This has been a tough article to write and research. For those of us who love our animals, the mere thought of losing them brings us to tears. Then there are the reactions of our friends and family to our grief. Those reactions are mixed.
Have you been able to admit that you are grieving a pet? Have you felt embarrassed or defensive about grieving for your pet? Many people do not understand the connection between humans and their pets, and their attitude is that it’s ‘just an animal’. Those of us who love our pets know that there is an intense bond. Most pets have unique personalities that are known, understood and brought out only by living with them. There is nothing like being loved unconditionally and our pets are often a source of comfort and companionship. Who wouldn’t be sad about the loss of a relationship like that?
Helpguide.org has the following helpful tips on coping with the loss of a pet. They offer similar tips for helping children and seniors cope with the loss of a pet, and advice on when to get another pet.
- Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
- Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends, family members, therapist, or clergy do not work well with the grief of pet loss, find someone who does.
- Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
- Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion.
- Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.
- If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but may also help to elevate your outlook too.
There are resources to help you deal with your grief. Cynthia Rylant, a Newberry Medalist, has written Dog Heaven $10.00.
Cat Heaven $13.50.
Both books are appropriate for ages 4 and up. These books are best-sellers and are delightful.
For adults, The Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice from Family Therapists is very popular and gets rave reviews. $11.50.