Sharing our lives with pets brings so many benefits, but sadly, despite an ever-improving standard of veterinary care, every owner will eventually experience the loss of their much-loved friend. Coping with loss and grief can be a lonely and difficult struggle for many of us, and as a veterinary technician with cats and dogs of my own, even I haven’t been immune to the storm of emotions that descend after the loss of a favorite friend. Through helping many family, friends and clients cope with the loss of their pets over the years, though, I’ve learned some helpful ways to help both them (and myself) come to terms with the grief that the passing of a pet can bring.
Everyone Grieves Differently
Remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to experience grief. Some people release their emotions through tears, while others aren’t comfortable displaying deep emotions in front of others. Some of us may need lots of space to process and deal with our sense of loss. Give yourself time to experience these emotions and remember the bond that you shared with your pet, and be kind to yourself – don’t feel as if you have to hurry to ‘get over it’.
Don’t Let Others Minimize Your Loss
The loving bond that you shared with your pet was very important to you, so avoid people who try to downplay your emotions because your pet was ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat’, or those who try to convince you that the solution is to replace your friend (as if that could ever happen). If you don’t feel comfortable just ignoring these types of people (as well-meaning as they may be), then firmly tell them that you prefer not to talk about your loss and change the subject.
Ask for Support
Although you might feel awkward about sharing your feelings, it’s a sure bet that other pet lovers that you know will be ready to lend a listening ear and offer sympathy and help. After all, many of them have probably experienced loss at some point too, and those people who really care for you will be there when you need them. Don’t be afraid to ask friends or family to help sort through your pet’s belongings, or pick up their ashes, for instance. My best friend and I spent many nights watching movies at my apartment in the weeks after my oldest kitty died, and while I still missed him immensely, it helped just having her there to ward off the feelings of loneliness that would arrive in waves each time I remembered that he was gone. If your feelings of grief and loss are overwhelming for you, or you’re having trouble coping with your daily routine, your veterinarian may be able to help you find a pet-loss support group or a hotline that can provide more help.
Find Ways to Remember Your Pet
For some, rituals can help us to understand the reality of our loss, and they give us an opportunity to pause, mourn our loss, and celebrate the relationship we had with our pets. Memorialize your friend in whatever way feels best for you! A donation to a pet rescue, creating a permanent paw print, a scrapbook, planting a tree on a favorite walking trail together….all of these are ideas that have appealed to pet lovers coping with the loss of their loved ones.
Most importantly, let your heart lead the way as you deal with the pain and loss, and take time to celebrate and honor the unique and special relationship you had with y