The loss of a four-legged family member is a heart-wrenching experience that all Pet Parents will eventually face. But because so many of us have gone through it — and pulled through it — there’s wisdom to be shared regarding how to cope.
Grieving Is Healing
While everyone processes the loss of a pet differently, one piece of advice that applies across the board is that it’s natural to feel pain and to grieve. Once we give ourselves permission to release these emotions — taking as much time as we need — that’s when the healing begins.
But grief can be monstrous to tackle alone, so finding supportive people to accompany us on this journey is important. Those who understand the unbreakable bond we share with pets, and therefore the weight of this loss, are particularly helpful. Connecting with fellow Pet Parents is recommended, whether they’ve experienced loss or not, but anyone close to us can also help to lift us up. The bottom line is to ask for help.
Help can take many forms, ranging from casual to formal:
- Meeting up with a sympathetic friend is an opportunity to receive love and gain clarity.
- Pet-loss support groups (local or virtual) cultivate caring communities where members share with and lean on each other. Social media and online forums are useful resources for finding these groups.
- Pet-loss support hotlines offer the chance to talk one-on-one with an empathetic listener. Many veterinary schools have these set up, including Cornell University (607-218-7457) and Tufts University (508-839-7966).
- Counseling services provide professional, customized guidance.
All of these can be effective, but choosing a path comes down to personal needs. The best option is the one that feels most comfortable.
Getting help doesn’t mean that we should avoid being alone, however. Expressing our feelings through inward-facing activities like journaling, writing a story, and creating art are equally powerful. These methods help to channel our emotions positively, focusing on memories and appreciation for a meaningful life spent together. Not only will this release pent-up emotions, but we may also create a piece that can be shared with others to help them ease their pain.
When we’re ready to start opening up to joy again, even if it’s only slightly, it’s time to honor our beloved companion. This helps us to achieve emotional closure. Here are some ideas:
- Arrange a memorial service with loved ones and share stories of how this special soul impacted everyone’s lives.
- Engage in hands-on crafting projects. These are especially therapeutic since they encourage us to spend time strengthening the connection to our pal. Create a shadow box with cherished toys and items, make a photo collage, or convert a food bowl into a planter and place it in a spot that was significant.
- Commemorate with an artisanal touch — commission a portrait, create jewelry that incorporates an ID tag or collar, or have a custom, lookalike stuffed animal made.
- Share the love on every birthday or gotcha day by donating to a pet organization or volunteering at a shelter.
After a loss, one question often looms large: When is it appropriate to adopt a new friend? The truth is that there’s no right or wrong answer. We’re all unique in how we work through the pain and the timeline we require — our needs may even change with different pets. Some are ready to welcome a new companion right away, while others may need a break from pet parenting to mourn fully. Instincts are the best guide here. When it’s time, it’ll just feel right.
Throughout the healing process, remember that no matter how dark the days can seem at times, there will always be a rainbow in the end.