How to Grieve the Death of a Pet
A couple of months ago my household lost one of our cherished members. Sable was the sweetest cat I have ever known. She truly wanted nothing more than love, some good food, a good brushing and more love. Unfortunately, she also had some congenital issues that suddenly and dramatically came to a head. One day she was demanding to be brushed, two days later we were sitting with her in a quiet room at our vets and watching the light fade away.As I said, it has been a few months. I am just now able to really speak about this without my chest and throat clenching up and my brain shifting into neutral for minutes on end. My wife and I have been working to make sure that we work through our grief in positive ways and to remember Sable in the best ways we can.For us, losing Sable was one of the hardest things we have ever gone through, so I thought I would write a bit about strategies that might help when coping with the loss of a family companion.
- First and foremost, allow yourself to grieve. Sure, you will still have to find a way to get through the day-to-day grind, but you need to have a bit of time to yourself when you can allow yourself to fully let go and grieve in whatever way is best for you. In the car, bathroom breaks, going on walks at lunch, time with close friends, etc. …
- Everyone grieves differently. Don’t be upset with yourself and feel that you are being overly dramatic, or conversely, overly cold about your loss. At the same time, allow others some space to feel the grief in the way that they need to. How you express grief is likely to be as unique as you are.
- Talk about your pet. Tell stories to others and remember all the good things. Try to think of the funniest quirk or habit that would always make you smile. It is important to make sure that your strongest memories aren’t the ones from just before their passing, but the wide array of memories throughout your lives together.
- Not everyone will understand. It is wonderful to be able to talk and share memories of your pet, but sometimes there will be people who just don’t understand. Just acknowledge that these people see pets differently than you do and be aware of it. I would suggest not talking to those people about your loss. It would have upset me terribly if anybody had said “what’s the big deal? It’s just a cat.” That moment probably isn’t the best moment to discuss differing value systems.
- Do something symbolic. We got a sturdy plant and we mixed Sable’s ashes in with its soil. We also donated some newer toys of hers to a shelter, and picked up some extra food to go with it. If you are an artist or writer, it might help to express your memories in that way, with poetry or a painting.
- Get another pet. You can never replace a family member. Each and every one of our pets is unique and special and no dog or cat will ever be the same as the one we lost, but there are definitely good reasons to consider a new family member. Sometimes a new pet will help fill in those deafening silences and hollow days, not to diminish your grief, but just to avoid being overwhelmed by it. Also, there a lot of animals that need someone to love and care for them and if you are reading this, I think I can assume you would be a good candidate.
- Take care of yourself. Proper nutrition, sunlight and exercise are crucial when dealing with grief. Studies have shown a link between malnutrition and depression, so why would you want to make a bad situation worse? Walking a new puppy is a great way to get exercise…
- If you have children, talk to them. It is best to be honest and realistic with children. This will probably be the first time a child has to deal with the death of a loved one and it is essential that it be as positive as possible. Avoid euphemisms, like “put to sleep” or “went away.” Children can take things like this very literally. Imagine a child fearing going to bed after hearing that “Sparky was put to sleep” and then never came back again. As hard as it is, it is really best to confront the subject head on and use words like "died" and "dead."
- Remember that your other pets may grieve too, or even just pick up on the emotions in the household. During this time it is important to be aware of how animals might express their emotions and look at ways to help them as well. Personally, I think a round of flower essences like Bach’s Rescue Remedy or Grieving Flower Essences for everybody can be a great idea.
- Lastly, do not obsess on assigning blame. Even if someone was directly at fault, remember that you need time to grieve and it won’t help to focus excessively on feelings of guilt or anger. Don’t let time that should be spent remembering your best friend turn into a huge negative experience full of fighting and blame.
Grief when you lose someone you love is a reality and nothing will take away the pain of that loss, but hopefully some of these strategies can help you deal with the pain in positive ways.