Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.Anatole France
For many of us who have pets, losing them to death feels as devastating as losing a family member or best friend. People who don’t have pets don’t tend to “get” this, but those who do really understand the profound sense of loss. Our pets are often like a member of our family, so when we lose them, we feel immense grief.
Why Do We Love Them So?
The pure love and depth of the relationship we may have with our dog, cat, rabbit, is real, and the love we receive from them is unconditional. In fact, how often have we heard something like: “I wish I had the unconditional love from my partner/friend/parent that I have from my dog”? The seemingly simple nature of the relationship with an animal can make it all the more devastating when a death occurs.
Everyone Grieves Differently
As with the death of a person, we all experience the pain and loss in different ways. We might be weepy or emotionally wrought, or we might feel anxious, nervous or even physically sick. As Dr. Susan Dawson, psychologist and expert on human-animal relationships, says: It is useful to know some of us are affective (emotional) grievers and our grief is very obvious to others… however some us are instrumental grievers and keep our emotions to ourselves, preferring instead to focus on tasks like sorting out a pet’s cremation or burial.
Grief Is Not A Linear Process
We might also experience grief differently on different days, one moment being angry, the other in denial that our pet is truly gone. This new grief might also bring up other losses we have had in our lives, and if we have not dealt with those emotionally, then the loss of our beloved animal might trigger a renewed sense of pain from an older loss.
So What Is Important To Know About The Grieving Process For A Pet?
- Surround yourself with people who understand your love for your pet and who can hold the space through the loss. Conversely, steer clear of people who don’t understand your loss so you do not feel the need to explain how you are feeling.
- If you do have to make a decision to let go of a pet, ask the vet if they would be willing to come to your home, if this feels right to you.
- Remind yourself that it is okay to be wherever you are in the process – there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve, however keeping it bottled inside may be harmful to your own health in the long run
My Wish For You Today ...
... Is that you take some time to be fully present with your pet, and if you have recently lost one, then to allow yourself to feel the emotion of the loss.
For more information, take a look at my article on pet loss.
-- Kathleen Dwyer Blair, LCSW, BCD, Director