Animal companions have a way of reminding us of the beauty and joy of life through their steadfast loyalty and unconditional love. Sadly, many know the pain of losing a precious animal companion. According to researchers, losing a pet can be just as devastating as losing a human companion. Some have theories as to why this is including that animals are non-judgmental and at the mercy of the person’s care. Perhaps this makes the loss feel more devastating.
Too many feel shame and embarrassment after losing a beloved pet because it was “just an animal.” Society frowns on strong portrayals of grief, especially for a pet. This guilt can make it harder to take care of our own well-being during this difficult time (Yonan, 2012). While it will take time after a devastating loss of a cherished friend, there are ways to make the transition smoother. Here are a few self-care ideas to try during your grieving process:
Stick to regular routines. After a major loss, it’s understandable that we don’t feel like doing anything. Yet, studies show it’s so important to maintain your schedule as best you can. Maintaining when you sleep, eat, and exercise can help the days go by smoother. At the same time, there’s no need to feel guilty if you can’t maintain your previous schedule right away. It is a process.
Allow yourself to truly feel your loss. Denying how you feel or keeping it hidden is anything but healthy. Knowing your loss is real and significant is very healing. Everyone grieves in different ways, and the time you spent with your pet is irreplaceable. Never allow anyone to make you feel guilty for experiencing the great depths of your loss.
Dwell on the happy memories. While it may be too painful to do this right after a loss, it is worth trying. When the grief is at its highest, thinking of all the joyful times is recommended. This activity helps cement the idea that the relationship was real and loving. Looking at old photographs may take time as well, but it will help in the long run. Soon, you’ll be able to think of their silly antics with fondness, not heartbreak.
Create a momento. Along those same lines, a lot of pet owners find comfort from creating a special place in their home in honor of their pet’s life. For example, many pet owners like to use a framed photograph, their collar or tags, or even something unrelated that reminds you of them. Momentos are great physical reminders that the lost pet’s companionship made a lasting impact and will continue to do so.
Search for meaning behind your time together. We all yearn for purpose after going through a loss, and this is a good time to think deeply about the meaning behind it all. Did your pet remind you that there is love and joy in the world? Did they teach you valuable lessons about loyalty or caretaking? Did they help you grow closer to someone else? All of these questions and more allow you to look beyond the pain into the bigger picture (2019).
Spend quality time with remaining pet(s). If you have a multi-pet household, it’s imperative to remember that other animals can feel grief, too. During this time, it can be a great comfort to spend quality time with your remaining animals by showering them with affection, giving them extra treats, and trying new activities with them. Animals can sense sadness in people, so spending time in a calming environment with them is so important. Mutual comfort is key.
Consider volunteering with animals. Once you’re able to be around other animals without being overcome with grief, this is a great option. This is especially true if you were a part of a single-pet home. Fostering pets in need, helping with animal adoption fairs, and spending time with other creatures can be a great reminder that love is still out there in many forms. If you don’t feel ready to adopt a new family member, this is a great stepping stone to that goal.
Take as long as you need before getting another pet. For true animal lovers, this one is a tricky consideration. No one wants to think of all of the homeless pets in the world, yet your healing journey is important, too. Filling the raw void of loss with another animal too soon may lead to more issues (Robinson, Segal, & Segal, 2019). A newly adopted pet doesn’t deserve to be second-best to the animal you lost. So, make sure your heart is healed enough before making that leap. Ask yourself if your new pet would feel awkward, unwelcome or unsafe. For example, if you’re crying at the drop of a hat when you see an animal that reminds you of the one you lost or your prior schedule isn’t what it used to be, hold off a little longer. You’ll be glad you did.
While it is no easy feat overcoming the loss of a beloved pet, there are ways to make the transition easier. Once these self-care tips are fulfilled and you have a regular self-care routine, it’s natural to feel some guilt. But, remember that just because your heart is healing, doesn’t mean that the animals who have passed on are being forgotten. The ones you lost will live on in your heart and mind. Resilience is an inspiring quality of being human and it should be embraced. While the road may be agonizing at first, healing after this loss will allow you to open your heart again.
2019. Coping with the loss of a pet. Retrieved from: https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/pet loss.aspx
Robinson, Segal, & Segal. (2019). Coping with Losing a Pet. Retrieved from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-losing-a-pet.htm
Yonan, Joe. (2012). How to deal with the death of a pet. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-death-of-pet-can-hurt-asmuch-as-the-loss-of-a-relative/2012/02/21/gIQALXTXcS_story.html?noredirect=on