After learning of Poh the dog’s passing, I’ve been thinking a lot about death and how deeply we are affected by losing a pet. I’ve decided to deviate from my usual blog format this week and just talk a little about the topic of grief. More specifically, how to cope after losing a pet.
There are generally two types of people you’ll come across if and when you must say goodbye to your beloved animal. There are those who don’t “get it” and then those who understand and will mourn with you as if it was their own pet. You might have heard people say, “It’s just a cat or just a dog,” but we pet parents know nothing could be further from the truth. Often times we’ve raised our animals from when they were weeks-old babies or rescued them from cold, lonely shelters. We included them as part of the family because that’s what they were. We took them on trips, celebrated their birthdays (or adoption days), laughed at their antics, and fought them over mattress space as they stretched their paws wide and assumed the position as leader of the household.
Your pet saw you through a breakup or maybe a divorce, they snuggled with you when you were sick, they knew when something was off and you just needed a presence or sloppy kiss. Our pets are not just anything. They are family. Perhaps their unconditional love is what makes their passing almost harder to bear than other losses we may experience.
Humans judge. We say things we don’t mean. We fight. We try to navigate this little game of life as best we can but still manage to mess things up on a colossal scale now and again because…well, that’s what humans do. Pets hold no such reservations. They ask for nothing (except maybe bacon…or that crust you’re not going to eat, right?). We can yell at our dog for gnawing on our favorite purple Steve Madden pumps and for dragging them through the mud just to be doubly sure they’re destroyed (not that that’s ever happened) but go right back to loving them ten minutes later. Dogs seem to be the happiest they’ve ever been when you come home whether it’s been 5 minutes or 5 weeks. Could you imagine if we greeted our spouses that way? Pets are our loyal companions, our silent therapists, for some—a pet is the only family they know.
So how do we grieve when losing a pet? How do we lessen the unbearable pain we feel having been robbed of the joy and light they brought to our lives? Honestly, there is no right or wrong way.
The healthiest thing you can do is acknowledge your grief and understand it’s okay to feel profoundly sad—maybe even angry or guilty. You might experience depression or denial. You might feel embarrassed over your sadness knowing that others won’t understand. Whatever the case, own those emotions. Allow yourself the mental and emotional space to grieve. Maybe stay the heck away from those “just a pet” friends for a while.
Think of a way to honor your pet:
- If you’re the creative type, channel your energy into writing a poem or creating artwork to hang in your home.
- You might choose to bury your dog or cat in your yard or have them cremated. You can then create a memorial site or scatter their ashes along a favorite trail.
- Write it out. Run it out. Cry it out.
- Some people cope with losing a pet by getting a symbolic tattoo.
- Others create a memory album or shadow box to include the pet’s collar or tag.
- Etsy is a great place to find a custom necklace inscribed with your pet’s name.
- If you are fortunate enough to be with your pet as he or she crosses the Rainbow Bridge, you might choose to take a clay molding of their paw print or snip a lock of their fur.
- Though it might seem counterproductive to be surrounded by other animals, you might find comfort in volunteering at an animal shelter. You might even find a new fur friend to adopt when the time is right.
Losing a pet is arguably the hardest thing we face as parents. It makes no difference whether they’re a dog, cat, bird, reptile, or fish. The connection you have with your animal is authentic and irreplaceable. You’re not weird for mourning their loss and you’re certainly not alone. There is no correct way to grieve nor is there a specified timeline for the grieving process. Honor your pet however you feel appropriate; honor yourself enough to validate your feelings…however painful they may be.
“Where there is loss there is always an even greater presence of love.”