Grieving – how do you cope with the loss of a pet?
Perhaps you left your animal at the veterinarian’s office, and asked them to take care of your pet’s remains. Or maybe you brought your pet to the cremation facility yourself, and have already picked up the ashes. You might even have buried your pet in your yard.
However this was handled, there will come a time when everything that had to be done has been done. You may even be surprised at how quickly it all happened. I was. One minute you are scheduling the appointment with the veterinarian, and the next moment your animal is gone, buried or cremated. It all went by in a blur.
You walk into your home and your beloved critter – whether dog or cat, horse or bird, gerbil, fish or lizard – is gone.
Now what do you do?
I wish there was a manual for grief – a set of instructions, promising if you just follow the directions then the pain won’t be so bad or last so long. But the truth is, everyone grieves differently and will experience loss in their own way.
What’s important to remember is everything you are feeling is valid. The mind-numbing sense of loss, the gut-wrenching sadness, the emptiness, the disbelief – it’s all real for you.
DO NOT EVER LET ANYONE MINIMIZE WHAT YOU ARE FEELING! If you need to scream…scream! I certainly did. You may sob tears that feel like they will never end…that’s ok. There may be days you can hardly get out of bed, and other days when you are able to function a little better. Just don’t feel uneasy, crazy or ashamed. If you are like many animal lovers, including me, you probably loved your critter with all your heart and soul. A love that deep doesn’t suddenly come to an end, just because your animal is no longer by your side.
If your spiritual beliefs are important to you, use them as a source of strength and comfort for you at this painful time.
If people want to be there for you, let them. You might be surprised at how important a support network can be when you feel like you’re walking in quicksand. Just having a friend call every day, or a neighbor bring over dinner, can be a lifeline to the rest of the world even though you feel like you’re all alone.
If you need help, ask for it. A professional counselor or local pet loss group may be able to offer support at this painful time. There’s something comforting about being around other people who know exactly how you are feeling…even if you don’t say a word. There are also many books and online resources that are worth exploring. We have included some of these resources on our page.
After I lost Jake, I kept stumbling on all the little things that didn’t happen anymore now that he was gone. It went beyond him not being under my desk. I missed his snoring, and his happy dancing feet and little whines and barks he always made when he slept.
I also noticed my 4 cats had become unbelievably messy, leaving cat food all around their bowls. I thought maybe this was part of their own grieving process, until I remembered Jake had always lapped up any kitty food that found its way to the floor.
One of the biggest challenges for me was dealing with the fact that I felt I wasn’t needed anymore. In the last months of Jake’s life I had been living in a state of constant alert – I was always tuned in to his sounds. Was he walking around somewhere? Was he on the stairs and needing help? Did he need to go out? I’d get up several times at night and go check on him, just to be sure he was breathing!
It was a privilege taking care of my dear boy as we came to the end of our journey together. And then one day…it was over. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I not only felt brokenhearted, I felt utterly useless. Someone else might have felt relieved that all the caretaking wasn’t required any longer. That’s ok, too. There’s nothing wrong with having some additional quality time for yourself. But it would be a long time before I’d feel comfortable having some extra time just for me.
If you have other animals at home, remember they may be grieving, too. My cats were there in the room when Jake died. I waited a few hours before bringing Jake to the cremation facility so the kitties could sniff him and understand that he wasn’t with us any longer. I believe this helped them with the transition.
In the days and weeks that followed, I made sure the kitties got all the time and attention they needed. Their presence in my life was enormously comforting.
Eventually you may find that you can think about your lost animal with a few less tears. It might take weeks, months or longer, but there will come a time when you can feel the hard edges of your grief are beginning to soften. That doesn’t mean that the tears completely go away. I still have the special ramps that were made to help Jake get in and out of my car. I can’t bring myself to part with them, even though it’s been over 2 years since they were needed. Most days I can pass them in the garage and not even notice them. But every so often I catch a glimpse of them out of the corner of my eye and the tears instantly start flowing. The pain feels as fresh as it did when I first lost him.
Jake and I used to drive several times a week to our closest park, which is about 4 miles away. I tried many times to continue going there on my own, but the heartbreak was overwhelming.Then I met a hiking group at that park, and have continued walking there on a regular basis. This turned out to be a great blessing! Not only do I get extra exercise (and who doesn’t need that?) but I have created a new and wonderful experience that I now associate with that park. As I walk around I may say “Jake and I used to love to go down that path,” but the sadness that made it so hard to even drive in the vicinity of the park is mostly gone.
And that is exactly how Jake would have wanted it to be!