The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Lessons Learned: Coping with Loss at College


The week of April 7, 2019, was probably one of the hardest weeks of my life.

At the age of 11, my dog Simba suddenly passed away from a sickness he developed a few days earlier.

My parents, not wanting my last memories of Simba to be of him in pain, didn't let me know what was going on until the end, so I was unable to see him in his last few days. Of course, this angered me at first. But in the long run, I understand the reasoning behind it. Nevertheless, I was heartbroken.

I had lost family members before—a few grandparents when I was younger, and my 97-year-old great-grandmother when I was home for winter break in January of this year. But for some reason, losing Simba hit harder. It was like losing a best friend.

Basically, every day when I got home from school growing up, I would come home with the expectation he would be sitting at the front door, or on the stairs going up toward the main floor of my house, ready for me to give him hugs, love, and affection. When I had a bad day at school or something like that, his happy-go-lucky attitude was a source of happiness that I could look forward to. When both of my siblings left for college, he was the friend I always had at home.

To me, losing Simba transcended losing a pet; it was like ending a tie to my childhood. I woke up every day, from third grade when we adopted him to when I left for college, knowing I’d see his face and that he would bring me joy. In a way, he supported me as I matured from a boy into becoming a man, providing a sense of consistency as I went through life’s changes. He was there every step of the way.

I’m aware that a lot of people have probably dealt with bigger losses in their lives than losing a pet. I couldn’t imagine losing a close family member or someone like that, but I think losing Simba, and especially not seeing him at the end, put a lot of things into perspective for me.

Simba and my family
Simba and my family on Thanksgiving last year.


With an aging pet, I knew every time I left home that it was always possible this could happen. Nevertheless, you never know when the last time you’re going to see someone is going to be, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed every possible moment I could with him. Coping with this loss was admittedly hard; in the days following, it was basically impossible to not think and be sad about it. Your pet might only be a small portion of your life, but it’s good to remember you are their entire life. And I think we gave him the best possible life he could live.

What might’ve added to the stress of the situation was a bit of fear of returning home. I didn’t return home until the end of the school year in early May, but I was basically dreading it for a whole month, fearing the feeling of emptiness in my house. And that’s kind of how it felt when I finally did get home: empty. I particularly felt bad for my parents in this case as they spent basically thirty years with someone to take care of at home, whether it be myself, my siblings, or Simba. I didn’t really know how they’d cope with the situation, so I think I probably checked in with them several times more often than I normally do when I was at school. It probably helped that I was living at home all summer long too, but I still feel a bit bad for them knowing they don’t have anyone to parent anymore. But they’re tough, and I know they can handle it. I’ve tried to convince them to get another pet sometime in the future, but I still think they need more time to mourn before moving on like that.

In the end, I don’t think there’s a day that goes by when I don’t really think about Simba. After getting over the initial shock, it’s comforting to think of the positivity he brought to me and my family’s lives. The joy he brought to us was immeasurable, and I’m forever grateful he was a part of it. As a dog lover, I’m enamored by the sight of other people’s dogs, and it brings me back to the happy memories I spent with Sim. Just about every dog owner is convinced that their dog is the best dog on Earth, and I honestly think that’s fairly accurate; the personal connection between owner and dog is immeasurable as both sides of the relationship reflect their personalities onto one another. I couldn’t have asked to be raised with a better best friend, Simba McGee, the greatest dog in the world. Rest in peace.