The loss of any pet is difficult to deal with and everyone will grieve in a different way. It’s also important to remember that there is no timeline on grief and it can return at unexpected times, even several weeks, months or years after the loss of a pet.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler outlined the stages of grief.
“The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost.”
However, as they explained, these stages do not follow any linear scale and nor do they fit neatly within a timeframe.
Because a pet is reliant on us, we may also experience feelings of guilt, even though we did everything we could to care for them. If we have had to make the difficult decision to opt for euthanasia, this can be particularly true, even if we acknowledge that it was the best decision for our pet. While it doesn’t ease how we feel, it is important to recognize that others too have felt the emotions we are experiencing.
Be Guided By Your Own Feelings
It’s sad but true, that some people simply won’t fully understand the depth of feeling you are experiencing. They may dismiss your loss as less than other types of grief. This isn’t done to hurt usually, but because they have not shared the same type of bond. No-one can tell you that you should be ‘over your loss’ by now. Take the time you need and reach out to those who understand. Talking with other pet parents who have experienced loss can be particularly beneficial as they can empathize with what you are going through.
Be Open to Ritual
Rituals can be a helpful process for some people. Holding a cremation or funeral for your pet, keeping their ashes on a pet urn, or scattering it somewhere they loved can be comforting. This can often also help an individual or family to express how they are feeling. However, again you know what is best for you, so always follow your own feelings.
Create Ways to Celebrate Your Pet
Planting a tree, creating a photo album of memories, or even having a plaque or headstone made for your pet can be a healing way to remember them. It’s also important to look back and celebrate their life, to remember the fun your pet had and to be thankful for the time you spent together. However, take this at your own pace, only you can know when it’s the right time to relive memories.
Look After Your Wellbeing
Grief can be mentally and physically exhausting and it’s easy to neglect your own wellbeing. Even though you may not want to, it’s important to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of rest and do at least a little exercise every day to boost your mood. Work or another activity that distracts your mind and keeps you focused can also be helpful.
Maintain Your Routine With Other Pets
If you have other pets it’s important to maintain a routine with them as they may also be experiencing feelings of loss. Some pets will also pick up your emotions, so make sure you spend time together playing and having fun. That will help them, but it will also help to keep you focused and boost your mood.
Connect With Professional Help If Needed
Sometimes we need someone to talk to who is outside of our immediate family or friends and a professional grief counselor can be a valuable resource in this situation.
If grief is affecting your ability to function then it may be worth checking in with your doctor who can assess you for depression and talk through the options.
Dealing with the loss of a pet is a process and one which cannot be hurried. Take all the time you need and reach out for support when necessary. There will come a time when you can look back on life with your pet with a smile instead of tears and they will always live on in your heart and memory. However, getting to that point is not always easy, so always be kind to yourself during this time of loss.