Grieving the Death of a Pet
When a person you love dies, it’s natural to grieve, express your grief and expect friends and family to provide understanding and comfort. Unfortunately, when a beloved pet dies, many people are less understanding of the deep affect it has on your life. Some may think or say, “it’s just a pet” and think that your pain may pass in a matter of days or with the “replacement” by another animal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your pet was a member of your family
You undoubtedly loved your pet and probably considered him or her a member of your family. Many people, especially those for whom the pet is a constant companion, confide in their animals, talk to them throughout the day, give and receive deep affection, and come to count on their presence as a critical part of the day. So when your beloved pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow.
Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you need to take the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies. Don’t tell yourself or let anyone tell you otherwise – you have a right to grieve.
What to expect while grieving
Coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for seniors. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness – if you live alone, your pet may have alleviated any sense of loneliness or isolation. He or she may have encouraged you to get out for a walk or to establish a meaningful daily routine, taking care of their needs. And most of all, your pet was a source of unconditional love and constant companionship.
Because your companion meant so much to you, your pet’s death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind you of your own mortality. For some, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the caregiver, and hinges on the person’s physical and financial ability to care for a new pet. That can lead to feelings of increased isolation and a focus on what can’t happen instead of the good the future may hold.
How to cope with your grief
For all the reasons noted above, it’s critical that you take immediate steps to cope with your loss and regain a sense of purpose. Make every effort to interact with friends and family, to assuage the loneliness. Consider calling a pet loss support hotline or even volunteering at a local humane society. That contact with needy animals may help you as you grieve for your own loss, knowing that you’re providing them with much needed love and physical contact. There are also organizations that need foster families for pets that are considered less adoptable because they too are seniors – you may be able to provide loving companionship to that animal as a way of honoring the memory of your own companion.
Other things to keep in mind
Give yourself permission to grieve: Your loss is as deserving of sorrow and grief as any other. You may have a bond with your animal as you have had with humans. Allow yourself to grieve, and don’t judge yourself – your grief is appropriate and should be recognized.
Give yourself time to grieve: There is no timeline on grief. Only you know when you can move through a day with less sadness, and no one can tell you that it’s “time to move on.”
Accept and express your feelings: Don’t be embarrassed by your feelings, and don’t hide them. Tamping down those feelings will only lead to greater grief later or even physical ailments often associated with depression. It can help to associate with others who have lost a pet or who recognize the deep value and relationships that come from companion animals. Consider contacting the local SPCA/ASPCA to find out if there are local support groups, or to find volunteering opportunities.
Regardless of the type of loss, your grief will be individual and unique. How and for how long you process grief will be different than for anyone else, and you need to allow yourself to grieve in your own way.