Dealing with the loss of a pet can be difficult. There is a special bond that forms between a pet and its owner, one of unconditional love and pure friendship. And when that pet is gone, there is a void. A pet is not only a friend or companion but a part of the family, and when a pet dies, it is very much like losing a member of the family.
It is important to remember that it’s okay to feel sad – to grieve – because for most people, losing a pet is a profound loss. It’s okay to cry or feel angry. These powerful and complex emotions are part of the grieving process, something that we all do in our own way.
There is no right or wrong way to mourn but there are some common symptoms of grief, both physical and emotional. You may have difficulty eating or sleeping, have trouble concentrating or experience headaches or an upset stomach. You may feel especially sad or lonely, perhaps guilty that you didn’t do more for your pet. These are all normal responses that may occur after a beloved pet dies.
Grief is a deep wound, but eventually it heals. The kind of sadness that occurs after the death of a pet doesn’t ever entirely go away, but it does become gentler as you accept the loss. Your cherished memories of time spent together will remain with you always as a source of comfort.
Your pet was not “just a dog” or “just a cat.” Don’t ever feel that your loss is diminished because it was an animal – that animal was a member of your family. Your pet has been through good times and bad with you, a central point to many memories, and your loss is significant. You’re justified in your feelings and should never feel as if your grief should be less than it is.
Children and their pets have a unique bond. Many times children feel a sense of guilt over the loss of their pet and feel like they could have done something to prevent the death of their friend. Younger children might not comprehend the full meaning of death. It is especially important to be supportive during this difficult time. To help them heal, you may want to have your children help you plan a service, plant a memorial garden or express their feelings through art projects. It is recommended that children have adequate time to mourn before getting a new companion – they need time to accept the loss of their friend.
Kelly Baltzell, M.A., CEO of Beyond Indigo, offers the following thoughts regarding supporting children through the loss of a pet:
Be aware that a child’s grief might be very intense. Their relationship to the pet was one that he or she had every day. Do not be surprised if the grief is more intense over the loss of his pet than if a grandparent dies that the child has not seen very often. Children grieve differently than adults. Some warning signs of intense grief are: not wanting to go to school, wanting to go to heaven to be with the pet, and problems with eating and sleeping. You might see some acting-out behaviors because the child doesn’t know how to talk about his anger or sadness over the loss of his pet.
There are things you can do to help your child heal. They are:
- Do not downplay your child’s grief over the loss of their pet. To them, the loss is deep, personal, and hurts like heck. In other words, do not trivialize his feelings.
- Talk to your child about their feelings. If he or she has troubles verbalizing their thoughts then have them draw pictures of them with their pet. Then have him talk about the pictures.
- Have them create a memorial for their pet either through clay, paintings, a poem, writing, or a form of memorial service.
- Talk about grief and feelings and explain that getting a new pet right away won’t make the sad feelings go away. Tell him that in time if it is right for him and the family a new pet will be brought into your home.
- Let your child know that you understand that a new pet will never be a replacement for the old. Help them to see that a new pet will bring new yet different delights.
To learn more about Kelly’s work, go to: www.grieving.com
No one wants to think about a pet dying, but when that time comes, there are many options available. Many owners choose cremation, and there are cemeteries specifically for pets. In some communities, pets can even be buried on your property. Your local funeral director can help you determine what is best and answer any questions about what is permissible and available in your area. He or she will also be able to tell you more about special urns and other commemorative items that can help memorialize your pet’s life.
Taking the time to remember your pet and pay tribute to his or her life and the memories you made together is an important step in the grieving process. Holding a memorial service for your pet can help. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate event, but gathering family and friends to share stories, look at pictures and reflect together is a great way to honor your pet’s life, and it’s especially helpful if you have young children who are struggling with the loss. This gives them a chance to speak about what they’re feeling and to understand that grief is natural.
Remember, whether it’s at a formal memorial service or in casual conversation with family and friends, talking about your pet helps you heal. No one can ever replace your pet, though as time passes, you may decide to bring another companion into your family. These are all normal phases in the grief and healing process.
There is never an easy way to say goodbye, but when the time comes, remember that you are not alone. Your family and friends will help you, and together you can celebrate the wonderful contributions your pet made in your life.
Should you find you need additional grief support, remember there are people who understand and are ready to help. The grief resources available to you will vary by community. Your NFDA funeral director is a great place to start to learn about support available in your area.