If you are like me, dealing with the loss of a pet is one of the most difficult things we will ever handle. Pets are a family member and bring so much comfort and unconditional love, it is totally understandable that losing them can be emotionally devastating. Our pets play such an important role in our daily lives, as 70% or more of US households have a pet, it is very painful when we lose our pets. And to compound things, if you are a dog owner, again like me, losing “man’s best friend’” will happen a number of times over your lifetime as one is more likely to get a new dog when the old one crosses the rainbow bridge. Thus, pet loss grief is a reoccurring theme.
Because our pets are such valued members of the family and have gotten us through some difficult times, it is not unusual to be hit hard by this loss. Our furry friends hold a special place in our hearts, and their passing leaves an indelible void. Grief is a natural response to this loss, and it’s essential to navigate through the emotions in a healthy and supportive manner. In this blog post, we will explore three strategies and coping mechanisms to help you and your family deal with the death of a family pet.
1. Acknowledge and Validate Your Feelings
The first step in coping with the death of a family pet is acknowledging your emotions. We love our pets because they’re by our side through thick and thin. They’re loyal and loving; they never fail to make us smile, even when times are tough. For dog owners, who does not remember arriving home after a tough day at work, walking in the house to a wagging tail and kisses on your face. The loss of a pet is devastating in a way that few people understand if they haven’t also had the experience of losing a pet. It’s common to feel a range of emotions such as sadness, grief, guilt, and even anger. These emotions are completely normal, and you need to realize that this grief is valid and real. Allow yourself and your family members the space to express these feelings without judgment. Remember, it’s okay to grieve the loss of your beloved pet.
2. Communicate and Share Memories
Sharing memories and stories about your family pet can be a healing experience. Sit down as a family and reminisce about the happy moments, funny antics, and the unconditional love your pet brought into your lives. Open communication creates a supportive environment where everyone can express their emotions and find solace in these shared memories. However, as you remember the great times together with your animal, recognize that everyone grieves differently and in a different timeframe. We don’t want to be judgmental if a family member is not feeling the same as you. Doctor Amy Sullivan, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic emphasizes, “What’s important is that we recognize that people are experiencing these feelings, and we support them and guide them in each of these different emotions.”
Furthermore, if need be, tap your support system from outside your family group. Reach out to friends, family, or fellow pet owners who have experienced a similar loss. They can provide understanding, empathy, and valuable advice. Additionally, consider joining a pet loss support group either in person or online, where you can connect with others who are going through similar grieving processes. Try Googling “pet loss support group near me” and you should be able to learn about a number of support possibilities near where you live.
3. Create Physical Memorials
Consider celebrating the life of a departed pet by creating a memorial for your pet or for a friend’s pet that has passed. Physical memorials are one of the easiest ways to remember a pet. Planting a memorial tree has become a popular and perfect way to honor the memory of a lost pet. A memorial tree for a pet sends the message that you understand and that you’re there during this difficult time. (What dog would not want to have a tree planted in its memory? Especially if your dog enjoyed being outside and taking walks in the woods.) Whether you’re looking for a meaningful way to remember your own beloved pet after they’ve crossed the rainbow bridge or you’d like to send a tribute to a friend or family member who has lost a faithful companion, a memorial tree for the loss of a pet will create a perfect remembrance gift and a lasting legacy. Planting a tree in honor of a dog, cat, bird, or other animal is an endearing and enduring pet loss gift and one that provides many benefits to our planet as well. Engaging in these memorial activities allows you and your family to pay tribute to the love and joy your pet brought into your lives or those of a friend. The Gifted Tree allows you to honor a beloved companion by planting a tree in US National Forests to create a memorable pet memorial. Several unique and handcrafted tribute designs and pet loss cards are available to send to yourself or to the family of those who lost a family pet. One aspect I really like about the website is if you are struggling to find that perfect pet loss message to include with a tribute, there is a full page of pet loss quotes and poems that you can use. One of my favorites is: “Somewhere between hello and goodbye, there was love, so much love.”
Losing a family pet is an incredibly challenging experience, and coping is a process that can take a long time. But with time, support, and self-care, healing is possible. Remember that grief is a unique journey for each individual in your family, and everyone may cope with it differently. Be patient and understanding with yourselves and each other as you navigate this difficult time. Cherish the memories of your furry friend and allow their love to continue to bring warmth and joy to your lives. As Dr. Sullivan concludes herself “I don’t think you ever move on — you move forward, and the relationship you have with each pet is different. No one’s going to replace that.”