Pets are a huge part of many people’s lives. More than “an animal” a pet is your companion, confidant, friend and often protector. Your pet is there to cheer you up, listen to you, make you laugh and give you love. More than anything, your pet gives you this love unconditionally. No matter what kind of day you are having your pet is happy to see you, even if you have only been gone for a few moments. Many of us love our pet so much that we attribute human characteristics to them. Pets seem endlessly patient, eager to spend time with you creating a strong connection.
For seniors and singles a pet (especially a dog) creates a connection to the outside world. Urging you out of your house for walks, where you often meet, connect and socialize with other dogs and dog owners.
The healing aspects of pets have been well documented. Dogs and cats are used for therapeutic purposes in long-term care and hospital settings. Patients calm down and relax while stroking a pet. What they give you is immeasurable and when you lose them it is often an agonizing experience.
The grief experience is often palpable and unavoidable. Your routine is now upset- no more feedings, walks or cuddling. Coming home to a house empty of pets can be a physically and emotionally painful experience. This process has no timeline and although it is experienced uniquely by everyone there are some commonalities.
Initially you may feel overwhelmed by your pet’s death and have a hard time processing and accepting it. This is often followed by intense feelings of unfairness towards the situation. These feelings of unfairness can linger for a very long time and may come and go in waves.
Eventually you may find yourself falling into a depression as you realize the gravity of the situation, you will never see your pet again. The emptiness of the house and the change of your routine highlight the pain.
Although the length and intensity of this process is unique for everyone there are ways to help you work through it.
First and foremost is to acknowledge the importance this special pet had in your life. Allow yourself to feel, experience and express whatever emotions come up. You are mourning a family member, allow that process to happen, accept and embrace it. Others around you may not understand your deep connection to your special friend and your consequent sadness. During this time take good care to spend time with those who understand and appreciate your loss.
You may choose to honour your pet’s memory with a symbol. Veterinary clinics may offer your pet’s ashes, a ceramic foot print or another memento. Choose to hold onto whatever you feel is important.
Pet memorial services are a nice way to allow others who loved your pet to say goodbye to him/her and comfort you.
When, how and if you add another pet to your family is up to you. Adding another pet does not mean replacing the memory of the pet that you have lost, but it can help you to move along when you are ready. Do it when you believe that you are able to emotionally focus on the pet you are adding as a new and distinct member of your family. This new pet, especially if adopted from a shelter, will love and comfort you as you continue your journey of healing.
If intense feelings of grief persist for an extended period of time seek out help from a therapist who can help you relieve this emotional pressure and get things back on track.