The loss of a pet can bring as much grief as the loss of some human friends and family members.
This makes sense when you consider the role our animal companions play in our everyday lives. You cared for your pet’s every need and, because they could not speak, you learned to communicate in other ways. Such caring builds intimacy similar to that found between a parent and their infant; love without conflict, jealousy, or any of the other complications found in most relationships. So when a pet dies, the depth of your grief reflects your loss of a special relationship.
“When we lose a pet, we lose a relationship unlike any other,” says Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, a family therapist and author of The Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice from Family Therapists Who Lead Pet Loss Groups.
“Many of us love our pets the way we love our children. But in the immediate aftermath of this unique loss, too often family members and friends say things like, ‘Just get another one.’ Instead of devaluing your grief over the loss of this important relationship, as others may advise, embrace your sorrow. Your grief is important, for it will lead you to healing and teach you important things about what matters most in life.”
Dolan-Del Vecchio offers these tips for those grieving the loss of a pet:
Share your grief with empathetic friends. Spend time with people who understand your closeness with your pet. Even some friends may be insensitive, so be careful to avoid “get over it” types of people. “Unfortunately, many people see animals as if they were non-living objects,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says.
Attend a pet loss support group. Pet loss groups provide a concentrated dose of social support. Meeting with others who also grieve and share similar emotions can boost one’s healing greatly.
Keep moving. Exercise is a healer. It boosts feelings of well-being and calm, improves sleep and brightens your mood.
Be creative. Whether you lean toward writing, scrapbooking, ceramics, photography or making collages, creative projects may contribute to healing.
Spend time in nature. Nothing quiets the mind and soul like a stroll through a park, nature preserve, or by the seashore. “The natural world brings special benefits when your heart has been torn by grief,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says. “The sights, sounds, and smells of nature connect us to eternal, circular stories of life and death in ways that go beyond our usual thoughts and feelings, and this experience brings solace to many people.”
“It’s important to care for yourself when you’re grieving your pet,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says. “This requires some planning and acts of will, as grief can diminish energy and motivation. You can lessen your distress through self-care. Above all else, be gentle with yourself.”