With the Death of A Pet
We love our pets, and
we do everything in our power to keep them healthy and
safe so that they will remain in our lives for as long as
possible. We cast the thought of their deaths from our
minds, because itís just too painful to imagine. But
unfortunately, no matter what we do, eventually the time
comes when we have to say goodbye.
Losing a beloved pet
is a traumatic and devastating experience. A significant
part of our lives Ė one that has given us joy, friendship,
comfort, and unconditional love - has just been ripped
away. Whatís left is a huge void that nothing and no one
Often, itís difficult
to express feelings of grief when we lose our pets,
because other people just don't understand the emotional
depth of the bond we've shared. Sadly, this can
make the grieving process even harder, because we feel we
must keep our feelings of grief inside. But what's
most important to recognize is that these feelings,
especially those that we so often hold in check publicly,
are valid and real. And once we accept them and
process them within ourselves, we can begin to move
through them and to heal.
Although each person handles grief differently, and
grieving itself can change even within a person who isn't
new to experiencing loss, some emotions are common to most
grief experiences. Grief counselors have found that
processing these emotions in a healing way is often about recognizing
them and then allowing ourselves to move beyond them --
whether we do that on our own, or with the help of
professional grief support services.
Following are some
emotions you may face when you deal with pet loss, and
some frameworks for processing them.
After the death of your pet, you may not be able to
emotionally accept that he or she is really gone, and you
may try to use denial to hide from your pain. While
denial may temporarily mask your sad feelings and enable
you to go on with your day to day routine, ultimately, it
isn't an effective or healthy coping mechanism.
Which is why, difficult as it is, you must face the loss
and begin to deal honestly and openly with your feelings.
Initially, you may feel responsible for your petís death.
Perhaps you believe you could have done something to
prevent it, or believe you even did something to cause
it. And if you had to make the decision to euthanize your
companion, you may question your decision and feel
guilty about having made it. With guilt, you focus
on your own shortcomings and remain in your grief as a
form of self punishment ... with devastating consequences to
yourself over time. This is why itís important to
reposition your thinking and to focus on the lifetime of
positive memories with your companion, not the negative
memories surrounding his or her death.
Anger Ė- Anger can be directed at anyone or anything ... at
your veterinarian, your petís illness, another family
member, or even your pet, and allows you to place blame
for the loss of your pet and your pain ON someone or
something. Even though this feeling is real
and sometimes even justified, the outcome -- your pet's
death -- can't be altered, and hostility is a powerful and
hungry force that drains your energy from other important
elements of your life. Getting past the anger,
facing the loss head on, and moving through your grief is
important and necessary.
This is the most common consequence of dealing with the
loss of your companion Ė an event that can easily send you
into a period of despair and seemingly irreversible
sadness. Some depression is to be expected after such a
traumatic occurrence, but if your depression becomes
debilitating or continues for a long period of time,
getting yourself professional help to break the cycle is
Focusing on the
After losing your companion, itís important that you
give yourself the proper time to grieve. Sometimes itís
necessary to just give in and be sad. Crying can actually
be a cathartic experience and can help you recognize the
extent of your grief. Eventually, however, you have to
pick yourself up and go on with your life (even though you
may not feel like it).
One of the most
important steps in healing is to try not to focus on the
images surrounding your companionís death. This may be
very difficult to do, especially if your pet had a
long-term illness or suffered a traumatic death. If you
were present during his/her last moments, that image may
haunt you for a long time.
Make every attempt to
focus on the positive images and memories of your
companion. If you keep your companionís life and the time
you spent with him or her in perspective, you will realize
how much happiness the two of you had together and will
treasure these memories forever.
Creating a memorial to your companion can be an excellent
way to help you focus on the positive memories. Although
the creative process may be emotionally draining, the
emotional release can be very meaningful and the outcome
can serve as
a wonderful tribute to your pet.
Following are a few
ideas that can be customized to your own personal
circumstances and can be done either alone or with other
members of your family. If you have children, it can
be especially helpful to engage them in these activities.
Put together a photo
collage or photo album of your pet.
Have one or two
special photographs framed.
Have a portrait
unique with your companion in mind (a statue, a pillow, a
Write a poem or a
short story about your companion.
Post a memorial to
your pet on the Internet. Many animal advocacy/rescue
organizations, including GRRI, have this service available
on their Web pages. The fee charged will help other
animals in need.
Plant a tree in your
backyard or have one planted for your companion.
Treegivers is an
organization that will plant a tree in any state
throughout the nation.
Make a contribution in
your petís name to an animal advocacy/rescue group.
Make a contribution to
an organization that does research on the particular
disease/condition that took your petís life.
Purchase an item that
reminds you of your companion and find a special place for
it in your home (a statue, a photo/print, etc.).
Place a few of your
petís belongings in a special box for safe keeping (toys,
collar, tags, a lock of hair, etc.).
Put a statue or a
stone with your companionís name on it in a favorite spot
in your backyard.
Bring home your new
pet realizing that he or she is a unique individual with
whom you will establish a brand new loving relationship.
If you try to find a new companion that looks and acts the
same as the companion you've lost, youíll be doing a
disservice to the new animal and youíll be setting
yourself up for a huge disappointment.
Remember that the
commitment to your new pet is life long; the decision to
bring him or her home shouldn't be made on impluse, but
on thoughtful consideration of the needs of your entire
Work with a shelter,
rescue group, or responsible breeder found through a national or
state breed club, like the
GRCA, to find your new pet. Pet stores and back
yard breeders may offer a quick fix solution, but
more reputable sources offer better pets
... and supporting them is a more worthy tribute to the pet you've lost.
Involve your entire
household in the decision to find a new pet.
Consider the readiness of your children, for example, and
draw them out on every aspect of the process to be sure
they are truly ready. Its important to recognize
that many children hold back expressions of grief because
the feelings are too scary for them, or because they are
concerned about YOU and your feelings. Let them know that
its OK to for them to express themselves to you.
If your previous
companion died of an illness that can be transmitted to
another animal, be sure to speak with your veterinarian to
find out the specific precautions you should take.
surviving pets and their needs. Many surviving pets
do fine without a new pet at home, while others seem
depressed and less active in the absence of a fellow four-legger.
If you think
youíre ready to bring home a new pet, make sure you
approach the experience with the right attitude. Be
prepared to embrace your new companion with as much love
as that which you gave your previous one.
If you donít feel you can move through the grieving
process on your own, seek out the help and support of
professional counselors or pet loss support groups.
These services exist because many people NEED them, and
because they WORK!
Support groups by
Support groups through