How to Cope with the Loss of a Pet
Grief is a strange thing. Our intimate and profound experiences with grief are as unique and as varied as the stars in the sky. As loss is one of the few certainties in life, it is something we all must inevitably endure at some point.
In most cases, society acknowledges the burden of grief and provides a fair amount of societal support. Bereavement support groups exist for individuals to talk in a group setting about their experience with loss. Psychotherapists provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for survivors to talk, while providing professional guidance through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Even if an individual chooses not to seek professional help, friends and intentional communities such as local church groups often rally around the bereaved person to bring them comfort and support during their difficult time. Employers are quick to offer time off in the wake of a significant loss.
The Burden of Pet Loss
Pet owners are acutely aware that the loss of their beloved friend can be as traumatic and painful as losing a family member. Dogs, on average, live to be around 12-15 years of age, while cats can make it to 21 or older. This means that for teens and young adults, losing a pet means losing a treasured family member who has been around for quite literally their entire lifetime.
It’s common for college students to make the trip home to be with their childhood dog when he or she is put down, and for parents to hold off on telling their kids that their pet has died unexpectedly if their academic or professional career may suffer as a result of learning this sudden devastating news.
Adults who adopt pets may be intellectually capable of understanding that their friends’ lives are short, but nevertheless, investing close to two decades in your furry friend only to watch them pass away is never easy. Saying goodbye to a beloved friend who has been by your side for many years is understandably devastating.
Lack of Societal Support
Dog and cat owners know that the pain of pet loss resonates deeply with young and old individuals alike. Scientific American reports that symptoms of grief are felt most acutely for one to two months following the death of the beloved animal, with lingering sorrow impacting the individual’s life for up to a year afterwards. It is certainly not uncommon for pet owners to grieve deeply and earnestly.
However, many still struggle with internalized shame and embarrassment when admitting that they are grieving their pet as deeply as someone might grieve the loss of a parent or a close friend. Fear of seeming overly sentimental, weak, or incompetent may dissuade grieving pet owners from calling in to work to request time off or seeking emotional support from friends or therapists.
Striving for Self-Care
As the old adage states, time heals all wounds, and the loss of a pet eventually fades, particularly if you take time for yourself and allow yourself to feel the pain. The only way to achieve freedom from grief is to permit yourself time and space for self-care.
Psychologists suggest taking time to memorialize your pet by actively reflecting on your time shared together. Some people find writing, scrapbooking, or songwriting to be helpful. These strategies help to alleviate the pain by turning it outward, in a display of healthy creative expression.
Cremation and Burial
You may wish to commemorate your pet’s legacy by choosing to have him or her cremated and display the ashes in a box or urn in your home. For many people, this is more comforting than a traditional burial.
If cremation by fire frightens you or makes you uncomfortable, a popular new alternative is cremation by hydrolysis, available by VIP Aquamation. This company has provided a comforting and important service to pet owners who may otherwise have avoided cremation.
Grief is a natural reaction to loss. Regardless of whether you are grieving your pet, a family member, or a friend, it is important to give yourself the permission and time to do so. There should be no shame in sadness, as getting the negative emotions out will help you accept the loss and move forward carrying the good times you’ve shared. Celebrate the bright moments and think of the happy memories you both lived together.