Grieving the loss of a pet
There is a saying,'Grief is love with nowhere to go'. This is so true when we encounter the death of a beloved pet or companion animal. You may feel overwhelmed by your emotions; a deep sense of sadness and loss; a hole has opened up in your heart that you feel will never be filled again.
I hope in this short article we bring some reassurance that what you are feeling is OK and normal; that you need to express your feelings; they are what they are and you never need to be ashamed to express your feeling of love and loss.
There is no hierarchy in grief
People who share their lives with another animal know and feel the unconditional love that they off to us. Even if you shout at them, get frustrated by them. They still love us back with the whole of their being. Your pet never pressured you to earn more money, lose weight or passed comments about what you wore. They just loved you!
Sadly you will come across some people who will not understand your grief.
I have talked with many people about the loss of their loved ones: the widowed husband; the parents enduring the death of a child; the complex feelings around a loved one who decided to end their own life. The grief and pain that we experience when we encounter the death of a loved one cannot be ranked.
What about the death of a pet? Isn’t a pet less important than a person? Therefore shouldn’t we feel less grief?
For me and think possible for you too, the answer is no. Your relationship with your pet is one of the most profound and deep relationships you have. As was stated at the start of this article: Grief is love with nowhere to go. The loss of the unconditional love that your pet gave is often devastating. You cared for them and did your utmost to ensure that their needs were met. You provided food, shelter, safety, love and companionship. The absence you feel deeply into the core of your very being. A part of you is missing and you need to grieve and mourn.
They are family
A survey carried out in 2022 in the UK found that 16.2 million (57%) households in the UK have one or more pets. In the UK there are 38 million pets. Furthermore, the charity Blue Cross’s 2022 survey found that 95% of the UK’s pet carers considered their pets to be part of the family, and 91% of pet carers gave their pets gifts and treats to show that they loved them.
Your feelings of sadness and your need to grieve and mourn their death are normal as you would grieve the loss of any important relationship in your life.
When a pet dies you feel a profound loss. Which is because you loved them, and they loved you in return. There are a myriad of aspects to your daily life that has changed. Preparing their food; playing with them. The cuddles you shared and them just being there, maybe hopping up into your lap to be stroked or just to be close to you. When you wake in the morning they were there by your side. All of these and more are reminders of their absence.
Grief and mourning
Grief and mourning are aspects of bereavement. They are two sides of the same coin and each has an important part to play in your grief journey.
Grief is the feeling of your inner world. Your grief is unique to you and to the loss you have suffered. It can be debilitating, a maelstrom of conflicting emotions. Some may be explosive such as anger, blame, hate, and resentment. Be assured it is OK to feel these feelings and as we shall see it is important for you to accept your emotions.
Mourning is your external expression of your grief. And for many, this is the most uncomfortable aspect of grief. We do not mourn well and others around you may feel uncomfortable around you while you mourn. This is an issue for society not for you. We all need to mourn. It is only through mourning can healing take place. It is through mourning that you are able to reconcile your loss and build your new world and relationship with your pet that has died.
There is a saying, 'Time heals all wounds'. This is not true. Time itself has very little to do with your healing. To heal you must make sense and learn from what has occurred. It is the work you do while mourning that will heal you.
Meeting your needs
Your grief is deep and tender. You need not feel shame because you are grieving the loss of a pet. Your relationship with them was and is special. As has been stated, you need to grieve and mourn. Commonly there are a number of aspects to your mourning that will help you on your journey:
- Recognise that your pet has died. In the early stages of your loss, you may see your pet where you would expect to see them. Or when you come home you may be looking forward to them greeting you as you get in. In time you will accept that these events have also stopped.
- Allow yourself to feel the pain of your loss. Slow walk towards your pain and allow yourself to feel aspects of it. Don’t try and feel the loss all at once and become overwhelmed by the enormity of your pain.
- Love endures after death which is a powerful aspect of love. Continue your relationship with your pet through memory.
- Find out who you are now without your pet. Our self-image is often built around the relationships we have. Were you the person who always visited with a dog? What does it mean now for you if your dog is no longer with you?
- Look for meaning. Why did I share my life with an animal? Will I ever be able to share my life with another animal?
- Accept support from others. You will never stop needing support from others. You never "get over" the grief. We learn to adapt to our grief. The pain will lessen however, sometimes it will be as raw as our first encounter of the loss of that special pet.
Myths around grief
"Time heals all wounds" is a common myth. Only through your work of mourning will you heal the wounds of your loss and be able to reconcile it and bring it into your being.
"It's only a dog/cat/bird". Grief is about love and relationship. As we saw earlier, for you it’s a profound loss and your feelings are valid.
To get more support grieving the death of your pet please contact me.