- by Colleen Doerksen, Open Skies Coaching & Counselling Associates
As I sit and writing this, my eyes tear up thinking about all of the pets who have passed through my life and graced me with their presence. Many have lived their entire lives with me and my family and most have passed away in my arms. Our pets are more than animals, they are family.
Grief is the cost of loving, and this includes our beloved pets. Loss is loss; we live with our fur babies and we share our homes with so of course we will grieve the loss of everything they meant to us. Anytime we care about someone, we grieve a loss of the companionship, their presence, and their value in our lives. It does not happen only when we have them in our lives for a long time, although it can certainly change the way we may grieve.
Don’t let anyone tell you, “It’s just a dog/cat/pet”. That is insensitive, and when it happens, what can you say to someone who says this to you? Your heart is breaking and all you need is some understanding and someone to listen to stories of your little guy. We try to explain what the pet meant to us, but some people do not and will not understand. We can only go to people who do understand and say to the others, “I feel differently.”
Grieving is a highly personal experience that can come in stages: denial, shock, anger, guilt, depression and will come in waves, all before acceptance can be achieved. Special dates or anniversaries can heighten the grief and hurt al over again. Our lives grow around the pain and feelings of grief while we try healthy ways to cope with the pain. To help with the coping:
1. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
2. Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out Facebook groups, contact personal friends with pets, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends and family members are not sympathetic about pet loss, find someone who is. Often, another person who has also experienced the loss of a beloved pet may better understand what you’re going through.
3. The grieving process happens gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. It’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
4. Feeling sad, shocked, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak or your feelings are somehow misplaced. It just means that you’re mourning the loss of an animal you loved, so do not feel ashamed.
5. Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk about them with others who are sympathetic to your loss.
Loss is loss, what you feel is legitimate, so seek out people who know what you are feeling and the sharing of your feelings and memories will help to deal with the grief.
Last modified: October 7, 2023