When a favorite pet dies, there is a huge feeling of despair that some consider embarrassing to express to others. It’s OK to go ahead and express the strong pain you feel, because in truth, losing a beloved animal can be sometimes even more overwhelming than losing people you’ve known in life. Animals give us unconditional love, and depend on us for affection and support. Though they don’t speak human, they communicate with us in their own unique ways, forming an incredibly strong emotional bond with their owners. Animal-loving people fully understand this way of thinking, and truly go through serious grief when the devoted pet that they cared for and loved for many years is suddenly gone forever. Those less in tune with animals may find this odd, and berate them for being overly dramatic, maybe even crazy. Animal lovers, pay them no regard. A loss is a loss, and the loss of genuine, unconditional love of any kind is certifiably painful. The ability to have caring and compassion for your beloved pet is something to be proud of. People who lack this caring trait are the ones that are questionable, in my mind.
How we deal with the pain and emptiness that death leaves behind is a very individual thing. We go through a roller coaster of emotions, trying to understand death, something that is so abstract and feared by most everyone. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the “what if’s” or guilt trips. It’s natural to want to turn back time and handle things differently here and there. Choosing to have a pet put down or keep him at home was very guilt-inducing for me, when my dear cat Blackie was at the end of his life. Inside my mind, a struggle went on. Should he be taken to the vet and suffer the indignity of being poked by needles for blood tests, knowing how much he despised going there, and that his condition was going to be fatal, no matter what they did. My rationale was that as long as he wasn’t in extreme pain and was calm, he’d stay home with me. His fragility was such that the stress of taking him in may have killed him quickly anyways. He was kept hydrated with syringes of low-sodium chicken broth, and talked to. He appreciated my love and attention, and didn’t mind my giving him a gentle massage with a small back massager, set on low.
Blackie died at peace and with me at his side. It was heartbreaking, and painful, looking back but it was a good feeling to know that he hadn’t been put through undue major trauma at the end of his life. What if’s went on in my head, but after discussing it with a pet loss grief counselor, we both concluded that what was done was for the best good of my Blackie. Decisions made in love, and not allowing suffering in whatever way are compassionate and caring. Commend yourself for being there for your pet and don’t let yourself be consumed with guilt or regret. Each situation is different, and loss will be painful, so don’t beat yourself up as you undergo the painful process.
One way to help grieve a lost pet is to express yourself creatively in whatever manner you see fit. Drawing, writing or joining a pet loss support group; whatever you choose to do should allow you to get your feelings out. Talking to others is helpful, especially those who have love and compassion for animals. On the Doctors Foster and Smith website, there is a useful list of bereavement hotlines around the United States. Don’t suffer the pain alone, reaching out to others who care will help to lessen the severity of the pain. It is comforting to talk to veterinary students, because they are in the business of knowing animals medically. They are there for you even if your pet hasn’t passed on yet, and can help you to feel peace during the process of planning how to handle the upcoming loss of a pet or prolonging its life by doing whatever is necessary to keep him alive. By talking to those in the know about the medical side of pets, you get a valuable outlook on how the professionals deal with animal loss. It’s a good feeling to know that you aren’t alone, and that you can find comfort in others. Don’t be ashamed or afraid, reach out.
When a pet dies, give yourself time off to ponder the good times you had with your dog or cat. Take a mental break from the fast pace of everyday life, criticism by those who aren’t into animals, or heavy pressures at work. Be gentle with yourself as you mourn. Let go of shame, anger, and other emotions that fuel negativity. Instead, remember everything you’ve done to love your special pet. If the pain is too raw for that right now, then let yourself cry or express emotion. Get it out, don’t keep the pain bottled up or it’ll just come up later and erupt like a volcano. Ignoring pain isn’t healthy for your body, so it’s best to let yourself feel whatever you feel and let the healing process begin. Healing will take time, and the pain comes in waves, but time is your friend in all of this. With each passing day, being kind to yourself and finding ways to work the sadness out of your system, in time you will feel better. It doesn’t mean you’ll forget your pet, it means that he or she is with you in your heart, never to be taken from you. Your memories and love linger on and letting go of pain will allow making today a better day and knowing that you did the right thing. You loved your pet, and he loved you. He’s gone, but never forgotten.
Be proud of yourself for providing well for your animal, and for being there for him until the end. You will get through this. And take comfort in knowing that your dog or cat is alive in your memory, for as long as you live. Take each day one at a time, and soon, the sun will come out again. You aren’t alone, and if you believe in Heaven, then know that your dear loved one will someday be with you again. Until then, life goes on, and we must lean on one another for support and caring. Go ahead and grieve. Be proud of it. And take solace in knowing that you are a loving and caring person who provided a wonderful life for your dear pet.