Finding comfort after the loss of a family pet

Unconditional love. We all seek to find it in our human relationships. Where we often find it is with our pets, whether furry, feathered, or scaled.

This discovery of unconditional love is why we find it almost unbearable when our pet passes away. Our pet family members mark the passage of time and memories. We all remember the first day we met, the trials of getting to know each other, the development of routines, the replacement of chewed items from teething or boredom, potty training (agghhh!), and the countless road trips to the beach, mountains, parks, vets, groomers, and pet stores. Many of us spend more time with our pets than our extended families, so this is why saying goodbye is one of the hardest things we ever have to do.

When the time comes to say goodbye to our pet, all the memories and emotions attached to them come flooding back to us, sometimes rendering us incapable of carrying through with simple daily tasks. Grief is grief;  it makes no difference whether it is human or pet loss, the pain is there.

If you are facing the loss of a pet in the near future, have recently experienced a loss, or know someone coping with the loss of a pet, keep these suggestions in mind:

  1. Allow yourself time to grieve. There is no magic number of days for this process. It is a journey that is different for everyone.
  2. Surround yourself with those who understand the human-pet connection, or who have experienced the loss of their own beloved pet. Not everyone understands that the grief associated with a pet is just as painful as the grief associated with the loss of any other member of the family, and it needs to be taken seriously
  3. Indulge yourself in what brings you comfort: a latte with extra whip cream, mashed potatoes or chocolate ice cream, good books, a movie or a Netflix binge. It is important to do those things that bring you comfort. 
  4. Keep moving forward, literally. I am a big fan of exercise, of any type, to produce healing endorphins in the body. Take a walk outside, find an exercise class, or clean out a closet.
  5. If you continue to struggle, do not hesitate to reach out to a support group where others are going through a similar loss. Sometimes we exhaust those who love us most and who may be going through their own grief in a different way. A support group is a way to share some of what you are experiencing, and perhaps by helping another person, you will find healing for yourself. Many towns have local support groups, like the one we have here in Mooresville, NC at Pet Pilgrimage Pet Crematory & Memorials. Our  Pet Loss Grief Support Group meets once a month and is open to anyone that is grieving the loss of a pet. If you are unable to find a local support group, you can also seek helpful grief support online through forums such as Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss Grief Center.
  6. Honor your pet in your own special way. There are many ways to honor your pet. You may find comfort in conducting an intimate memorial service with your family, releasing biodegradable balloons, or creating a permanent memorial in honor of your pet. Shadow boxes, photo albums and custom illustrations can also be helpful in archiving the life of your pet. Jewelry and other special pet memorial keepsakes are options as well.
  7. It is best if you give yourself a little time before seeking out another pet companion. Our expectations are so high after we have lost “the perfect dog or cat.” We want what we have lost. This may bring disappointment for both the human seeking an adoptable pet, as well as the unsuspecting pet that has no idea they are expected to act like “Max,” the greatest dog or cat to walk this earth. We never love the same way twice, and if we allow each relationship to evolve in its own special way, we will reap the rewards of newfound love, while cherishing the memories of pets we have loved in the past.
  8. Each pet enriches our lives in different ways. When the time is right, be ready and open to the joy a new pet can bring to your life. The love of a pet is priceless and, once experienced, is hard to live without. Sometimes there is guilt in the adoption of another pet. Our pets want one thing, and one thing only, to make us happy. Adopting another pet is a wonderful way to honor the pet you have lost. Allowing yourself to love again takes tremendous courage, but, in the end, LOVE is worth the risk. When the time feels right consider giving a rescue pet a home by seeking out those at local rescues.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

By Leslie Reid, Pet Pilgrimage Pet Crematory & Memorials