My pet has died, how do I cope?
When a valued member of your family dies, your dog, your cat, your rabbit, or any loved pet, it can have a devastating effect on you and the rest of your family. The feelings of grief and sadness during a pet bereavement can sometimes feel overwhelming. We have put together a little guide which we hope will be helpful during this sad time.
Understanding pet bereavement
Grief is a powerful process and coming to terms with the death of a beloved pet can be extremely difficult, and everyone will experience the loss differently. Some people do go through ‘stages’ of bereavement where the experience of that loss goes from (i) denial that the pet has gone, to (ii) anger, then (iii) guilt – this can be quite acute if you have had to make the really tough but humane decision to put your pet to sleep, to (iv) depression and then finally (v) accepting the death and finding a degree of resolution. For others the grief can come in waves of emotion, with highs and lows that do eventually get less intense with time. But certain places, smells or anniversaries can trigger deep feelings of grief many years after your pet has died.
Your pet bereavement journey
The important thing to remember is that your pet bereavement journey is unique and that there is no ‘normal’ way of doing it or a standard length of time that it will take until the feelings start to subside, for some it may be weeks or months, for others it may take years. It is important to give yourself time to grieve and allow your pet bereavement journey to take place gradually at your own pace. Try not to ‘bottle up’ your emotions, if you really feel that you can’t talk to someone about the loss of your pet then perhaps you could write it all down in a journal. It is important not to ignore these feelings, you are not weak and there is no need to be ashamed, you have lost a member of your family and you will need to grieve.
Not everyone understands
Not everyone will understand your loss, people can have some very strange ways of dealing with death, some people will simply not like to talk about death, others may feel that a loss of a pet is somehow less important than losing a person, especially if they have never had a pet of their own. You may need to find people outside of your usual circle to talk to who do understand the love and companionship that having a pet brings, those who realise the enormity of your loss and can help you to talk about your grief.
If you can’t find people to talk to you might want to consider getting professional bereavement counselling, a trained counsellor can help you through your bereavement journey and will be able to refer you to a medical professional if you need help for depression.
Tips for dealing with pet grief and sorrow
Sorrow and grief are completely normal responses to a death of a pet but they can be very painful. As well as talking to others and or professionals there are things you can do which might help make your bereavement journey a little easier to cope with:
Have funeral or scattering ceremony– funerals or scattering ceremonies allow us to openly express our grief, they may not automatically happen for pets but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one or need one. Take the time to write some words to say, or a poem to read and invite your friends or family or others who understand the importance of what your pet meant to you, and spend some time thinking and feeling about that special pet.
You may want to plant a tree or create a special photo album or scrapbook with your memories so that you can remember all the fun times you had together. There are lots of really lovely ways that you can memorialise the loss of your pet with your pets ashes.
Looking after yourself during bereavement
Remember to look after yourself, bereavement can really take it’s toll on both your energy and your emotions. It’s important to make sure you are eating sensibly and exercising regularly. It’s important if you have other pets to maintain their daily exercise routines, this will also help with your sleep which can sometimes be affected by grief.
And as Telegraph columnist Ben Fogle puts it “grief is the price we pay for love”.
Here are some useful websites and support lines that might help you to deal with the loss of your pet:
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