8 Important Reminders When Grieving the Death of a Pet
Losing a pet can be just as harrowing as losing any other loved one. It can trigger immense feelings of sadness, anger, apathy, and loneliness.
All types of grief can be challenging, but grieving the death of a pet may feel even more complicated- and that’s because society often overlooks its impact. Here are some essential reminders to consider.
Forget Following Any Timelines
Grief often moves in different waves. In one moment, it may feel debilitating. In another, life may feel calm, smooth, or even hopeful. While this fluctuation is typical, it can feel confusing.
Try to avoid judging yourself for feeling a particular emotion after a certain amount of time has passed. Grief doesn’t adhere to specific requirements or timeframes. It is its own unique process, and the emotions will look different for everyone.
In fact, pressuring yourself (or others) to move on quickly often backfires. Suppressing your grief can exacerbate depression or anxiety and contribute to inflammation, sleep issues, appetite fluctuations, and other physical problems.
Consider Joining a Pet Loss Support Group
A local or virtual support group can help you process your feelings among like-minded people. Often, these groups are peer-led, and they focus on creating a sense of community within loss. Most groups meet once a week, and you can generally attend as many sessions as you need.
If you can’t find a group near you, consider looking on social media platforms like Facebook or Reddit. There are many free online communities where people can come together to share their feelings.
Create a Lasting, Meaningful Legacy
Just because your pet is no longer physically here, you can still honor their life. To do this, It may be helpful to make a tangible reminder of your pet’s impact. Some people choose to do this by:
- Planting a tree or garden in their pet’s favorite spot.
- Naming something in their honor.
- Creating a box with their favorite toys, collar, or other accessories.
- Making a photo album or scrapbook.
It’s also okay if you don’t feel compelled to make a lasting legacy. Grief doesn’t subscribe to a rulebook, so don’t pressure yourself into doing something if it doesn’t feel appropriate.
Consider Your Surviving Pet’s Needs
Even if your animals didn’t seem like best friends, there’s a good chance the remaining pet(s) may be affected by the loss. Research shows that dogs, for instance, display mourning behaviors like social withdrawal, appetite changes, lethargy, clinginess to owners, and increased aggression.
Aim to be patient and compassionate with your surviving pets. They may need some extra attention right now. However, keep in mind that it’s also normal if they appear entirely unfazed by the loss.
Remove Reminders as Needed
If it feels unbearable passing the dog food bowl in the kitchen, it’s okay to stash it away right now. You might also be able to donate items to a shelter or another pet owner in need.
While some sadness may be unavoidable, it’s a good idea to consider eliminating potential triggers when it feels appropriate to do so. Furthermore, this action can also support other pets and children in their healing processes.
Be Honest with Your Children
While it may feel tempting to lie to your kids about a pet’s death, sugarcoating the details can lead to trust issues or children blaming themselves. Instead, depending on their age, focus on using clear, concise language.
Children under age five do not understand death’s permanence, so you may need to repeat the concept several times. They may also assume they did something wrong, and it’s important to provide ongoing reassurance.
If they ask where your pet went, it’s reasonable to share any beliefs you may have. Moreover, it’s also okay to share that you simply don’t know.
Consider Another Pet (If and When the Time Feels Right)
Getting another pet is an entirely personal decision, but it’s a common question people ask themselves after losing a beloved animal. Ultimately, only you can decide when the time is right.
That said, taking another pet home too soon can result in feeling overwhelmed, resentful, or regretful about your choice. It’s important to remember that this pet will not inherently replace your other pet- all animals have their own specific traits and characteristics.
With that said, try to avoid making any impulsive actions in the immediate aftermath of the loss. If you live with others, make the choice together.
Seek Therapy for Grieving the Death of a Pet
Grief therapy can help you mourn and cope with your loss. This therapy often represents a balancing act of accepting and validating your emotions while taking appropriate steps towards healing.
We understand that grieving the death of a pet can be challenging, and we are here to support you through this vulnerable time. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation with one of our grief therapists.
Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.