For most pet people, companion animals are not just the family dog or cat – they are just family, period. Because of a pet’s much shorter life expectancy, pet loss is a harsh reality that no animal lover wants to face. With some knowledge and ideas on where to find support, the grieving process can sting a little less and the healing can begin.
Sudden Pet Loss versus Peaceful Transition
There is usually more trauma and emotional shock involved with sudden pet death than with allowing an aged and infirm animal a painless transition via euthanasia. Knowing that your pet may have suffered great pain at the time of its death makes the loss unbearable. Of course, the death of a beloved pet is always difficult; however, knowing that your pet has lived a long, full, and happy life and its body is simply worn out is a scenario where you feel you have kept your promise to your pet that no pain would ever come to them. With a sudden or accidental death, the lack of control may feel like a betrayal of that trust between you and your pet.
Forgiving Yourself and Your Pet
Whatever the reason for your pet’s death, it is important to realize the importance of forgiveness. This is not a matter of fault, but of responsibility or inner blame you may carry regarding the situation of your pet’s life ending. While you may not realize it, you may also harbor a sense of abandonment that your pet has left you, perhaps without explanation. In this case, forgiving your pet for leaving is essential for your ability to move through the grieving process.
There Are No Shortcuts to Grief
Grieving is done in painful steps. Unfortunately, there is no way around grief, just a way through. In the beginning, the emptiness of loss goes deep. Your pet’s bed, toys, and food bowls are probably still in the same places they’ve been for years, as if your pet is just outside or taking a nap in another room. This is the time to absorb the shock of loss of your beloved family member, and begin to heal through remembering the special relationship you had with your pet. As time goes on, the pain will lessen, but the scar of loss will always be there.
Simple Things You Can Do to Help Heal
During the grieving process, there are real ways you can lessen the burden of grief, and move on to a happier place. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk about your pet with family members. This way, you don’t keep emotions bottled up inside and honor your pet’s memory.
- If you need answers regarding your pet’s death, seek them out. If your pet’s death was sudden or unexplained, you can request a necropsy (animal autopsy) to find out the real reason your pet passed away. This can help provide clarity and closure.
- Find a pet loss support group. You can use the Internet to find a pet loss group in your area. Talking about your pet with others who are grieving can help you move forward.
- Think about adopting another pet. The sad reality is that there is never a shortage of homeless dogs and cats waiting for their forever home at your local shelter. You are not dishonoring your pet’s memory by adopting a new family member. You are simply saving a life and helping your heart to heal by bonding with a new pet.
- Ask for your pet’s remains and build a memorial in your backyard or garden. Cremation services are always available through your veterinarian after euthanasia. You can choose an urn for keeping your pet’s ashes close, or spread them in their favorite park. You can purchase a memorial stone to create a special place in your yard to show your love for your departed pet. Having a family memorial service for your pet will help your entire family to grieve and heal, especially children who may not understand what happened.
Moving through grief is one of the sad parts of the circle of life. Pets add so much love and richness to our experiences; the eventual end of life is a reality we have to be willing to accept to share our lives with them.