Anyone that has ever had their heart stolen by a pet, knows there comes a time to say goodbye. But the loss of a beloved companion can set even the steeliest of humans into a grief-stricken spiral.
Sure, we are told the old adage of “time heals all wounds” but what about the immediate emotional turmoil we are experiencing? Will we ever be able to look at Fluffy’s” favorite spot without bursting into tears? Read on for some helpful tips on how to cope with pet loss.
The Commonalities of Grief
There are four common emotions people may experience after the loss of a pet.
- Playing the “blame game” is common for pet parents that have lost a pet tragically through an accident. However, beating yourself up for “not being more careful” will only add to your misery and prolong your anxiety. Guilt may also surface through a financial burden that prevented you from furthering treatment on an ailing animal.
- Some folks have a difficult time accepting the fact that Fluffy is actually gone and may even believe their pet is still alive and suffering somewhere. Others may even resist the temptation of getting another pet as it feels like a betrayal to their former companion.
- This emotion can be directed towards a veterinarian (for not saving a sick pet) or someone that may have accidently caused the death of the pet.
- Depression. Although a natural emotion, extreme depression can rob you of power and motivation and will only prolong the healing process.
The Individuality of Grief
No two individuals experience grief in the same manner, so what may seem “normal” to an outsider, may not be a reality for you. Know and accept that working your way through the grieving process is a personal matter that may bring with it highs and lows, good days and bad. There’s no “proper” way to grieve. In addition, there’s also no set time for how long your grief should last for; some pet parents grieve for weeks, months and even longer.
Don’t try to force or ignore the grieving process. Let it happen naturally and give yourself the permission to go through your mixed emotions on your own timetable.
Tips on How to Cope With Grief
The individuality of grief is as unique as our own fingerprints, but once you’ve identified those feelings, there are healthy ways to deal with them. Here are some helpful tips on how to cope with grief.
Talk About It
Find people you can talk about your beloved pet with and reminisce about the fun times and laughter they brought to your life. Sharing your pain and feelings with an understanding friend or family member can be very healthy and will help in the healing process.
If you are having a difficult time finding the support you need, go beyond your immediate circle and look online for pet loss support groups, your pastor or even a therapist if you get too overwhelmed.
Don’t Feel Rushed
Don’t let anyone tell you how long you may grieve for. Everyone goes through loss in their own way, so cry or don’t cry, be angry, laugh and remember at your own pace without embarrassment or a time-schedule.
Do the Rituals
Holding a funeral for your pet or having a gathering in memory of your beloved companion can help you and those closest to your pet openly express their feelings. Ignore the naysayers that try to tell you it’s “ridiculous and unnecessary.”
Create a Memorial
Planting a tree, making a scrapbook or putting your pet’s ashes in a special place in your home are all ways to remember and honor the memory of you departed companion.
Look After Yourself
Sadness and grief can create stress on our bodies. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, nutritious food and exercise to release those feel good endorphins when moving through the loss of your pet.
Maintain Your Surviving Pets’ Routine
Remember the loss of a pet may also affect a surviving animal companion. In addition, some pets are very intune to the emotions of their pet parent. When the loss of their buddy occurs, try to keep as closely to their normal routine as possible. You may also want to increase playtime or walks in the park to help you both through the grieving stage.
How to Deal With Pet Loss When Others Devalue It
We’ve all most likely encountered people who devalue the love we have for our pets. They may tell us, “it was just a dog, get over it.” These people just assume the emotions we are feeling are not the same they would be for the loss over a human or that it’s somehow “inappropriate” to grieve the loss of a companion pet. These type of people may never had experienced the loss of or even the deep love for a pet, so it’s best to;
- Not argue with them over what is “appropriate” or not.
- Don’t force the issue with them and accept you may have to go outside your normal circle of friends/family to find the support you are seeking.
- Look to those that have lost a pet and feel the same emotional trauma as you do to share your feelings with.
Children and Pet Loss
It’s one thing for adults to lose a pet, but for children it can be a scary and confusing time in their lives. This could be the first time they have experienced a death, so there are ways to handle this delicate situation.
According to Kids Health there are ways to deal with the loss of a pet to help your child through this stressful time and the tactics will vary depending on the age and maturity level of your child. However, it is never recommended to “sugar coat” the death by saying the pet has “ran away” or “went to live on a farm” as this can leave the child even more confused and upset. If your child’s pet has passed here are some specific tips to help them through the process.
Be Open With Your Own Grief. Children learn by example so it’s okay to express your grief openly in front of your child.
Reassure Your Child. Questions may arise from your child and even fears of you dying so reassure them that the death of Fluffy wasn’t there fault that pets don’t live as long as humans etc.
Involve Your Child. If euthanization of the pet is imminent involve your child in the process like letting them spend quality time before the procedure to say goodbye. Of course, this tip is also dependant on the age and maturity level of your child.
Create a Memorial. Creating a momento such as a special college or a picture frame for your pet is a great way to open discussions with your child on the death as well as letting them create a lasting memory of the beloved companion.
Don’t Rush the Replacement. Although, this may feel like the best way to heal the wounds of death, rushing in a replacement actually sends the message that the feelings of grief can be simply overcome by buying a replacement pet. Let your child mourn his/her loss for as long as it takes before thinking about a new pet.
Explaining Euthanasia to a Child
When a pet is extremely ill or suffering and there are no other options, euthanasia is likely the kindest option left. If you have young children then you will have to give them an explanation as to what is going to happen to the pet.
This can be done by explaining that Fluffy is very ill and that putting him to sleep is the kindest thing to do. Explain that Fluffy will be given a very special injection and that he won’t feel any pain. Afterwards, Fluffy won’t be coming back, but he also won’t be sad and in any more pain. Depending on your religious affiliations you may want to tell the child his/her pet is now in heaven and is playing happily with all the other animals.
It’s also important that the child not feel guilty. If the animal is being euthanized for the proper reason, your child should be told it’s okay to feel sad, but it was the most humane and kind thing to do for the ailing animal.
Seniors and Pet Loss
The loss of a pet when you are a senior can be more impactful than for those younger individuals. Pets offer so much in the lives of a senior that the loss of that bond can be extremely difficult. But there are ways to help with the healing process.
Find New Joy and Meaning. Caring for a pet can boost morale and give you a sense of purpose. Try finding new purpose by picking up a hobby, volunteering or helping your friends with their pets.
Stay Connected. If your dog has passed, don’t neglect seeing those folks at the dog park or places you regularly connected with other pet parents. If you don’t feel you want to get another dog, then ask a neighbor if you can walk their dog to the park. Staying connected with people and keeping busy can all help the healing process.
Stay Active. If your pet kept you active, don’t give that up because of his/her passing. Find new activities to boost your physical and mental activity. Shutting yourself in will only make you feel worse.
It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye
Our pets are like family to us so it’s never going to be easy to say goodbye. Whether the passing is sudden or you have to be the one to make the decision, following these helpful tips can help you and your family through the grieving process. And one day when you are ready, you can give another deserving pet the awesome life it craves.