Losing a pet is a challenging and overwhelming time. Many of us are surprised by the sheer weight of our emotional experiences after our beloved pet passes on. The stages of grief after losing a pet look different for each of us, but we can help each other along our healing journeys all the same.
If you have ever cared for a pet, you know how incredibly deep the relationship between pet and pet parent can grow. It seems that from the moment these adorable animal companions come into our hearts, they become a part of our families.
In fact, it can be hard to remember a time before we had our faithful four-footed companions to care for, share our lives with, and love. Whether you are a dog person, cat person, or had the world’s most incredible rabbit, the simple truth is that our pets mean the world to us.
How Does It Feel to Lose a Beloved Pet?
Even when we understand the unconditional love we have for our furry friends, the magnitude of what it’s like to lose them can be surprising. In fact, one of the most common feelings following the loss of a pet is confusion and guilt. It’s tempting to discount or undermine our emotions instead of truly feeling them, as we attempt to minimize the bond we shared with our beloved companions.
It can feel illegitimate to have such strong emotions toward an event like losing a pet. In truth, we know these emotions are very valid. Experiencing grief after losing a pet isn’t only natural; it’s healthy. Our experiences with grief after our pets die can be extremely similar to the death of a human loved one or family member.
No matter the context, grief can be difficult to understand and even harder to grant yourself patience as you experience its journey. These levels of frustration and confusion are not unique to losing a pet. This aspect of contemplating death in general and the hardships that it brings is a universal process.
Let’s take a closer look at what we experience when one of our loyal pets passes on and explore steps that can help through that process.
What Are the Stages of Grief?
Grief is a strange but necessary emotion. Grief is a response to one of the most complicated parts of the cycle of life.
Death in and of itself is natural. While many of us find it challenging to come to peace with death, it is something we all face. Death is not unique to certain demographics, socioeconomic status, or nationalities; it’s part of the human experience that connects us all to the precious time we have together on this Earth. Despite this universality, our journeys and interactions with death throughout our lives will be uniquely our own.
How and when we start to develop our relationships with death are different for everyone. Some of us are exposed to death at a young age, while others can grow for years without experiencing the effects of death until a more mature age.
Death can also seem peripheral and distant at times. It can be difficult to predict which deaths will emotionally affect us the most. However, these interactions whether big or small are a part of our development and uniquely prepare us to process deaths in our lives.
For many people, some of their earliest interactions with death will be when they lose a pet. Childhood is a magical time, and it’s common for families to have pets for their children. While these loyal companions bring joy, laughter, and love to a family unit, they may also bring an early experience with mortality.
Dogs have an average life span of four to 12 years. This often means it’s inevitable to have the honor of being your K9’s companion through their death journey, the same way they were your companion through their life.
Does Losing a Pet Ever Get Easier?
Many people who were raised around pets likely had an interaction with the concept of death by experiencing the death of their pet; however, that doesn’t make the death of that animal companion or future fur babies any easier. In fact, for many adults, the grief of losing a pet in their adulthood can be even more significant than when they were younger.
That’s partially because we learn to appreciate and enjoy the companionship of a pet on a deeper level as we grow. Our pets are more than just adorable, fun-loving companions. Theycompanions They become our confidants, the first faces we see when we return home, and a constant source of unconditional love.
This can be one of the reasons why adults feel a certain level of insecurity and confusion when their pets die. We may try to rationalize our feelings of grief away due to the inevitability of our pets’ losses, but logic cannot explain away the magical bond that we share with these remarkable creatures.
How Can We Process the Grief of Losing a Pet?
The stages of grief that often include denial, anger, sadness do eventually lead to acceptance, however, it can be a rocky road getting there. If you are experiencing the death of a pet, here are some ways to help process this grief and move toward healing.
Embrace Your Community
The death of a beloved pet doesn’t need to be something you walk through alone.
As adults, it can be all too easy to believe that we can handle grief on our own by investing in work, relationships, and responsibilities, never giving ourselves the time we need to heal. For some of us, we will need someone to walk with us through our grief, externally processing and finding comfort in another persons’ presence and strength.
Others prefer to process privately, and constant companionship at this time might become more of a stressor than a gift. Still, regardless of our needs, there are ways our community can help us during these challenging times. Either through tangible displays of affection like cooking or through a silent presence in the home, accepting the love our surviving companions offer can be a great comfort.
Give Yourself Time
When a pet dies, it can be all too easy to fill up our schedule and distract ourselves from our feelings. While we may have responsibilities that need to be managed, being sure to allow ourselves adequate time and space to process the grief is crucial.
Again, this will lookwill can look different for each of us. Although most jobs allow for bereavement, it may not be as easy to secure time for healing when a pet dies. Even if it’s difficult to find the support we need at work, there are additional ways to take a moment to prioritize your emotional journey.
Maybe this means taking a couple of days out of your weekend to memorialize your beloved companion or even taking a half-day from work to give yourself time to process. No matter how this time looks, it’s vital to honor your emotions as they arise.
Embrace Professional Guidance
Another tool to be aware of is counseling. Grief counselors are trained professionals that can help us navigate these tricky waters. Not only that but there are specially-trained grief counselors who know how to help us understand how to heal from a beloved pet’s death.
Grief counseling isn’t exclusively offered for human death, and these coping mechanisms may help us rediscover the joy our pets would have wanted for us.
Learning how to commemorate your pet’s impact and legacy can be a powerful way to help ourselves heal and keep their memories close. Running from their memory, not using their name, or acting like nothing much has changed can be a stage of grief, but it’s not a place you should stay.
Powerful memorial tools like turning carbon from their cremated ashes into diamonds, creating a commemorative gravesite for them, or even hanging a picture of them in your house can be deeply healing. Understanding grief after losing a pet is no small feat, but giving yourself time to grieve, seeking the emotional support you need, and remembering the remarkable bond you will always share can help you travel through this difficult process.