Recently I lost my furry best heart friend of 16 ½ years. Despite the fact that he was very old and I knew his end was coming fairly soon, his loss has impacted me more than I ever could have imagined. And so I set about trying to understand this process we call grieving and how to cope with it without drowning, how to remain positive, come out the other side and carry on with life.
As pet lovers, we all know when we bring home that new family member that likely as not, their lives will be much shorter than ours, and that eventually we will have to say goodbye. It doesn’t matter why, how or when we say goodbye; it’s never easy and the realization that grieving for a beloved pet can be as difficult as grieving for a human family member is paramount to understand. Here are a few tips and some advice to help you through the emotional storm.
It’s OK to Grieve!
Don’t let anyone minimize your grief, including yourself. It’s quite common to hear comments like, ‘Get over it. It’s only a dog.’ Do not let anyone else tell you if, when or how much to grieve. Everyone experiences the process differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. You may even find differences in the way you grieve for different pets, as sometimes the bonds you have with some pets are stronger than others.
Find an Outlet
Locking grief away does not make it go away so some people find it helpful to write a letter or poem to their lost pet. Or finding a way to memorialize their pet in some meaningful way such as a photo collage, planting a tree or making a donation to a local animal charity in their name are also ways to help with the healing process and to honour the pet at the same time.
Acknowledge and express your grief. Cry, yell, or talk it out with an understanding friend or family member. If you do not have friends and family who understand your grief, reach out to those who do. There are many support groups both online and in person who can help you cope. Seek professional help if you need it. If your grief interferes with your ability to function normally, your family doctor or mental health therapist can help by evaluating you for depression.
Channel your grief in a positive way and spend time at a dog or cat shelter visiting, cuddling and loving up the animals there. The volunteers are incredibly compassionate and understanding with the loss of pets and the animals will be so appreciative of the love and attention – this can help heal your heart in ways you couldn’t imagine.
Remember Happy Times
Try to replace memories of your pet’s ill health and the day they died with positive happy memories of the wonderful lives you had together. Dwelling on the sadness will make it harder to overcome your grief.
Be Kind to Yourself
Grief can rob you of energy and emotional reserves. Eat well, sleep lots and stay active to release endorphins to improve your mood.
This is especially important if you have other pets. There will be a period of adjustment for them as well, as they experience the loss of their furry companion and also tune into your grief, so maintaining play times, exercise and feeding times are important.
If there are children or seniors in the picture, consider their feelings. Children need to be told the reality of the situation in a way which they will understand but which is honest and truthful. Seniors may grieve even more than younger people because often their pets are the center of their world as they get older. Be sensitive to their emotions and try to help them through with patience and understanding.
When Should You Move On?
The jury is out as to whether it is best to immediately get a new pet or not. Every person is different in this regard, but in thinking about this decision, understand you are not replacing or dishonouring your beloved departed pet because nothing can do that. There are lots of wonderful animals in shelters waiting to be adopted and what better way to honour your departed pet than by giving another animal in need a forever home. And having another warm fuzzy body to cuddle with can be a tremendous way to help you to cope.
Losing a pet to disease, old age or trauma is an intense emotional experience. Hopefully some of the advice above will help you come to terms with that loss.
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- Carrie and Cliff