Grieving the Loss of Your Beloved Pet

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As a pet parent, you know that your beloved pet is as much a member of your family as your human counterparts.  Therefore, it is normal for the loss of a beloved service animal or animal companion to trigger the same feelings of grief and sadness as any major loss would elicit.  In fact, the intense feelings of loss may surprise you and some may even have trouble understanding how you can exhibit such strong emotions for the loss of “a pet”.   The reality is, Loss is Loss and the feelings you are having are normal and valid!  The connection we have and the love we both give to and receive from our animal companions is real and therefore it is natural to grieve over such a loss.

Coping with that grief can be difficult.  The loss of a pet can manifest in many ways such as felling like you’re in a “haze”, sleep issues, changes in your eating habits, daily routines, depression, tiredness or difficulty focusing.  You may find yourself dealing with the death of your pet in unexpected ways.  In addition, the other animals in your home may deal with this loss through exhibiting similar behaviors as listed above.  Here are some quick tips to help you through the grieving process.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

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First, accept that grieving the loss of a beloved animal companion is absolutely normal and allow yourself time to grieve. Each person responds to loss differently -  crying, guilt, anger, reminiscing, or reaching out for comfort are all ways to cope with the loss of a pet.  Often times, the feelings of loss come in waves.  It may take many weeks or months to go through the grieving process. No matter how long it takes, allow yourself to express your emotions.

Unfortunately, it is common for colleagues, friends, and family to not fully understand your loss.  In such cases, it might be helpful to turn to people who understand the bond you had with your animal companion.  This is a good time to turn to friend or family member who feels the same way about pets as you do.  Also, support groups, a counselor or other pet los resource are available to help cope with your grief.

What are the Stages of Grief?

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Studies in grief show that there are five stages of grief that most people typically go through, whether they are mourning the loss of a pet or a human family member. You may experience these stages in sequence, or you may cognitively experience a couple of the stages.  Recognizing the stages of grieving does not make them easier to go through, but it may provide some comfort knowing that the emotions you are feeling are normal, part of the process, and will ultimately lead to healing.   You should also know that you are not alone in this process and there are people with whom you can speak; family, friends, and professionals, about your grief.

1. Denial is a natural response to the shock of death. The more your pet has been a part of your life, the harder it can be to imagine life without him or her. Dealing with the realities of death can be much more difficult if you suppress your feelings of guilt, grief and loss.

2. Anger includes all of your expressions of unhappiness about the situation. When anger is accepted and expressed safely, it can motivate action. If you get stuck in blame, guilt or bitterness, your anger can be destructive.

3. Bargaining includes your attempts to remain in control. Sometimes bargaining can be unrealistic—for example, you may pledge to attend religious services or participate in volunteer work if you could have your pet back.

4. Depression is the psyche’s attempt to muffle the feelings of loss. Extreme sadness is often mixed with doubts and fears about the meaning and nature of life. Depression includes feelings of hopelessness and overwhelming sorrow. Your energy level can drop swiftly, making it difficult to do daily tasks or maintain a healthy and productive lifestyle.  Remember, your daily routines have just changed.  You may even think you “See” or “Hear” your pet around the house.  This is an important time to reflect on the good memories you have of your pet and find ways of moving toward the acceptance of his or her loss.

5. Acceptance comes when you can finally feel and integrate all the feelings of loss: powerlessness to prevent death, loss of identity, sadness, gratitude, joy, hope, and anger. Having faced loss, you are likely to appreciate life more and will be able to learn from your experience.  It is also good to spend time with your other pets as they have just gone the loosing their companion.

How Will My Other Pets Deal with This Loss?

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Pets often form strong attachments to one another, and a surviving pet will notice the absence of his or her companion. An animal that has experienced the loss of a friend may react in a way similar to you. Your other pet may show signs of depression: tiredness, loss of appetite, lack of interest in favorite activities, change in habits, and so on.  If this is the case, give your pet more attention and affection.  Engage in a favorite activity, invite human friends your pet likes for a visit and hide toys and treats in his or her favorite spots to find during the day. Like you, it may take a while for your pet to adjust to the loss.  Be patient – time is the one thing that may help.

What is the Best Way to Memorialize My Pet?

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People choose to remember their pets in a variety of ways. Some have a funeral for their animal companions, while others create a scrapbook or other similar keepsake.  Many people display urns at their home or even keep their pet’s cremated remains close to them at all times.  Other ways to honor your pet include planting a tree in their honor; donating time or money to a humane society or animal rescue organization in your pet’s name; creating a memorial at home, or sharing stories and memories about your pet with friends and family.

Should I get a New Pet Right Away?

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Pets are not interchangeable.  Just like us, each pet has their own distinct personality, and while it may be tempting to fill the void of your loss by adopting or obtaining a new pet, it is often best to wait until you have finished mourning. When you do make the decision to obtain a new animal companion, remember that your new family member will not be unique. His or her personality and behavior will be different, and it is unfair to compare your new friend to your previous one. This may mean choosing another type of pet or different breed. Follow your instincts in whatever decision you make. As a pet parent, you will know when the time is right to bring a new pet into your life.

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-Dmitri

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