Grieving Pet Loss – thoughts and feelings
You’ve lost a good friend. Whether the loss was sudden or anticipated, it is never easy.
Everybody grieves differently
There is no one way to grieve the loss of a dear pet. There is no right way, and there’s no wrong way. Some people feel the loss of a beloved pet immediately and move on. Some people feel the loss for years. It is absolutely OK to feel the loss and to express it in whatever manner you wish.
Coping with the loss
Just as the intensity of the feeling of losing a pet is an individual experience, so is the manner in which people cope with the loss of a pet. There is no wrong way. For some people, the pet’s leash, food dish, toys, bed and water bowl will remain in their places for a long time. Some people remove those items immediately. Some save collars or leashes as ways to remember the pet.
There are a number of things you can do to help you yourself and your family cope with the loss of a pet. It helps to get those feelings of grief out. Create a journal or poem about the life of your pet and your feelings. Have each member of the family write about special memories or events with your pet. Add pictures. Write a letter to your pet to let them know how much they meant to you and your family. As time goes, you will treasure this journal. For some, volunteering at their local Humane Society or shelter helps them through the grief. Just stroking a pet in need of love or taking a walk with them is a good stress reduction technique and a way to help you deal with those feelings of grief. For some folks, a photo of their beloved pet is a comforting reminder.
Some families set up a memorial for their pets. This can be done through ‘memorial bricks’ at the local Humane Society or in a special place in your yard or home. You can keep a plaque of your pet’s paw. We have Benji’s ashes with his collar and picture on a shelf. His picture makes us smile every time.
Some people feel the grief of the loss of a beloved pet at an extremely deep level. If this is you, reach out. Reach out to friends or a support group that specializes in coping with pet loss. There are many organizations you can reach out to. There are many who have professional counselors working with the group. They can be of great help for you.
Not everybody will understand
Not everybody will understand how heavy your heart may be right now. There are those who will allow you to grieve as you wish. Some will be supportive. Many will empathize, having experienced a similar loss. And then there will be those who ‘don’t get it’. They may not necessarily come across as kind, sympathetic or understanding. They may not intend to be ‘mean’, they just see their pets and the loss of a pet in a different light than you do. That’s ok, too. Just realize they are in a different place and choose to seek solace with other friends or in another way.
Helping children understand the loss
Children, especially younger children, are not likely to understand that a pet has died. There are parents who will simply replace one gold fish when another, hoping the child might not notice. But the loss of a pet, is a different matter. You can’t replace a dog or cat with another. This is one of those times when parents can teach their children valuable life lessons.
Children can experience a wide range of feelings with the loss of a pet. They may be angry at the parents or veterinarian for not saving their pet. They may be afraid that others they love will die and leave them as well. They may blame themselves for the pet’s death, depending on the circumstances.
Some parents will tell the child that the pet ran away. While this explains the pet’s immediate absence. It also sets the child up as they anticipate that the pet will return at some point. Children also expect significant effort will be made to find the ‘lost’ pet. This is not a path that would be suggested. When the reality is learned, children feel betrayed when they eventually learn the truth.
This is an opportunity to share the grief you’re feeling with your children. Let them know that it’s OK and natural to feel sad. Take some time to share your favorite stories about your pet as a family. It helps to celebrate your pet and let your children know that they will always have those great memories when ever they think about that special pet.
Seniors and pet loss
Sometimes, seniors can feel the loss of a pet more deeply. The death reminds them of their own mortality. They have likely experience an increase in the loss of family and friends. Their pet may have been their only companion. The loss may leave them more lonely. Check in on your friends to see how they’re doing. Help them grieve the loss of their pet.
Occasionally, seniors will consider immediately getting a new pet to ease the loneliness. While it is certainly understandable, it is recommended that plans be made for the care of the pet, in case of the inability of their person to continue to care for them. Puppies, kitten and young animals are energetic and fun, but take a great deal of time to train. Older animals may be a little more even in their behavior but as they age may, as do we all, require more medical care and attention. The shelters are full of pets who are there because of the loss of their person and the family does not wish to care for the pet. It is a sad ending for all that can be avoided with planning and communication..
Other pets in your household
When you have other pets, remember that they may have lost a buddy too. They may whimper, lost interest in eating, be lethargic and generally not themselves. They are grieving the loss as well. If they weren’t close friends, they will still be impacted by your feelings and show distress. Extra attention and love for your surviving pets should help get them through the loss.
However you feel and however you choose to grieve the loss of your beloved pet is the right way for you. It’s OK. Be you. Celebrate a wonderful spirit and life. Grieve in what ever way and in what ever time suits your heart and your family. And, someday, when the time is right, perhaps another furry friend will purr or like or wag their tales into your heart again.