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Grief covers a broad range of experiences, and many of us have felt grief at some point in our lives. Grief can be felt over the death of someone, the loss of a friendship or relationship, divorce, moving, switching jobs, losing your faith, and so much more. Losing a meaningful relationship in life is never easy, including the relationships we have with animals. For many of us, our pets are an extension of our families. Losing a pet means losing a valued member of your family. It may also mean a change in routine for you, which can be hard enough to deal with when you’re not grieving, let alone when you are.
Pet loss is also hard because some folks truly don’t understand the grief it creates. It’s natural to expect support and acceptance from your community while you’re grieving, but sometimes that doesn’t always happen after the loss of a pet.
Remember, there’s no hierarchy of loss.
If you are grieving, you are grieving. There’s no way to do it ‘right’, and there are no qualifications for who is sad enough to be grieving. Anyone who has owned and experienced the loss of a pet will understand the pain you are going through. If you find yourself trying to defend your feelings of sadness to someone, remember that your feelings are valid. You don’t have to defend yourself to someone who doesn’t get it.
When someone you know is grieving after a loss, it can be tough to know what to say or do. If you don’t know what to say, here’s a good place to start: What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving (& What You Can Say Instead)
Talk about it
Ignoring your feelings and your grief is not going to help you work through them. Talk about your feelings with someone close to you. If there was someone else who was close to the animal, supporting each other through this grief may be helpful, since they understand exactly what you’re going through. If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable sharing these feelings with, try writing them down in a journal.
Process any guilt you feel
Sometimes the grief of losing a pet is compounded by feeling guilty over your care of the animal. Some people blame themselves for the illness of a pet, for deciding it was time to euthanize, or for a number of other things. Remember: you did the best you could for your pet. Choosing to end their suffering is humane and part of your responsibility as a pet owner. It’s a devastating decision to make, but overloading yourself with guilt won’t make your grief go away.
There is no timeline for grief. If it takes you a different amount of time to process your loss than it did for someone else, that’s okay! You need to do what works for you. Your pet was a daily part of your life, and it’s going to be hard to adjust to not having them around anymore. If little reminders set you off emotionally after the loss of a pet, remember that’s normal. You’ll probably be going through the grieving process for a while, so don’t punish yourself for not grieving ‘fast enough’.
Have some kind of memorial
Try to find some sort of way to memorialize your pet. You may want to hold some sort of service to remember your pet (this can be especially helpful to give children an opportunity to say goodbye). You could make a donation to a local vet office or humane society in memory of your pet. You could plant a tree or other plant in their memory. There are many ways to honor your lost pet, so try to find one that works for you.
Feel your feelings
Grieving is a process that requires acknowledging our feelings. It is going to hurt. There’s no way to avoid that pain, and ignoring it will just make it worse. The way we feel has a direct impact on our mental and physical health, so it’s important to acknowledge our feelings instead of burying them away. When you lose a pet, you may be feeling anger, sadness, disbelief, fear, devastation, loneliness, and so many other emotions. Whatever comes up, let it.
Find a support group
A community can be valuable in times of grief. If you don’t have anyone in your life who understands your loss, consider looking for a support group for pet loss near you. If you can’t find one locally, ask your vet office if they know of any. You can also look on Facebook or other social media sites for a virtual community to support you during this time.
Losing a pet is hard. It often feels like losing a treasured family member, and it’s natural and normal to feel sad, express your feelings of grief and sorrow, and need time to process the impact this loss has had on your life. If you are grieving the loss of a pet and you’re looking for more support during the process, one of our therapists can help. Contact us today!