When I was a teenager, we had a lovely cat with beautiful eyes. I remember every afternoon when I returned home from school or from dance lessons, I would stroke my cat gently on the back and feed her from my hand. One day, I returned home from school and called her name but there was no answer. I went around the house whistling and screaming her name but she was nowhere to be found. I still remember my mom pulling me close and giving me the warmest hug I would ever receive. Lo and behold, she had died. I still the remember the look on my mom’s face and how hot the tears streamed from my eyes upon hearing of her death. Almost all pet lovers will have to experience the loss of their pet at some point. The impact of this loss can be devastating. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a foremost expert on grief, suggests that grieving pet owners keep in mind:
The relationship rather than the object (the animal) is central to understand the loss
The manner of death/loss will affect the grieving process
The age and living situation of the bereaved will affect the grieving process
While these factors may affect grief, there are several steps that can help a pet owner cope with their loss and process their grief.
Acknowledge The Loss Of The Pet
The first stage of grief is often denial. It can be a natural to push away your feelings of loss and distract yourself. Distraction can be helpful when pain is overwhelming but at some point, it is important to give yourself permission to feel your grief and pain in the loss of your relationship with your pet.
Strengthen Your Mind to Move Past The Pain
Experiencing emotional thoughts and feelings about the death of a pet is difficult, but important; it is needed to move through to the next stage of grief. A healthy grief journey may come from taking your time to work through your feelings rather than trying to push them away or ignore them. It is important to see grief as a process and understand that if you allow yourself to feel, only then can you open yourself to move past the pain. It is important to accept all feelings: anger, hurt, numbness, depression etc. and know that there is no right way to feel.
Continue Your Relationship Through Memories
Past memories allow you to release some of the pain and open up an opportunity for joy. Embracing memories, both happy and sad, can be an initially painful process but in time can bring you comfort and keep you connected to your pet. Taking some time to look at past photos, creating a memorial or some sort, or visiting certain places you have taken your lost pet for a walk can be therapeutic.
Create a Ritual
With human death we often have the ritual of a funeral. Funerals and other rituals, such as creating memorials or ceremonies, can create a space to grieve with others and allow ourselves to remember our pet and express our grief with the support of our community. The death of a pet can be harder when there is no such ritual that automatically takes place. Creating a ritual that is meaningful to the family can be an important part of the healing process.
Seek Support & Advice From Others
One of the impacts of the loss of a beloved pet can be the feeling of depression. For individuals with a strong connection to their pet, their loss can be devastating. Talking to people who have been through something similar or talking to a therapist who specializes in grief can help. It is important to reach out you are experiencing symptoms of depression such as feelings of hopeless or a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. These feelings are temporary but getting through them can be eased by talking about them and in some cases seeking professional help.