Coping with the death of a pet…
“I have held the hands of friends as they died, baptized stillborn infants, helped families decide when to disconnect life-support systems and worked with parents whose children were murdered. Each of those experiences was painful. Nevertheless, at the moment my cat died, her loss was the very worst kind of grief for me in the whole world . . . Never apologize for grieving. Remind yourself as often as needed that the very worst kind of loss is always yours. Learn to acknowledge that your loss is worthy of grief . . .”
~Bob Deits, Life After Loss
Coping With The Death Of A Pet – Questions About Pet Loss
Taking it hard? It is perfectly understandable for you to be experiencing serious grief over the death of your beloved pet! And don’t let anyone belittle your loss, or take away your right to a fitting bereavement. One of the best things you can do to help yourself is to come to the realization that although most outsiders don’t understand, you are perfectly justified in your deep feelings of grief and loss.
May you find comfort and understand your distraught feelings a little better after reading our pet loss page. Below you will find the answers to these probing questions:
- Why am I devastated over the loss of my pet?
- I am more upset over this than the death of my (friend, relative). Is this wrong?
- What are the normal signs and symptoms of pet death bereavement? What can I expect?
- Should I get another pet?
- How can I help my children deal with the death of their pet?
- How can I deal with people who don’t understand what I am going through?
- I just can’t cope with this loss alone. Where can I get help?
Why am I devastated over the loss of my pet?
You may be surprised at the intensity of your sadness when your pet dies. You may wonder if you are weird to be grieving so deeply over the loss of “just an animal”.
NO, you are not weird or abnormal. It is normal and healthy to mourn the loss of a deep love bond, whether that tie was to a human or an animal.
Outsiders may not understand, so just console yourself with this thought: You hurt deeply because you loved deeply! It shows that you have a big heart and compassion for all of God’s creatures. This is something to be proud of, not ashamed of or embarrassed over. You have lost a beloved member of your family and this deserves a proper bereavement.
I am more upset over this than the death of my (friend, relative). Is this wrong?
It might help you to think realistically about your relationship with your lost pet. The love you received from him was different than the complicated love relationships you might have with humans. Your pet likely adored you! He was always there for you, never criticized you, never held grudges, and always forgave you, no matter what. Are there any humans in your life that have ever given you this selflessly?
For all this love, your pet expected no more from you than a good belly rub or ear-scratching, right? A pet can be the only source of pure, unconditional love that you will ever know. They winnow their way into your heart and become a trusted member of the family; a comforting presence in your intimate day-to-day life. A human acquaintance or relative that doesn’t live with you just cannot impact your emotional life to that degree.
You also receive tactile comfort from a pet; touching, stroking, rubbing their fur. You might even kiss or hug them and confide your deepest thoughts to them, knowing they will never betray your secrets. Your pet has probably seen you naked, in all your glory, and he never told anyone about your big belly or sagging behind!
As Sandi described in our lead story, your pet likely expressed pure joy and excitement when you returned home after an absence. Did your grandfather ever do that?
I am sure that you loved your grandparent, or Aunt Nelly, or even your co-worker who was lost in an accident. And you will grieve properly for them. But the unconditional love your pet gave to you created a different and very strong emotional attachment, a comforting presence that is sure to be missed heartily.
So our message is this: don’t feel guilty for hurting deeply over the death of your pet. Stop comparing the pain of that loss to how you felt about the death of humans in your life. These are two very different kinds of losses, and naturally will be mourned in different but appropriate ways.
What are the normal signs and symptoms of pet death bereavement? What should I expect?
If you had a significant love bond with your pet, your grief can be just as heavy as with a human loss. Click on the two tabs in the NavBar, “Your Pain” and “Coping Strategies”. The information provided in these sections can apply to pet loss grief just as well. There is one major difference, however. You will not have near the social and emotional support that a human death would bring.
In general, our society does not recognize the significance of pet loss or allow for a proper bereavement. You may even be embarrassed or uneasy about expressing your grief to others and may end up feeling isolated and alone in your grief.
When a pet dies, there are no formal and public rituals, like the funeral, where sorrow can be openly expressed and emotional support freely given. You cannot change that, but you can and should validate to yourself that your grief is normal, proper, and nothing to be ashamed of.
It might help you to know that grief, whether over a human or pet death, is an individual thing. Some people take just a few weeks to sort out their grief, while others can take months or even years. The key is to not deny your grief. Let it be, experience it fully, and it will follow it’s own natural course to a successful resolution.
How to help the process? Seek out people who will let you express your grief. A warm, understanding and supportive listener can help tremendously. But be careful about who you choose to confide in; some people just don’t take pet loss seriously.
Should I get another pet?
Do NOT rush to get another pet anytime soon. Your beloved companion who died can never be “replaced”. Each animal is different, with a unique personality and a special bond with its owner that cannot be duplicated. Let your grief run its course, let your bereavement resolve.
You need to be ready emotionally to welcome a new animal into your life. Don’t rush this. You should no more rush to the pet store to get a new pet than a bereaved husband should rush to a dating site to replace his beloved wife!
But when the time is right, do get another pet. Sure, you risk getting hurt again when your new pet dies, but it’s worth the price, don’t you think? Would you have foregone the joys of having and loving your lost pet just because you knew he would die one day?
The act of bringing a new animal into your life shows courage, strength, and hope for the future. Your heart is big enough to eventually welcome another animal to your side!
How can I help my children deal with the death of their pet?
Children feel as sad and emotionally distraught over the loss of a pet as adults do. Never minimize your child’s grief or make him feel ashamed of the sadness he SHOULD be experiencing. Often, adults may think it best to protect or shield children from loss, whether to human or pet death. This is a big mistake.
Honesty is the best policy when dealing with bereaved kids. Tell them honestly how the pet (or human) died, and do not use euphemisms like “went to sleep”, “passed on” or “went to heaven”. Use the words, killed, died or death. Children need concrete explanations, not subtle adult concepts. Make sure they understand that the pet will never come back, but that it was not in any way their fault that the animal died. Arm children with the truth to ensure a healthy grief resolution. Their imagination or “magical thinking” leads them to more fear or guilt than the plain facts ever would.
Once again, do NOT rush out to get your child a “replacement pet”. You will perhaps rob him of a very valuable life-learning experience. He needs to grieve fully the death of his companion and come to a successful resolution of that grief first. Perhaps then your family will be ready to accept another animal into their hearts.
How do I deal with people who don’t understand what I am going through?
These are two biggies you are sure to hear:
- “It was just an animal” or “just get over it.”
- “You can always get another pet”.
Both of these statements by well-meaning friends show a profound lack of understanding and empathy for your pain.
You know what? They just don’t understand and have probably never suffered the pain of losing a beloved animal themselves. The best thing you can do is simply to forgive them for their ignorance. They really do mean to help.
Let insensitive comments roll off your back, and don’t let them make you feel like you don’t have a legitimate right to grieve. Avoid these “well-meaning” folks and contact that someone you have found who does care and will listen to your tale of grief without trying to “fix everything”.
A GREAT NEW RESOURCE
Have you been profoundly affected by the death of your beloved pet?
Do you feel like you could use some help working through your pet loss grief?
We have found a great new resource that might be just what you need…It is an e-workbook entitled “How to ROAR: Pet Loss Grief Recovery”, by Robin Jean Brown.
Ms. Brown has turned her own grief into a focused recovery process that uses journaling, to help you:
The loss of a beloved animal companion can be devastating. Society does not provide us with the rituals and resources to properly deal with pet loss grief, so we suffer alone, and in silence.
ROAR is a sensible, practical, compassionate approach that helps lead you gently through the grief of losing one of your “best friends”.
Read more about ROAR, highly recommended and reasonably priced:
I just can’t cope with this loss alone. Where can I get help?
First, arm yourself with some knowledge and understanding about the normal grief process. Take a look at the grief stages. Learn what reactions you can expect in grief, and find out how to make grief more bearable. This entire website is devoted to grief… whether due to human or animal loss. Explore it.
Visit your public library, bookstore or pet supply center and ask for information and literature on pet loss and bereavement. We provide a short list of excellent books on pet bereavement here: Pet Loss Books.
It is also important to find an understanding, nonjudgmental listener who will listen to your story, and let you work through your pain without offering “quick fixes”. It takes time to come to terms with your loss, and it will be easier if you can find a supportive friend to help.
If you feel like you need some counseling to overcome your pet loss grief, by all means, make an appointment with a grief counselor.
You may even find one experienced in pet loss grief. Start calling veterinarians in your area, or call the local pet shelter. Ask if they know of any experienced pet bereavement counselors.
Pet Loss Support Websites
We have also found these helpful websites on pet loss:
- http://www.aplb.org – Nonprofit Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement– Professionally trained volunteers offer free pet bereavement counseling. Lots of information and support. Click on the “Support” button for counseling.
- http://www.petloss.com – with supportive forums, phone counseling resources, candle-lighting ritual and general information
- http://www.griefhealing.com/comfort-grieving-animal-lovers.htm – a lovely grief support website with a varied and informative pet loss section
- http://www.lightning-strike.com – Pet loss forums, informative blog