At some point in our lives as devoted dog, cat and other pet owners, we all have experienced the loss of these beloved members of our families. After such a loss, it is human nature to not only emotionally grieve that loss, but to physically mourn as well. What I want to share with you is that your grief process is normal; it is also part of being human, and you are not alone in your feelings of sadness.
Grief is a Process
Grief is a process as well as a feeling and an emotion. Grief is something we go through when a loved one has passed on. It doesn’t matter whether the loved one was a human or an animal companion. My teacher, Teresa Wagner, states, “Grief is indifferent to the species lost.” I would add to that by saying, “We grieve so very deeply because we loved just as deeply.” Why it matters is because there is an emotional bond between two beings—two living creatures.
Everyone will experience grief in his or her own way. For some, grief lasts only a short time because the passing was expected and the bereaved had time to prepare themselves. For others, the passing of a loved one may be unexpected or sudden. The grief process for an unanticipated death will likely take longer to work through.
Grief is Normal and Understandable
The most important thing to remember is that when you are grieving, your feelings are not only completely and totally normal, they are understandable! Feel free to cry, yell, punch pillows or even just be silent. The grieving process that works best is completely up to the individual.
Two wonderful coping methods that have helped me when I’ve lost a pet, and may help others, are to journal about how you feel or draw it out, if you like drawing. Remember, no one needs to see your writing or your artwork—it is your private therapy for your own path to healing.
Grief Has No Timeline
Grief has no timeline. Everyone’s grief process is their own and it is important to honor that. Some people need to tell their favorite stories over and over again until they have worked through their grief or even anger over the death. Others prefer silence. Both of these methods are normal and acceptable coping mechanisms. Grieving is a process, and each individual will work through it in their own way towards healing. If the bereaved person wants to create a memorial to honor the memory of the pet who has passed, they can see it as a reminder of the animal as they lived, and something that makes them smile or “lifts their spark” when thinking of their beloved animal companion.
Platitudes are Never a Good Idea
When other people tell someone who is grieving the loss of a beloved pet “It’s been 6 months, you should be over that by now. After all, it was just a dog,” their words are more hurtful than helpful. If you, as the bereaved, have experienced this, it’s okay to tell that person their comment isn’t helpful. Or you can ignore it outright, depending upon your relationship with the other person. This is one of those moments where platitudes are rarely helpful. Would you believe I’ve heard about people using this exact same sentence when someone else’s father died? If you wouldn’t want someone telling you this while you’re grieving, consider not saying it to someone else while they are.
Remember to Care for Yourself
The main thing to remember is that it’s important to be gentle with yourself during your grief process. Take time to rest, drink plenty of water and nourish your body with healthy foods. And don’t be too concerned about eating comfort foods now and then if it helps you. You are undergoing a difficult, emotional time. As humans, we are equipped with a complete set of emotions. It is healthy to allow yourself a grace period to feel all of the feelings you were born with. What exactly “feeling the feelings” looks like will vary from person to person. It all depends on you; be kind to yourself. We love, therefore we grieve, our pets.
Holli B. Shan is a Certified Pet Loss Grief Counselor and Intuitive Animal Communicator. You can contact her at www.CompassionSpeaks.com. Join her Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/PeacefulPetPlayground.