Bailey was indeed a very special part of our family and knowing that he received such excellent care from such a wonderful group of people has made this difficult time for us more bearable.
Leaving Permanent Paw Prints on Your Heart
The death of your ever-faithful companion animal has turned life as you know it upside down and created a gaping hole in your heart. Feelings of despair may be indescribable and greater than expected following the passing of a pet. Life continues, but in a different way and at a slower pace, because your beloved family member is no longer by your side. Friends and family will offer condolences, but only you truly understand your feelings and the scope of the loss, as they are distinctive to the relationship shared with your pet.
Factors that Shape Your Grief
- How your companion animal died impacts the way you grieve – whether the loss was sudden, traumatic, or your pet was suffering from a long illness.
- When a daily routine is centered on the relationship with a pet, the death can also be profoundly disruptive to one’s sense of home, safety, purpose, and identity.
- What has been your response to other losses in your life?
- Did you keep your feelings of sadness to yourself or were you able to share your pain with others?
- Do you have a strong support network?
Comprehending the Grief
- Grief comes as a result of love and is a tribute to the remarkable relationship you shared with your pet.
- Your grief for your companion animal can be more acute and intense than the grief you experience when a human dies.
- The expression of grief is a unique and individual experience because no one felt the same love you shared with your pet.
- Grieving is an exhausting process and the pain invades all parts of your life, but avoiding it is even more difficult.
- Throughout your lifetime, you may continue to experience feelings of grief when you least expect it.
Transitioning through Loss
- Embrace the feelings as they arise, instead of carrying them into your future.
- Take time to grieve all that has been lost, and as you move through the pain, the memories will comfort you.
- Try to find peace with the uncertainty of the loss.
- Be gentle with yourself as you grieve and be patient with those around you.
- Process the emptiness you feel in your heart, as well as the absence you feel in your home.
Memorializing Your Pet
- When a person dies, a ceremony is held – you can pay tribute to your companion animal in a similar fashion.
- Memorial ceremonies help us to remember our pet, honor the special relationship, and provide the opportunity to say goodbye.
- Remember the love that you shared with your pet and make a difference in your pet’s honor.
- You may wish to preserve your pet’s memory and there are various ways to honor your loved one:
- Design a special gravestone.
- Create a paw print and save a locket of hair.
- Frame a portrait.
- Assemble a scrapbook or collage with photographs.
- Write a poem or short story about your pet.
- Plant a tree.
- Make a donation in your pet’s name.
- Volunteer at an animal shelter.
Overcoming Feelings of Guilt
- When your pet dies, it is normal to initially be overwhelmed with feelings of guilt.
- You might feel guilty regarding your actions and choices made concerning your pet’s illness or injury.
- Over time, harboring guilt has the power to keep you from moving forward.
- Let go of what you cannot control or alter.
- Accept what has taken place and release yourself from any blame.
- Focus on the positive aspects of the relationship you had with your pet.
Implementing a Self-Care Plan
- Communicate with someone who recognizes the relationship you shared with your pet and how much you are hurting.
- Take care of yourself through healthy eating, adequate rest, and daily exercise.
- Compose your thoughts and feelings in a letter or journal.
- Strive to reach out to a friend or loved one on a daily basis.
- Turn to music as a source of comfort and strength.
- Find a balance between the time you spend alone and with supportive people.
- Plan an activity each day that brings a moment of joy that will allow you to take a break.
- Consider attending a pet loss support group or see a counselor.
Finding Peace after the Loss
- Healing occurs gradually and there is not a set schedule for grieving.
- Sharing your story is an integral part of the healing process.
- Reflecting upon and taking inventory of the gifts received from your loyal companion animal sparks healing.
- While your pet’s physical body is gone, the love, memories, and lessons learned will always be with you. What has your pet taught you that has made a lasting impression on your heart?
- Eventually, you have to make the choice to move forward.
- One day, the joy will outweigh the sorrow when you remember your pet with more love than pain.
- Allow sufficient time for grieving and wait to adopt a pet until you are fully ready to love again.
- Try not to make any hasty decisions in terms of adopting another companion animal, as your pet cannot be replaced.
- Ask yourself – When is the right time to adopt another pet?
- Involving the entire family in the decision to adopt a pet is vital, as the grieving process and timing is certainly different for everyone.
- Please remember, it is essential to let your next pet choose you.
Supporting a Family Member or Friend
- The greatest gift during this time of sorrow is your presence.
- Acknowledge the loss of the companion animal and listen with compassion.
- Ask your family member or friend to share stories, memories and pictures.
- Take initiative and be specific with your offer to help.
- Be there when necessary, but recognize when the individual wishes to be alone.
- Provide ongoing support weeks and months following the loss of the pet.
- Encourage your family member or friend to seek additional support, if he or she is having difficulty moving forward.