The loss of a beloved animal can be a devastating experience for any pet owner. You may find yourself feeling adrift, confused about the next right thing to do, or unable to complete simple daily tasks. Recovering from such a loss is never easy, but there are some things you can do to help process your grief and to begin to heal.
1. Allow yourself to grieve.For some of us, one of the hardest things to do is to allow ourselves time to grieve. Life’s demands don’t stop because we have experienced a loss, and it may be tempting to engross oneself in work or family obligations, rather than experience grief fully. But feelings of grief and loss won’t vanish simply because you’re distracted by daily obligations. Allow yourself the time to experience your grief in your own way, whether alone or with others.
2. Understand the stages of grief.In her book, On Death and Dying, psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross put forward the now familiar five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And while these stages characterize the grieving process in broad strokes, it’s important to remember that everyone grieves differently, and that your grief may not follow Kübler-Ross’ stages to the letter. For example, you may find that you process grief more slowly or quickly than a friend who has experienced a similar loss. The important thing to realize is that your grief is a normal human reaction to the loss of a loved one, and while it may be painful, it is a part of healing.
3. Accept the support of others.Grief can make us feel alone. But when people close to you learn of your loss, they’ll likely express their sympathies. Some may even offer to help share family or work responsibilities while you grieve. Many of us who’ve lost a pet can derive great comfort from taking to friends and family, sharing stories and fond memories from our pet’s life. For others, a grief support group may be the best way to let others who’ve experienced a similar loss help you navigate the often-complex landscape of grief. Ask your vet or check online for grief counseling groups in your area: Look specifically for organizations or communities that support those who are grieving the loss of a pet.
4. Create a memorial.One way to stay connected to your pet’s life after a loss is to create a memorial to your pet. You can create a physical memorial by gathering photos and mementos from your pet’s life and assembling them into a creative tribute or display. Some choose to create a backyard memorial such as a rock garden to help preserve the memory of a beloved pet, while others may create an artistic memorial from a pet’s paw print or favorite toy displayed in a shadow box. And with today’s digital technology, you can even create a virtual pet memorial online, a place where you can share memories and photos of your pet.
5. Keep a memory journal.For some of us, the best way to process our grief is through writing. If you feel this might help you, try to set aside some time to write down some memories of your pet. You may describe a favorite camping trip or a time when your pet helped you through a difficult situation. Allow yourself you live in the good memories of your pet as you write. Chances are you’ll discover that your pet knew just how deeply it was loved, and each journal entry will help you preserve these good memories over time.
6. Be kind to yourself.Grief is painful and can easily rob your days and nights of any joy. Some of us may even neglect our own self-care. Be sure to be kind to yourself during this period. Prepare a favorite meal, treat yourself to a movie, or hike to a spot that you and your pet enjoyed together. Pay attention to the small things that bring you pleasure. You may find they offer you a lifeline when coping with a loss.
7. Help others. One of the best ways to get out of our own heads is to offer a helping hand to someone in need. It may be a friend or family member who’s struggling with a health issue, or a stranger in need of a meal. Being of service to others in our communities helps us see the ways in which we are all connected and helps to reinforce the idea of unconditional love—a lesson pets teach us every day.
Editor’s Note: Coping with pet loss can be difficult to do alone. Here are some pet loss resources and support groups for help with the healing process.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.