Grief following death of a pet is common, affects people in different ways
Your beloved companion animal has died and your grief is a journey that started on the day your special pet died. Actually, if your pet was sick or in declining health before she died, your grief was set in motion when you first understood that the illness would result in death.
This article will help you learn not only about common thoughts and feelings of grief after the death of a pet, but ways to mourn those thoughts and feelings, as well. Over time and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal.
How it felt to share your life with a beloved companion animal
- Loved you even when you were having a bad day
- Didn’t have to be the one who got in the last word
- Didn’t get huffy when you used baby talk with her
- May have been your last link to someone else you love or miss
- Offered protection, security, or physical service
- Didn’t judge you, and yet immediately forgave you
- Became your silent best friend and confidant
- Treated you better than any lover or spouse did
- Showed you love, compassion and wisdom
- Never betrayed you
When your pet dies you may feel the loss very strongly. You may feel overwhelmed by the depth of your sadness. Others, especially those who have never experienced the joy of giving and receiving love from a pet, may not understand your feelings of loss. They may even imply that you are overreacting. Your feelings are what they are. The fact that you are having these feelings means you need to have them. You need to express your feelings. The outward expression of grief, or mourning, is how you externalize those thoughts and feelings and ultimately, integrate them into your life.
Pets are part of our families. Pets delight in our company. You could even say that our pets’ very purpose is to spend time with us and simply “be” with us. Not only are our pets our companions, but they also help us meet our need for physical contact. We touch our pets and they seek out our touch. We are comforted, calmed, and grounded when we stroke them or they lie next to us. When death separates us from our pets physically, we mourn not only the loss of a companion, but a companion whose touch was central to the relationship.
Pets are an intrinsic part of our day-to-day lives. They are part of the ritual of our days. In many cases the pets get fed before the morning coffee is even made. Their absence, then, comes as a shock. Not only has a companion you dearly loved been taken from you, but a key piece of the ritual of your life suddenly is no longer. No wonder it can feel like your life has been torn apart.
A final reason pets are so very important to us is that they give that rarest of affirmations–unconditional love. Our pets love us no matter how lazy, slovenly, or unsuccessful we are. They don’t expect great things of us. They don’t pressure us to work harder or earn more money. Our pets love us without judgment. They even love us when we don’t love them back as well as we should, or when we neglect to groom them, or when we take them to the vet or forget their night meal. They love us. They just do. And we feel that love and appreciate its steadfast presence in our lives.
Grieving a pet vs. grieving a person–isn’t it the same thing? Pet owners often feel the loss of their companion animals very deeply. In many situations the pet owners will say it was one of the most profound losses in their lives because the relationship they had with their pet was one of the most profound in their lives.
Everyone grieves after the death of a beloved companion animal, but their grief is never precisely the same as anyone else’s. Each person’s grief is shaped by all the things that make each of us unique human beings. Your grief over the death of your pet will be affected by:
- The nature of the relationship you had with your pet. The stronger the attachment, the deeper the grief. The length of the relationship you had with your pet will also be a factor.
- The circumstances of the death. Sometimes how and why your pet died will play a big part in your grief.
- Your unique personality. If you tend to be quiet and introverted, you may express your grief quietly. If you are outgoing, you may be more expressive of your grief.
- Your support systems. The quality and the quantity of support your feel from people around you as you mourn the death of your pet has a decided impact on your grief.
- Other crises or stresses in your life right now. The world does keep turning when we are in grief. The more intense and numerous the stresses in your life, the more overwhelming your grief experience may be.
- There are some common feelings after the death of a special pet, but keep in mind, no two people grieve the same. Your grief is unique.
- Shock and disbelief
- Disorganization and confusion
- Physical symptoms
- Explosive emotions
- Sadness and depression
- Relief and release
These feelings, these emotions, are the same as any grief and mourning felt over the loss of a loved one. Animal companions love in ways that confound the skeptics, inspire the poets, and outshine the mystics. Their loss can never be restored. Their presence can never be forgotten. You have learned from them the true meaning of unconditional love and what a wonderful lesson to learn.
Kay DePerno, M.Ed.
Bereavement Counselor for Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley
Board of Directors for the Potsdam Humane Society