Grieving the Loss of Your Pet

Pet loss

Grieving the loss of your pet

By Cathy Neville, LPC

Loving and being loved by a pet can be an extraordinary exchange of unconditional love, companionship, and loyalty.

Losing that relationship can be devastating and intensely painful.

When a pet dies, some people feel like they’ve lost a family member or their closest companion. For children, it may be a hard first lesson about death. For a senior, it may signal a loss of purpose or connection. For a disabled person, it may mean decreased independence.

Whatever the circumstances, it just hurts.

You miss your friend.

Working through your loss:

  • Let your feelings flow. People are often uncomfortable with grief. You may feel pressured by others to get over it. Don’t hurry your heartache; experience it. It’s okay to hurt. In a way, it honors the depth of your relationship with your pet. Your pet was a loved one. Your pet was your friend. You don’t have to be embarrassed about missing that relationship and you don’t need to suppress or hide it. You’ll let go when you’re ready to let go. Cry, yell, and gradually work your way through the emotions. Don’t rush it.
  • Look for support that understands your pain. Gather people around you that understand the hole left in your life by your pet’s absence. Talk to friends and neighbors who interacted with you and your pet. Find a grief support group online or in your community. Take the opportunity to talk to a counselor about your loss.
  • Forgive yourself. You may be experiencing some guilt depending on the manner of your pet’s death. If the loss was tragic or sudden, it’s natural to feel responsible. It’s important to work through those feelings, rather than suppress them, remind yourself that you did your best to love and protect your pet. If you made the hard decision to euthanize, you may feel an extra measure of responsibility in the loss. Remind yourself why you made that final loving decision. Most likely your pet was suffering. You made the wise decision to ease your pet’s transition from life to death. Take comfort in that.
  • Try to maintain routines. No doubt, it hurts to go on maintaining your regular sleeping and waking schedule, running errands, or exercising, especially if you’re used to having him or her right beside you or greeting you at the door. However, in order to recover, you must take care of yourself mentally and physically. Try to maintain your energy with regular meals, support your ability to cope with rest, and elevate your mood with regular exercise.
  • Treasure the memories.  Honor your pet’s life. Celebrate and share how much your relationship meant to you. A photo album, donation to an animal shelter in your pet’s name, or a tree or shrub planted somewhere meaningful may help bring the happiness you shared with your pet into focus and ease your pain over time.

When other people minimize your pain:

You may find your heartbreak amplified by friends or loved ones who don’t understand, appreciate, or even acknowledge the depth of your feelings for your pet or how close a bond you shared.

Try the following key strategies for managing those moments:

  • Recognize that you have a right to grieve without justifying that grief. Refuse to debate whether or not you should be sad.
  • Accept that though loved ones mean well, they are sometimes not the best gauges of our emotional needs.
  • Consider safe places in which to work through your grief. Share your feelings with a therapist or other people who are invested in helping you move through it.

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