Grief is our emotional reaction to loss, and it is especially profound when there is a strong attachment or affection present, such as with a pet. During grief, many difficult and unexpected emotions may arise, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. In terms of timeliness or depth of grieving, there are no fixed rules to define normal grief.
Subtypes of Grief:
- Disenfranchised: Also known as hidden grief. Refers to any grief that is often minimized, invalidated, or unacknowledged by social norms, such as pet loss.
- Complicated: Strong grief that goes beyond at least six months and has other underlying factors (i.e., other losses during the same time, trauma, etc.). This type of grief can be tough to handle with everyday life and may need the help of a professional.
- Re-Grief: It is possible to feel previous losses with new losses; they can appear unexpectedly and intensely. Pet loss, for example, can bring up not only prior pets but also other family losses.
- Anticipatory Grief: Also known as pre-loss bereavement, happens when you know you will lose your pet, but it has not yet occurred. You may have some time to prepare such as days, weeks, or even months. Anticipatory grief can include a period of hopefulness when the diagnosis is being effectively managed. This form of grief is not often talked about but commonly experienced.
Self-care is always an important practice to follow, but perhaps even more imperative during this trying time. Take care of yourself by following good nutrition, practicing a healthy sleep schedule, moving your body, and finding ways to relax that you enjoy. Be kind to yourself during this time. Honor your feelings. Allow sadness and joy to occur at the same time. Reach out to any friends or family that understand your bond and grief. Reach out to your friendly Ethos Veterinary Social Worker to set up a time to talk.
- Why We Need to Take Pet Loss Seriously
- Coping with the Loss of a Pet
- Why the Loss of a Pet can be the Hardest to Bear
Pet Loss Support Groups provide a safe space for pet lovers to express their feelings and begin working through their loss alongside individuals who have been through a similar experience. They can bring a lot of comfort and can be a great place to find not only the validation that you are not alone in this experience, but also ideas on how to memorialize your beloved pet, as well.
Here are some local virtual pet loss support groups, which you may elect to join.
Memorialization of a lost loved one is a deeply personal and individual process that can help start healing. It can be seen as a form of catharsis that can aid us in coming to terms with the loss. Further, memorial events in particular can allow for a time and place for friends and family to receive more in-depth support.
- Turn pet tags into necklaces
- Paint your own urn or garden rocks
- Plant a tree
- Photo books/memory books
- Shadow Box
- Tattoos or jewelry of your pet
Create a Space
Create a space to honor your pet, to let yourself mourn and heal openly. This can be a garden space where you have buried/spread your pet’s cremains, a quiet place in your home with photos of your pet, or even a small table with your pet’s keepsakes on display.
- Having trouble affording your pet
- Assessing Your Pet’s Quality of Life
- Quality of Life Scale
- Assessing Your Quality of Life – Cat Caregivers
- Assessing Your Quality of Life – Dog Caregivers
- Helping Pets Grieve Their Housemates
The death of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death and the grief surrounding it. So, it’s important to be open and honest with children about what has happened. It’s important to talk to them at a level appropriate to their age and level of development. Use simple language, like “She was very sick, and she died”, and avoid using euphemisms like “She went to sleep” to avoid confusion about sleeping and death.
Kids are kids first. They are grievers second. Children love to play, create, and do things with their hands and bodies. Grief doesn’t stop that.
- Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Companion Animal
- When Your Lose Your Best Friend: An Interactive Book About Grieving The Loss of a Pet, For Kids
Activities you can do with your children:
- Make a collage or scrapbook
- Plant a tree or flowers in memory of the pet
- Hold a memorial service.
Books for Children:
- Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
- Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
- Being Brave for Bailey by Corey Gut, DVM
- The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia
- The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
- My Pet Died: A Coloring Book for Grieving Children by Alan D. Wolfel
Books for Adults:
- Preparing for the Loss of Your Pet by Myrna Milani, DVM
- Oh, Where Has My Pet Gone? A Pet Loss Memory Book by Sally Sibbitt
- Soul Comfort for Cat Lovers: Coping Wisdom for Heart and Soul After the Loss of a Beloved Feline by Liz Eastwood
- Pet Loss Meditations by Lorise Weil
- When a Family Pet Dies by JoAnn Tuzeo Jarolmen
- Good-bye My Friend by Mary and Herb Montgomery