The loss of a pet is a major life event.
After the death of a pet, many owners experience what psychologists call “disenfranchised grief,” the pain of a loss that’s not openly acknowledged or socially supported. Subsequently, their grief can worsen into clinical depression, low self-esteem, and withdrawal, making healthful strategies vital to processing the death of a pet.
While we the majority of us feel grief at the loss of a pet, what incorporates that loss into our lives and softens the sadness is the act of mourning. It is important to recognize that the feelings associated with the loss of a pet, such as sadness, disbelief, and anger, are all normal.
Bottling up your feelings can lead to deep resentment and is stressful on the body, which can make you more vulnerable to illness.
Here, six ways to guide you through your pet loss journey:
Celebrate the life of your beloved pet
Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it. A memorial service can provide a safe and comfortable environment for you and those close to your pet to share stories and openly express emotions.
Consider holding a small celebration of life ceremony at home or contacting a funeral home that offers pet funeral services. They are present in most major cities and offer burial and cremation services as well as caskets, urns, and grave markers designed for pets.
From lighting candles to donating money to an organization that benefits animals, commemorate your pet’s life will help you say goodbye.
Don’t be shy; lean on your friends
About two-thirds of the people in your life will make you feel uncomfortable about the loss of your pet with poorly chosen comments like “You can always get another one” or “Just be glad you don’t have to take care of him anymore.”
It’s important to surround yourself with people who affirm and understand the significance of your pet in your life and support you. Getting involved in a pet loss support group or visiting a grief counselor can also help you work through your emotions. Call your local humane society to see whether it offers a pet-loss support group or can refer you to one.
Be conscious of your health
Emotional stressors withdraw a great deal of energy from your body, causing many people to suffer from weakened immune systems and illnesses during grief. While you may experience a loss of appetite and thirst or have trouble sleeping following the death of a pet, giving your body plenty of energy through food, water, and rest are important to staying healthy and feeling better emotionally.
Write your thoughts and feelings down on paper
Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem, essay, or short story. This can be very therapeutic in nature and help to organize your thoughts.
Consider taking time off from work
While many private sector employees get paid bereavement time off from work, that time rarely extends to the loss of a pet. Still, you may need to take some time off of work to regain your sense of stability. If your boss is a fellow pet owner, explain your situation to him or her, or simply take a personal or vacation day.
Fight your urge to get another pet
Fight off the instinct to get a new pet so you won’t miss the old one. It’s important to only welcome a new pet into your home once you are ready to love it without comparison. Each animal has her own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost.
While each person’s timeline is different, give yourself at least six months to process the loss of your pet before getting a new one.