When We Lose a Pet – The Monster Called Grief

Grief is a big hairy monster that demands its due. Whether your loss is of the two-legged or the four-legged variety grief is grief. If we do not express our grief, feel how we really feel, the monster grief will rise up and demand our attention-even when it’s most inappropriate to do so.

I’ll give you an example of when I lost my dad. It had been my custom for years to send him an Easter basket with all of his favorite candies and silly wind-up toys. I enjoyed this as much as he did. After he passed away, six months prior, I thought I was doing fairly well until I walked into the grocery store and saw displays of bunnies, candy, and baskets. I stood and wept right there in the store. I cried not only for the loss of that Easter but all of the Easters to come. Never again would I do this for him. I could not hold back the floodgates.

It is often difficult in our society to express our grief, especially over the loss of a pet. People often say, “I’m sorry,” and assume this has settled the issue. Or, they tell us to rush right out and get another cat or dog or bird… as if he or she could be replaced like a pair of shoes.

But all of us who have lost a dear companion know it is not that simple. And there are solid reasons for this: look at the facts of the situation. Our pets are always happy to see us. They give us unconditional love and devotion. They don’t care how we look, if we’ve done our work or not, if we have the best house or money in the bank. They just consistently love us. We confide in them. They make us smile when we’re sad or tired or discouraged. Many, many times they make us laugh.

Why would we not grieve over these terrific creatures? Perhaps we think (with pressure from society) that we shouldn’t-“it was just a dog…or a cat…just get another one.” Don’t fall into this misperception. If you are sad, you are sad. If you miss him or her you do. The heart is what it is. Validate your own feelings.

Here are some tips to hopefully help:
o Cry. Cry as much and as often as you need to. If you have a busy life it may be helpful to actually schedule some down time when you can be alone and reflect.

o Consider a memorial. One of my favorites is to plant a tree with a dedication stone beneath it. Or buy a helium balloon, perhaps attach a note to your pet or a picture, take it to a peaceful location, (sunset or sunrise is particularly serene), and launch your balloon. Try to have supportive friends or family with you.

o Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, keep a good diet, exercise (great for releasing those good endorphins), and pamper yourself a bit.

o Communicate with people who understand what you are going through. Your veterinarian or animal shelter may have information on pet grief groups. Or go online and find a chat room of supportive folks.

o On a daily basis think about your pet and what he or she did to make you laugh. Even if the thought is fleeting this accomplishes two things. It physically helps your body find its chemical equilibrium, e.g. when people use humor and laughter to fight serious illnesses. And, it begins to place your loved one in your memories, like placing her in a treasured chest or cabinet. You begin to feel you have not lost her completely because she will always be with you in your mind and heart.

o When you are able to put the food dishes away, get rid of the toys, etc. and you feel emotionally ready it is probably time to go find a new friend. Choosing a new pet too early can be a disaster. You may feel the new pet has to measure up to the charms and talents of the companion you’ve just lost. That would not be fair to your new little guy or you.

o If you fall into a depression that you cannot seem to climb out of make sure you seek professional help.

Best Wishes