Words can’t describe how it feels to lose a pet. For many, a furry friend is a beloved member of their family. For others, their pet is the only family they have. Often when a pet passes away, people resort to incorrect mechanisms to deal with the grief. Sometimes they even attempt to replace the pet immediately. Unfortunately, there is little effective guidance for grieving pet owners. As a result, many pet grievers either isolate themselves or pretend like “everything is fine” for fear of being judged or criticized – especially by non-pet owners.
Another problem is that friends and family don’t know what to say to someone who lost their pet. Oftentimes they resort to statements that are not helpful at all to the griever like:
“It was only a dog (cat, fish, lizard, etc).”
“Don’t feel bad you can always get another dog (cat, fish, lizard, etc).”
“Just give it time and you won’t remember your dog (cat, fish, lizard, etc) anymore.”
In fact these statements are not useful at all. They are almost cruel. They actually break a grieving pet owner’s heart into a million more pieces. This is why many grieving pet owners often choose not to share their pain with anyone. Non-pet owners just wouldn’t understand the special bond they shared with their pet. They wouldn’t understand the feeling of unconditional love they received on a daily basis. It’s just too hard to explain so pet grievers find it easier to just bottle it up inside.
My first real experience with the death of a pet was when I was about 11 years old. We were living in England and had “adopted” a local cat and her kittens who were wandering around our neighborhood. One of the kittens was completely black. I fell in love with him. I called him Blackie. Blackie went everywhere with me. He had a collar and a leash and we would walk around the neighborhood, go to the park, and ride together in the car. We were inseparable. Then one day my parents told me that Blackie was sick and wasn’t going to get better. Not get better? How was that possible? He was just a kitten and hadn’t even gone through one of his nine lives yet. This couldn’t be happening. I had no idea he was sick. I was completely devastated.
After my parents told me Blackie was going to die, I remember sitting with him in the living room. I just held him while the saddest song from the Disney movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” played on the record player. I played that song over and over again. I just held Blackie while listening to the sad music. I cried and cried. I didn’t understand how he got sick or why he was sick (my parents told me he had feline leukemia). The next day he was gone. I just knew my heart was broken.
Here is the song “Hushabye Mountain” I played to Blackie over and over again (Note: This is more proof that time doesn’t heal grief because I cried just like I was 11 years old again while posting this video):
The heartbreak and pain stuck with me for a long time. Having other cats around didn’t make it easier. In fact it didn’t help. It just made me miss him even more. The others cats weren’t my Blackie. Blackie was my cat. Blackie was my best friend. I could talk to him about everything. My school. My sister. My parents. My friends. He listened and just cuddled up to me as if to say it would all be okay. I felt so alone.
Now that I think about it, I am glad I allowed myself to openly grieve for Blackie. From what I can remember, my family was supportive. They didn’t make me feel like I was doing something wrong or that I needed to get over it. They let me play Hushabye Mountain over and over again. I am very thankful for this because their support helped set the stage for how I would face loss and grief over the years.
Here are some things we need to keep in mind when losing a pet:
- In any household in which a pet has died, it is important to remember that each family member will have a different reaction to the loss. Each relationship to the pet was unique, so each person’s grief will be unique to them. This needs to be respected and honored. Never compare your reaction to that of another family member.
- Talk openly and honestly about the loss. Trying to hide your feelings will only make it confusing – especially if you have children.
- Don’t turn to short-term energy relieving behaviors (STERBs) – anger, alcohol, drugs, shopping, etc.- to deal with the loss. These only make you feel better for a little while and don’t help you to “complete” the relationship you had with your pet – i.e. face your grief.
- Remember that although your pet is no longer here physically, we continue to have an emotional and spiritual relationship with them. These aspects of the relationship need to be “complete” so memories of your pet don’t turn painful.
- Being in pain over the death of your pet is not an expression of love. Completing what was left unfinished (especially if your pet died tragically – hit by a car, etc.), will get you out of the pain. You will still have sad and happy memories, but those memories will no longer turn painful.
- Never use the word “guilt” or say that you “feel guilty.” Guilt implies intent to harm, and most pet owners would never do anything maliciously to harm their pet. A better descriptor would be “unresolved grief” – things you wish you had or hadn’t done with your pet. Unresolved grief is very different from guilt.
- Think of those things you wish you could apologize for (“I am sorry I yelled at you when I got home from a bad day at work”), forgive (“I forgive you for ripping up my favorite pair of shoes”) or wished you had said to your pet (“I loved how you used to greet me when I came home. It was the best feeling in the world”).
If you are having a difficult time, you are not alone. The Grief Recovery Method®, through their Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss, offers a structured action plan to help grieving pet owners discover and complete what was left emotionally unfinished and ultimately, have fond memories of your beloved pet not turn painful.
The webinar will:
- Help you become aware of any grief-related myths that may be keeping you stuck in your grief.
- Guide you to look at the pet losses that have affected your life, and see if they are still limiting you.
- Encourage you to take actions to complete what is left emotionally unfinished for you.
Bottom line, grieve for your furry friend. Be sad. Remember the time you spent with them. Hold them in your heart forever.
Sending you love, comfort and peace!