For all of us who love our pets, there comes a time when we have to let them go. If we’re lucky, it will come after a long, happy life and you’ll have a chance to say goodbye. Regardless if your pet let you know it was time or you lost them suddenly, losing a pet is as painful and traumatic as losing a human loved one, and the grief process is the same. Let’s talk about the pain of losing a pet and how to cope.
First of all, don’t let anyone tell you you’re being silly or that it was “just a cat/dog/etc”. Unfortunately some people do not feel the same way about animals as we do, but that doesn’t give them the right to judge or belittle. Do your best to ignore them and surround yourself with supportive people, but if you need alone time that is okay too. There’s really no right or wrong way to grieve for your pet and no timetable in which to do it. It’s okay to cry, be depressed, or even angry. It’s even okay to swing between all three and feeling okay. It’s also okay to laugh about the good times you had with your pet, and even feelings of guilt are normal.
I recently lost my beloved cat, and even though he died suddenly and peacefully of a disease that generally goes undetected until it causes death, I felt guilty. Although he had never shown any signs of illness or distress and up until his death had been happy and active, I still found myself wondering if there was something I missed or could have done. Here’s what I’ve come to realize. Just as our pets were not perfect, neither are we as pet owners. However if we loved them, and gave them the best possible care and life, we have nothing to feel guilty about.
Memorializing your pet can be a healthy and healing part of the grief process. You may choose to have your pet cremated and put in a beautiful urn or box, or have the vet take a cast of his paw print. If you are crafty, you might want to create a special scrapbook or album. There are even websites that let you create online memorials. Whatever you find comfort in you should embrace. A poem many grieving the loss of their pets find comforting is called The Rainbow Bridge, and there are also many books that deal with pet loss and grief.
While we’ll always miss our pets, time does dull our pain and heal our grief. Sometimes though, people get stuck somewhere along the grief process. There’s no shame in that, and if that happens, there is help available. If you are not feeling better in month or so, feel hopeless or have constant thoughts of death, or your grief is otherwise affecting your ability to deal with daily life, please call your doctor. But remember, everyone grieves differently and on their own schedule. Just know that you are not alone, that there are people who understand, and your pet loved you too.