No matter what anybody tells you, losing a pet is like losing a family member. They are often our best friend, always there for us giving unconditional love. Suddenly, there is a void in the home and we can’t bear it. How do we grieve, how do we cope and how do we recover?
From experience, I would say, wherever possible, be as prepared as you can and make plans in advance. If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss the situation with your employer before the time comes so you can hopefully take a couple of days off work when it happens. Most of us are animal lovers and will understand.
It’s important to say that I’m not a grief counsellor but I have grieved for many of my own pets and also been part of the grieving process for many clients and friends. I’m not here to give you a miracle cure for this heartache, but to give you some ideas on how to process your grief and assurances that it is ok to grieve a pet.
There are five common stages of grief. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These labels are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling after losing a loved one but they are not set in stone.
We are all different and what works for one, will not work for another. Some people struggle with letting others know how they are feeling as they feel silly getting ‘so emotional’ over an animal. If this is you, please know that you are not silly and your emotions are valid. Nobody else can know the impact that your pet has had on your life and so nobody can judge you for it.
Often, you will have had days, weeks or months, agonising over your pet’s illness and then their euthanasia. Suddenly it’s all over and the empty feeling can be vast.
I’m going to share with you how I deal with this grief. As I’ve said – this is very individual and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Almost immediately, I remove all of my pet’s things out of sight. I take their bedding and food bowls and put them away until I can face them again, normally in a few weeks or months.
I can’t even acknowledge my pet’s passing with anyone outside of immediate family. I just can’t bring myself to discuss it or I know that as soon as someone offers me sympathy, I will cry my eyes out so my way of coping with this is to not discuss it at all.
Over the next couple of days, in private, I will spend the time in shock, crying and looking at photos of them. It’s important to allow yourself this time to, unapologetically, wallow in your own sadness. It is ok to be sad.
After a few days, once the shock has eased, I will start creating momentos of our time together – usually I pick some photos to put into a frame and get a keepsake box to put their treasures in, their collar, a fingernail. maybe some fur.
Finally, I will write a list of all the things that made them so special and unique and list their little quirks. I will ball my eyes out all the way through but it all helps. I will add this list to the keepsake box, because, no matter how much you think you’ll remember, we all forget the little things. So I like to write it down. Even though I rarely look at the list or box again as I find it so hard, it gives me a lot of comfort to know that it’s there, should I want to look at it. After I’ve done these things, I feel a sense of closure and moving on starts to happen.
It often takes me months to be able to talk about my pet with others outside of the family, including work colleagues at the vet clinic. It’s just something I can’t face even mentioning until alot of time has passed.
That is how I grieve but I know people who just want to never ever talk of their pet again, forever, And that’s ok too. Some people can’t face even walking past the vet clinic where their pet was put to sleep. This is ok too.
Others want to talk about it with everyone and share how strongly they felt for their pet. Some people immediately buy a pet that looks identical and call it the same name. Everyone handles it differently.
Whatever way you feel you need to grieve is ok. However, if you feel that you’re not coping with day to day life and can’t function properly, or if the grieving process seems to be lasting a particularly long time, please seek professional help from a local grievance counsellor.
Finally, if you have children, please remember that they will be grieving too and need to be allowed to do it in their own way. Please discuss with them that it is good to grieve and respect how they choose to do it.