For many, pets are our special companions, who give nothing but unconditional love and comfort. So, it is natural that you may feel intense grief if your pet dies. Animals can also be our eyes, ears and limbs as well as our working partners. They are a part of our daily living. This is a very special dynamic, unlike any other.
Often well-intentioned people will dismiss or minimize the death of a pet. For example, “it was only a cat, get over it”. Well, nothing can be further from the truth. Did you know that some people grieve and mourn more for animals rather than some humans, based on connection? Your heart is broken and your life may be shattered with the passing of your pet friend. Although there are some similarities, there are also remarkable differences, when it comes to grieving an animal. You may not be receiving helpful or supportive messages from friends, family, co-workers, those in the medical field, about your pet dying. People often do not know how to react or what to say. Below is a list of “A Little Over 14 Things” that may help in understanding, normalizing and validating your grieving process.
1. As stated above, you may be more affected by the death of your pet, than the death of a person. This is often based on connection. You may have had a much more significant bond with your pet, than say an acquaintance.
2. You may experience a range of emotions such as shock, numbness, disbelief, anger, sadness, guilt and yearning that go up and down and roundabout like a roller coaster.
3. You may have physical responses such as exhaustion, headaches, nausea, tension and aches.
4. You may have “grief spurts” where one moment you feel O.K. and another moment you are overcome by grief.
5. You may feel like you “are going crazy”. Being in the grief and mourning process can be uncomfortable. You may have upsetting and difficult emotions and thoughts. You may not feel like yourself. You may not be functioning as well. You may isolate more. You are not “going crazy”, although it may certainly feel like it. What you are, is in the midst of grief and mourning.
6. You will notice a change in rituals and responsibilities. For example, you probably had a daily feeding, walking, sleeping, playing, cuddling and caregiving routine with your pet that is no longer there.
7. Your home may feel empty. Your dog is not running to the door the second you get home. Your cat is not rubbing against you, sleeping, lurking, and making sounds. You guinea pig is not squeaking. Your bird is not chirping.
8. Triggers of other losses may come up; other deaths you have experienced in your life, for example.
9. It is possible that grieving and mourning your pet may trigger depression, trauma, anxiety, loneliness, especially if you have past experiences with say, depression.
10. As mentioned earlier, people may minimize or stigmatize what you are gong through. Well-intentioned people may not know what to say or how they may help you through. People may not understand why you are “so upset” over “an animal”. You may not receive support from medical staff, friends and family.
11. You may be nervous or feel ashamed about your feelings or that you will be judged. This could lead to you keeping everything inside of yourself and not being able to express your grief.
12. You may not ever “get over” or forget about your pet, however, you can work through your grief and eventually have less painful days.
13. You may always carry your pet in your mind, heart and soul.
14. Where there was great unconditional love like that provided by a pet, there can be great loss and mourning. This is very normal.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, I hope some of the points are helpful to you. There are some wonderful resources for pet bereavement, but not nearly as many as are needed. Please take a look at my Pet Bereavement Services page for more information on how I may companion you through your grieving process in a safe, non-judgmental environment. An additional resource is the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, which I am a proud member of http://www.aplb.org “The Loss of a Pet” (4th edition) by Dr. Wallace Sife is an excellent down-to-earth book that I highly recommend as well. Dr. Sife is also the founder of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement.