It’s never easy to say goodbye. But is grieving the loss of a pet as difficult and real as grieving a person?
For a lot of pet owners, it is.
The bond we have with our pets is different than our bonds with other people. We care for our pets like parents, we talk to them like best friends, we share some of our most private moments with our pets. They’re there for us at all hours. Pets never judge us and stick by our sides no matter how difficult life may be. They’re a part of our daily routine, too. Whole parts of our day are structured around taking care of a pet’s needs.
When a pet is gone, we lose a lot more than just an animal. We lose a walking companion for those long, early-morning strolls around the neighborhood. We lose a movie night snuggle buddy. We lose a listener for when we’re thinking out loud. We lose a five o’clock dinner date.
Society permits grieving for the loss of a member of the family. But if that member of the family has four legs and a tail, it can feel almost shameful and silly to mourn.
For every pet I’ve lost, I remember crying hard and mourning for a time. I’ve had friends who never seemed to be very affected by the loss of a pet; other friends were devastated by their pets’ passings. Mourning a pet is a very personal thing. There is no standard, acceptable length of time for mourning, and no typical reaction to the death of a pet. There are, however, some things to keep in mind and ways to move forward with life while remembering a pet fondly.
First, it’s important to acknowledge what you’re feeling. Search your heart and put words to what you’re feeling. More importantly, remind yourself that what you’re feeling is real and valid.
Shortly after the death of a pet, it may be helpful to take a scheduled break from your day to remember a pet in private. Perhaps use this time to keep a journal to write out your feelings and memories. Try to keep this moment contained. When you’re done, move on to a different task. Take a brisk walk, clean a room, do some yoga or engross yourself in a puzzle to clear your mind.
Try to memorialize your pet in some way. Make a scrapbook, create a piece of artwork or start a blog and fill it full of your favorite memories of your pet. If you’re not the artistic type, comissioning a work of art featuring your pet or buying something that reminds you of your pet may help just as well. Some people place stepping stones or statues in their gardens to help them remember their pets.
Volunteer work can help take your mind off your pet’s absence while channelling your energy towards a greater good. Volunteering for an animal shelter can help you share your love with animals who need it. If you find this painful, bond with your fellow humans for a charity, non-profit or organization.
Connect with your support network. Now is when you need your friends, peers and family most; finding new friends or solidifying your bonds with the people in your life is extremely important at this time. Even if they don’t understand your loss, they can help you focus on your life and having fun.
If you find yourself dwelling on your pet’s death or it interferes with your ability to live a normal life, it may be necessary to seek a third party to discuss your feelings with. A counselor can help you sort through your grief and uncover ways to cope. If you feel guilt or uncertainty regarding your pet’s death or the circumstances surrounding it, your counselor will be able to help you assess your role and come to terms with the loss. If you think you may be experiencing depression stemming from the loss of your pet, seek help with a medical professional right away.
Grieving a pet is different for every pet and for every pet owner. It’s important to admit to yourself that you are feeling grief, then find ways to channel that grief into more positive outlets. The loss of a pet may be heartbreaking, but focusing on the good times with your pet may help you move on.