All the pet lovers out there understand that pet ownership is more than just that; it’s raising a family. Grieving over your pet’s departure can be just as painful and heartbreaking as losing a family member or a dear friend. It’s essential for pet parents to open up about pet loss and find ways to cope.
The fact that you’ve experienced a loss of a furry companion is stressful enough, but what about life after? Different people grieve differently, but all of us need support and comfort to move on. Here’s some helpful advice on overcoming the pain and grief inflicted by the death of a beloved pet, and how to deal with the secondary losses too.
Coping with the aftermath – the struggles of secondary losses
What is a secondary loss? Simply put, everything that a bereaved pet owner needs to deal with emotionally without their departed pet can be considered a secondary loss. When mourning after a loss, we’re actually experiencing several griefs at the same time. Imagine a that the passing of your pet is like a stone being dropped into a pond. The first ripple, the death of your pet, has the greatest impact – yet each subsequent ripple is a new loss; a reminder of your new reality.
The disruption of an established routine
Life with furry friends means a bunch of fun ritualistic situations, whether they’re old or young. Walks, cuddling, feeding time, grooming, training, and playtime are all more or less embedded in our daily schedule, and when our four-legged companion is gone, we suddenly need to say goodbye to all of it.
Even the sense of joy and excitement when calling out for your pet or telling them off for scratching the furniture sticks deep as a fond memory. This abrupt change of routine can be very stressful and detrimental to emotional healing.
The loss of social contacts
How many informal friendships have you made with other dog walkers? This informal network is often far more imporatant than many realise.
The loss of purpose
Whichever role we assign to ourselves as pet owners (parent, friend, companion, caregiver, teacher, etc.), it usually involves many activities that revolve around our pet’s wellbeing and happiness. Losing an animal friend can actually mean losing a significant part of your purpose, which can leave a mark on your self-esteem and self-worth.
The loss of a companion and unconditional love
Unlike humans, animals can put all of their focus on a single person, which is what we, as pet parents cherish the most. It’s common for pet owners to consider pets their closest, most devoted, and loyal friends. Losing such support and a figure in life can disrupt your emotional state.
The first year after a bereavement is full of first-time reminders
Each time you experience a situation where you would have been with your pet is a potential trigger for feelings of loss. You will meet with people that don’t know what to say; some may avoid the topic, whilst others may try to minimise the grief you are feeling. No matter how upsetting that may be, please try to remember that no matter how clumsy people can be, they aren’t trying to hurt you further.
It’s important to remember that what you are feeling is entirely normal and that the strength emotion you feel will lessen.
How to deal with grieving over the loss of a pet
Get busy and engage in new rituals
Although not a piece of advice for everyone, creating new routines could help you occupy your mind with useful activities and let time do its job. As mentioned above, our pets cover a considerable part of our daily activities, so trying to compensate for the lack of obligations can be the first step in healing.
Let yourself be sad and mourn
Some bereaved pet parents may find closure in expressing their feelings, regardless of how bad they’ve got. Don’t be afraid to cry, get angry, or just sad and quiet. Taking a few steps back to ultimately move forward is sometimes the only choice.
Hold a memorial service
Even if it’s just you attending the service, it’s a symbolic way of saying a final goodbye. Some pet parents choose to have their pet cremated and then scatter their cats or dogs’ ashes over their favorite place or make a memorial tombstone. Whatever feels comfortable and right, it’s up to you.
Create a legacy
Sometimes the most efficient way to deal with death is to celebrate life. You can plant a tree in your backyard, make a small garden, or a fountain in your pet’s memory. Each time it blooms and develops will remind you of the precious time spent together.
Turn your pet’s possessions into a symbolic reminder
Although the best idea is to dispose of most of your pet’s belongings, you can also turn some of them into a memorable object. A leash can become a necklace locket, while your parrot’s feathers can be framed into a beautiful wall decoration. Turn your departed cat’s favorite bowl into a decorative flower piece, or keep your Retriever’s bandana as a clothing item. Whatever evokes the best of memories can help you treasure your pet the way he or she deserves.
Be open to new traditions
While your pet is gone, millions of other abandoned and forgotten animals still have a chance for a better life. You can turn your pet’s birthday into a day of hope for potential pets by donating food, supplies, or organising charity events in local rescue shelters. By doing so, you will honour your furry companion in the noblest and most meaningful way.
Is there a better way of honoring your departed pet than giving unconditional love, care and comfort to another animal? Adopting a pet in need is not a replacement by any means, but an homage to moving on, healing, and, most importantly, continuing to cherish the importance of pet loving and providing for our animal companions.