” sparked this change in mindset. In an episode, one of the characters, Vision, said to his loved one, Wanda, after the loss of her brother: “What is grief if not love persevering.” When I heard that simple yet profound sentiment, every emotion I was too afraid to confront flooded my mind. Instead of viewing grief as a detriment in my life, I redefined my grief as love with nowhere to go, which prompted me to embrace the process of grieving for the first time.

My new perception of grief encouraged me to direct my “persevering love” toward something productive rather than tarnishing Kirby’s memory by surrendering myself to negativity. I acknowledged that these intense emotions were temporary and would subside in time, which reignited my desire to live my life fully in honor of Kirby. 

By allowing my grief to permeate my mind as opposed to deflecting the harsh reality, I learned how to accept his passing and move beyond my own sorrow. Although he will never again swipe one of my snacks from the table, vigorously chase a squirrel around the backyard or yank his leash upon seeing another dog, his shadow still follows me everywhere I go. And by imagining that he is watching over me, his memory provides me with the comfort he did when he was still here.

Only when I gave myself permission to face my emotions head-on did I discover the benefits of embracing the grieving process. Despite how unwilling I was to accept the truth, I recognized that understanding my grief was an imperative step that not only preserved the legacy of my loved one but also equipped me with the armor to face adversity later in life.