By Athena Cardiasmenos, MSW, One Health Organization volunteer
Anyone who’s deeply loved a pet knows the intense pain that follows the death of a pet. I know how it feels.
For many of us, our relationship with our pet is one of the most important relationships in our lives. That’s why the death of a pet is such a significant loss. Our pets are our best friends, confidants, and members of our family. They bring us love, laughter, joy, and companionship. For some, they are a lifeline to keeping healthy, such as service dogs and therapy animals. Unfortunately, sometimes the loss of our pet is minimized by society, which can leave us isolated in our grief.
When a person dies, we usually have some sort of ceremony or ritual to honor them. It’s understood that those who are grieving need time to heal before they can fully function.
When a pet dies, we might feel rushed to “move on” or feel pressured to “get over it” and function as if things are normal. Of course, things aren’t normal. We lost someone who was very close to us and we’re grief stricken. We need to give ourselves permission to grieve and time to heal.
There’s no formula to grieving over a pet, but there are common stages or emotions people go through such as anger, guilt, denial, and immense sadness. Many people feel okay one minute and overwhelmed by intense emotions the next. Let yourself have your feelings, whatever they may be, rather than suppressing or ignoring them. There isn’t a time limit or way you are supposed to feel. Grief is different for everyone and also changes with every loss.
Grief, while completely normal, is a very difficult experience. Though nothing will take the pain away, the following suggestions may help you to move through the process:
Most of all, be patient and kind to yourself. Trust that you know what is right for you. You’ve probably been through loss before and you know more than you think about what you need to heal. Remember the unconditional love that your pet gave you and know that he/she would want you to continue feeling that love and treating yourself as they treated you.
If you think you may need or want more support to help you cope with the loss of a pet, please consider learning more from these professionally developed resources:
If you’d like to speak to someone who understands that losing a beloved pet is like losing a family member, please consider reaching out to one of these groups by phone:
Understandably, we cannot guarantee that the above will help you feel better. We do hope you find this of some help.
We wish you well and peace of mind.