A pet is so much more than that simple three-letter word would have one believe. A pet becomes a cherished friend, family member, companion and source of unconditional love and acceptance. For many, our pets change our lives for the better.
Once a pet is established as a part of a household, a pet becomes part of the daily routine. Properly caring for a pet takes time and thought. Sometimes it even requires activities like going out for walks, visiting parks, veterinary clinics, boarding facilities and other outings that can lead to enjoyable social interactions with other people. Friendships may develop just from having the love of animals in common with the people you meet at outings with your pet.
Pets bring us happiness far greater than most of us ever anticipated. Once they are part of our lives, it is hard to imagine life without them. Therefore, the loss of a beloved pet can leave us feeling lost and alone. Coping with a pet loss can feel impossible, so we wanted to share some ways to cope with your grief during this difficult time.
Your Grief is a Natural Response
The same way every friendship with a pet is different, every pet loss is different. In some cases, a pet may pass away due to old age, so you may have anticipated the loss. In other cases, a pet’s quality of life may decline, so choosing to end the pet’s suffering falls on you. In other cases, a death may be unexpected, leaving you no time to mentally prepare yourself for the loss.
No matter how gradually or abruptly a loss occurs, no one is ever really prepared for life without a cherished pet, and the loss of a pet can be heartbreaking.
Psychologists conducting research about grief over the death of a pet are concluding that the loss of a pet is as severe and emotionally devastating as the loss of a person, or in some cases, even more so. The loss is made even more difficult because societal and cultural mechanisms for a community to assist in mourning the loss of a loved one are not in place when we lose a pet.
During the Loss
Similar to when we lose a person, we can choose to have a pet cremated or buried. If your pet passes away or is humanely euthanized at a veterinary hospital, the hospital staff can help with these arrangements. If you decide on burial, you can either take your pet home to be buried, or you can have your pet buried in a pet cemetery.
If your pet passes away at home, you can still contact your pet’s veterinary hospital for help when it comes to deciding what to do with your pet’s remains. If your pet was not a patient at a local animal hospital, you can still ask an animal hospital for advice, or you can contact a local humane society or pet crematorium for assistance when figuring out what to do with your pet’s remains.
If you are considering a home burial or a burial at a pet cemetery, it is important to understand there is a chance, if you move, that your pet's remains may not be able to be relocated. If this is a concern for you, pet cremation is an option.
If you are deciding on cremation, there is the option for group or individual cremation. With group cremation, the ashes are not given to you. This is an affordable option for people who do not wish to keep the ashes.
With individual cremation, the ashes are given to you. Veterinary hospitals and pet cremation providers can give you the options for types of urns, boxes, containers and even jewelry you can choose to hold your pet’s ashes.
They may also offer clay pawprints or footprints that is a mold of your pet’s foot or even an envelope of seeds, so you can plant wildflowers in remembrance of your pet.
Coping with the Loss
The days after losing a pet are the hardest. The house may be eerily quiet. If you lost your only pet, it can be especially jarring to be left without the usual routines your pet’s care demanded. If you have other pets, they may be wondering what is happening, or they may be grieving in their own way.
When faced with your pet’s belongings, you may be flooded with sadness or they may be a reminder if the happy times you shared. If seeing your pet’s belongings upsets you, it may help to place the belongings in bags, drawers or a closet you don’t use much while you grieve to avoid the any sadness that may come from physical reminders of your pet.
The same may be true for pictures, cages, hutches, aquariums, toys, beds, etc. If you have space, it may be a good idea to move the reminders of your pet to a place out of sight, until you feel like you can see these items without succumbing to feelings of grief.
We recommend only moving these items instead of throwing or giving them away. Once these items are gone, you will not be able to retrieve them, and you may regret it.
Reach Out to Others
The normal ways we cope with grieving the loss of a loved one can also help when grieving the loss of a beloved pet. Reach out to friends and family who are empathetic to such a loss if you have people in your life who understand.
If you need to seek understanding outside of your usual social circle, don’t be afraid to contact others for support. There are pet loss support hotlines and pet loss support groups you can find by simply googling those keywords and the name of your city or town and state. Connecting with others who understand what you are going through can help. It can also let you know that the feelings you are experiencing are completely normal.
If you are feeling that your grief is exaggerated, consider the fact that we have a different relationship with pets versus family and friends. A pet is often a constant companion, deeply rooted in our schedule and day-to-day activities in a way people are not. Also, a relationship with a pet is not complicated by feelings of past resentments, anger or other negativity, like a relationship with a person often is. As a result, the loss of a pet can be particularly staggering.
Since we are now recognizing that people are grieving for pets just as intensely and sometimes more intensely than grieving loved ones, it is perfectly acceptable to take a few days to process the loss in the same way you would for any other family member.
You can have a memorial or funeral for your pet to help you process what happened and say goodbye. A memorial is a ritual and a way of recognizing and coping with the loss. Many people understand how losing a pet feels, and if you have friends or relatives who loved your pet, they may also want a chance to say goodbye.
If you decide to have a funeral or memorial service, our florists at Wild Strawberry & More in East Lansing, MI, can put together a personalized arrangement in remembrance of your beloved pet.
For Relief from Grief
Whenever you find yourself dwelling in your grief, write down your feelings and consider talking to a support group or a professional. You are not alone. Everyone who has loved and lost a pet knows how devastating the loss is and how it can extend to every area of your life.
If you have other pets, don’t lose yourself to grief to such an extent that you neglect their feelings or needs. Lean on each other for support. If you have sympathetic friends or family, make plans to spend time with them to get you out of the house.
Remember that during this time of grief, it is important to take care of yourself. Sadness can rob you of energy or even disrupt your appetite and sleep schedule. Try to develop and maintain a new routine, and if you find yourself with too much time on your hands, consider volunteering somewhere.
Volunteering at an animal shelter may help you rediscover the enjoyment of spending time with an animal, and you will get the opportunity to be around likeminded people who will understand what you are going through.
Everyone grieves differently. Some people enjoy reminiscing and keeping the memory alive with old photos and belongings. Other people may find reminders too painful and may not want to talk about the loss of their beloved pet. How you choose to grieve is perfectly okay, so do whatever feels right for you. It will get better with time.
Speaking of time, there is no timetable for grief. Some people may begin to feel better in days or weeks. Others may take months or years before the grief abates. Try to experience the grief instead of bottling it up. Don’t feel ashamed of how you feel or let anyone else tell you how to feel. Your loss is your loss, but you can and will eventually navigate through it.
Gone but Not Forgotten
As you pick up the pieces, process your grief and start to feel better, you may find yourself wondering where to go from here. It can help to reward yourself. You have just been through something incredibly difficult. You deserve to be kind to yourself.
For some, the pain of losing a pet makes them reluctant to start over with another. For others, the thought of life without a cherished companion seems too bleak to comprehend. Do what is right for you. Don’t let other people tell you how to live your life, whether with or without a pet.
It is important to fully process your grief before you get another pet. Like people, pets are all different and have unique personalities and quirks. A new pet will not be identical to or replace the pet you lost. A new pet will not absorb any grief you still have lingering. However, when the time is right, a new pet can be a new chance for love, happiness and companionship, if you are ready for the next chapter.