Digital Memories Can Hurt – But Time Heals

Photos preserved on social media and the cloud can surprise us with images of those dogs we've lost.


If you, like me, have posted photos of your dogs on social media for a long time, there’s every chance that you, like me, get regularly smacked in the face by a Facebook “memory” – a picture of your beloved heart dog who passed some time ago. And the longer you have been online, the more dogs you have loved and lost will appear there – sometimes in a group shot!

It’s bittersweet, isn’t it? When you unexpectedly see a photo of a small happy or funny moment that you may have forgotten about without the photo’s resurfacing, it’s just as likely to make you smile as bring tears to your eyes. Well, the smiles get more common the more time that goes by. When I see photos of Rupert, my sweet, sensitive Border Collie who died in late 2003 at the age of 14 years, I smile every time. But I’m still prone to getting weepy if I see a post about Otto, whom I lost last June.

I’m aware that we can delete these old posts so they never are presented to us again as a “Facebook memory” – and I have deleted a few. I still have the photos, and I can look them up in my filing cabinets and on my backup drives. But there are some memories that are too hard to revisit – at least when it happens without warning, or when I don’t have time for processing the feelings that arise when I see the serious, loving gaze of Otto as an old dog; he had such gravitas!

The older the photo, the more likely I can look at it without pain. The older Otto got, the more he acted like a grumpy uncle or behavior cop to my foster dogs and puppies. But when he was young, he used to play with them! It makes me happy to remember that.

It’s far easier to revisit the memories and photos of him as a young dog, still trying to figure out life with humans and new to his role as the leader to and guide for foster puppies and dogs. This makes perfect sense; those memories are farther away from the present and the more painful recent past. Is there a way to change the Facebook settings so they only show us memories that are more than, say, five years old?

Even if there isn’t a way to do that, and even if Facebook serves up are painful reminders of my loss from time to time, I’m glad to have this weird little digital time capsule of my life with my dogs, both the ones who have shared my life for years and years and the dozens of foster dogs who shared my home for just a few weeks or months. I never want to forget any of them.


  1. I recently lost my 8 year old English cocker to cancer and the iPhone sends “memories ” so I keep randomly getting photos of him when I open the phone.I have had 3 dogs pass away in the last 20 years but most were older at least 12 or 13 for the other English cockers and an adopted senior spaniel and 17 for my dachshund.Because he was two days short of being 8 years old and suffered so much with radiation etc it has been like I am under a black cloud of grief.The photos are poignant in the beginning I cried whenever I saw one now I look for all his pictures as solace.I have gone to shelters and one day there will be another dog sometimes I wish it could be another English cocker but I am afraid of hereditary diseases .Living in a dirty city is an issue too and I am planning to move away soon so maybe all I need now is patience .

  2. I also deal with photos that happen to pop up from Facebook of my beloved Ziggy, Daisy and Lily. All Great Danes who I lost in a span of just over one year. The girls were older and yes I knew they were at the end of life. Ziggy he was only 3 years of age and this took me off guard. So looking at pictures of these three is very hard even today marking 3 1/2 years since Ziggy left us. I have 2 more beautiful Great Danes to share my life with Holly and Billy each different in their own way. I love each one of my animals and what they bring into my life and teach me. Most of all the patience and love I share.

  3. I forgot about the iPhone software that sends photos to your phone! Mine isn’t set up that way, but OY! That’s another punch in the gut, or solace, depending. What interesting times! (And I’m sorry for your loss. Only 8 years old! That’s rough.) — NK

  4. I too get reminders from the past from OneDrive. I can relate to how you feel both good and sad. When I see my dog on the couch years ago just looking lovingly into my eyes-nothing compares to the memory of comfort. When I see her at almost sixteen before I put her down, I spiral into sadness for her and miss her dearly. She was a beauty: Chow-Shep, just turned 16, 3 years ago. Have not been able to get another dog as of yet.

  5. Tuesday night I had to let go of my beloved Teddy. From the moment I met him at the rescue, we were devoted to each other. He slept in the crook of my arm for ten years. when I would leave the house, he would wait patiently by the door for my return. He loved meeting new dogs and new people. Anyone who sat on the couch would immediately get a visit and he would sit on the couch next to them and lean on them. He was the most loving dog ever and didn’t deserve what happened to him. It was all so sudden and i’ve never seen a dog in so much pain. I’ve had dogs that I’ve loved and eventually lost for my whole life. But this was such a terrible, horrible ending that I don’t think I could ever bear to have another dog. My husband and I have been crying on and off ever since.

  6. Nancy… this topic is so spot on about how we manage the grief when we have to say good bye to our beloved dogs. And so different for each of us. When does the passing of time alleviate the heartache enough so images give us comfort instead of more pain? I recently touched bases with a companion pet loss doula for guidance on this very issue. We make a remembrance photo collage and I was getting her feedback on the value of this collage for actual healing. Her take was this as it pertains to photos:
    “As you choose which photos to include in this collage, review your time with your precious pet. Select photos that illustrate the loving bond you shared and take a moment to reflect on the beautiful memories you created together.” This kind of seems obvious. But the difference in processing the grief is between spontaneously being shown “Facebook Memories” at random times and consciously selecting those images you want to live with. There’s no easy answer for this heartache we get… but, I’m working on it. Appreciate your bringing up this topic.

  7. And here I sit on the couch, tears flowing as I remember in particular my rescue boy Finbar, lost last mid July after a short battle (3 months) battle with stage 4 oral melanoma. He was a foster and I “failed” when he told me he was staying. He was 7. He almost made it to 13. My comfort was that several days later I was driving, looked up and saw him in a cloud formation. It helps my pain at his loss.

  8. I am insulated from a lot of this as I don’t do Facebook and my iPhone doesn’t sent me these memories that I am aware of. when I open photos it doesn’t give me random memory photos. Maybe I turned that off.

    I could bear to not only see photos of Caesar after he died but any dogs. Couldn’t watch them in movies or TV. I adopted Ramses four months after Caesar died. He kept me occupied, but even now, 25 years later I still tear up on the anniversary of Caesar’s death and now I can go through his photo album and watch him grow from a puppy until he grew old. It saddens me more that I didn’t take more photos of him. I expected Ramses’s death (14 and 9 months) so I had time to prepare but it was still difficult. He remains my avatar in quite a few websites so he is still with me. I couldn’t bear the silence of the house after Ramses passed and adopted Diana 6 weeks later. I have tried to take more photos of her and Freyja, who was adopted three years ago come June. But as any pet parent can probably identify with, it doesn’t matter how many photos or videos you take, it isn’t enough. It’s never enough.