Every pet owner has to deal with the inevitable.
Loss is one of the greatest challenges of life; whether it’s the loss of a job, friend, relationship or the end of a cherished life. For some, losing a pet may be the hardest because of the unconditional love and companionship our pets offer us.
Rest in Peace Sweet Lola
Over the past months, we have faced the loss of some of our fur friend clients as well as one of our own beloved pets. For the past 17 years, our beloved cat Lola lived with us since rescuing her from an empty apartment when her owners left her behind.
Being a half Siamese feline, Lola’s blue eyes were stunningly beautiful. She was a sweet, talkative cuddler and adored her ice cream treats! Her sudden and unexpected loss (from kidney failure) is as immeasurable as the emptiness she’s left behind in our home. But we are so grateful for the wonderful support we’ve received, everyday it helps us deal with the loss.
You CAN Help Someone through Pet Loss
The loss and grief that follows is a challenging time. For those who have not personally suffered the loss of a pet, it can be difficult to know what to say or do when someone is trying to cope day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) with overwhelming grief.
From our own personal experiences, here’s what has helped:
- Reach out and acknowledge the person’s loss, even if it’s difficult and awkward (it’s just as hard for them too).
- Offer compassion and empathy and let them know you care and honor their personal loss.
- Ask what you can do to help. Let them know they are not alone and you want to help. People deal with grief in their own personal way and not everyone will ask or accept help, but it’s important to still offer.
- Continue to reach out and make sure they are taking time for self-care and are appropriately dealing with any depression and/or anxiety. Immediately after a loss, many people reach out. But as the time passes, fewer do and yet the bereaved person is still trying to deal with their sorrow which may leave them feeling vulnerable, in pain and very much alone.
- Look for unique and personal ways to honor and memorialize their pet (we’ve included a few ideas at the end of this post).
Losing a Pet Involves Real Grief
The loss of a strong emotional connection with another living being releases an equally powerful and often overwhelming emotion, namely grief.
While each person grieves in their own way, it’s no less a tragic loss regardless of how one chooses to grieve (whether publicly or privately). The loss of love is incomprehensible and our brains are desperately trying to make sense of what happened.
While non-animal lovers may not understand the full impact of loss of a pet (“it’s just an animal after all”), a very real and deeply personal relationship has suddenly ended for that pet owner. Perhaps that’s the toughest part to accept is that no matter what we might try to do, we can never “fix” that loss.
Understanding Grief with Pet Loss
Grief is very real and raw. For a bereaved person trying to work through their grief, their appetite and sleep patterns may be disturbed, they may seek out isolation and give in to extended periods of crying and mourning.
Grief can also involve actual physical pain, confusion, and exhaustion as one struggles to cope. Do not let anyone dictate how or how long you should work through your own grief. Losing a pet can be just as painful (maybe even more so for some) than losing a human family member.
Stepping Through Pet Loss
There is no pre-determined way to deal with loss; whether it’s a pet or a human. But below are some steps to help you navigate the loss and process your grief.
- Surround yourself with other animal-lovers who intimately understand the magnitude of pet loss; either in person or online with communities like:
- Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss Grief Center
- Pet Loss Grief Support, Rainbow Bridge & Candle Ceremony
- Pet Loss Support Hotline (free): Washington State University of Veterinary Medicine (Call: 866-266-8635 or 509-335-5704; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Pet Bereavement Support Group
- Rainbow Bridge Facebook Page
- Be gentle, kind and compassionate with yourself as you move through the grieving process and all its conflicting emotions. Never compare or measure your grief or experience to anyone else. Love is uniquely personal and so is the grief.
- Try to focus on – and share – good memories and stories of your pet and your time together.