It's never easy to lose a pet. Anyone who has ever been blessed with the love of an animal knows that they are more than just companions. They are beloved family members. But in many instances, we do not allow ourselves the same grieving process that we would for a human member of our family. And why not? Do we not love our pets deeply and wholeheartedly? Do we not spend years caring for them and nurturing them? Do they not nurture us? Do we not have innumerable warm memories of our lives with them? A lot of this stiff upper lip attitude that we embrace comes from our fear of how we will be judged by others if we "let it all out." There are always those around us who don't understand grieving for an animal. We put on a brave face and swallow our tears so that those who don't understand won't consider us sappy or weak. This is something that needs to change. It is very important to allow yourself the full grieving process. When we bottle up our emotions, it puts stress on our bodies and is very bad for our health. And grief is sneaky. If it doesn't come out one way, it will come out another. You may end up lashing out at those around you because you aren't facing your own emotions. I've loved and lost quite a few sweet creatures in my life and it took me a long time to understand the importance of learning to grieve their passing. Below, I've listed a few tips and reminders for dealing with the loss of a furry family member.
1.) Allow yourself the freedom to feel whatever emotions arise. The stages of grief include shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression and loneliness, and acceptance. You may feel some or all of these when grieving a pet. They don't necessarily come in any order and they usually hit you in waves. Some days you'll feel okay and then out of the blue, you may be swamped with sadness and guilt. Any grief counselor will tell you that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. What matters is that you do so.
2) Don't put a time limit on your grief. Different people grieve for different periods of time. Even your own family members will grieve the loss differently. The other animals in your home will grieve as well, but that usually doesn't last more than a couple of months. If their behavior seems off any longer than that, it's because they are picking up on your grief. They know something is wrong but they don't know what it is. And if for some reason you feel stuck in the process, if the sadness lingers on a very long time, then seek out a counselor to help you along.
3) Be gentle with yourself. Trim down your schedule and remove any unnecessary stressors from your life. Take time off from your job if you feel the need. Cancel unnecessary appointments. Don't invite the in-laws or the friend that stresses you out over for coffee. Make sure you feed yourself healthy food, get exercise, and plenty of rest. That will enable your brain to keep producing serotonin that will stabilize your mood. You don't need to feel more sad on top of your grief because your body isn't getting what it needs.
4) Confide in fellow animal lovers. As we mentioned before, there are those who will never understand the emotions that accompany owning a pet, so don't share it with them. Call your friends who have pets when you need support. If your boss is someone who doesn't like animals and you feel the need to take off work, then tell him you aren't feeling well. It's the truth.
5) Give yourself time before adopting another pet. This is an important one. Many times, we want to replace our pet immediately. Deep down we know that's impossible, but we miss the sound of their paws on the floor in the morning. We miss them curling up next to us at night when we watch television. It's important not to replace one pet with another because of the affect on our new companion. More often than not, the new animal will develop behavioral issues because it is entering an environment that is unstable. The humans in the home are grieving and will end up either smothering the pet with affection, be extremely overprotective, or ignore the animal completely. All of these behaviors will certainly create issues for your new pet. On top of that, there is the added expectation that this animal behave exactly like the last. No two dogs are alike but in your grief, you may expect that to be a reality.
6) Do something ceremonial. There are many ways you can celebrate the life of your pet. Some services offer headstones or garden stones. Most online florists sell a pet memorial tree that you can plant in remembrance. You can make a scrapbook of pictures, write down funny stories or just little things you loved about your pet like the smell of his fur or the way his left ear always flopped to one side when he was curious about something. Then take a moment to share these precious memories with someone. Doing something ceremonial helps you move through your grieving process. Your beloved friend may be gone but he will forever be locked inside your memory and in your heart.