The death of a companion can be a heart-breaking and devastating experience for us; including the loss of a beloved pet. What is so special about our relationship with our pets, is that they truly love us unconditionally and gift us with the purest form of companionship. We often refer to our pets as “family members” because of the loyalty, trust, and friendship we build with them. Our relationship with them grows and strengthens over time, like any close and meaningful relationship in our lives.
It is very common for our clients to share the painful loss of a pet with us, whether recent or long ago. Sadly, many people feel ashamed or embarrassed by the pain caused by the loss. This is perpetuated by the myths and misinformation about the impact of loss on our lives.
When our pets die, run away, or have to be given away for whatever circumstance, the pain of the loss is not “smaller” or “less than” any other loss we may experience. Our emotional reaction to the loss is unique and individual to us and the relationship we shared with them. We cannot and should not compare our losses. Sometimes our most meaningful, reliable, and trustworthy relationship in our lives is with our pet.
I was inspired to write this blog because I recently had to put my family dog down. I realized again how inevitable grief and loss is in life and how painful it feels to say goodbye to someone I love so much. I feel privileged to share some information on pet loss that really helped me through my grief.
Don’t Replace the Loss: A common statement we hear after pet loss is, “It’s okay, you can get a new dog (cat, horse, etc.).” This comment is illusory, because bringing home a new pet will not take away the heartbreak or replace the special relationship we had with our previous pet. It may temporarily distract us from feeling sad and give us a sense of happiness, but at the end of the day, we still carry the pain from the loss of the pet we had to say goodbye to. Before rushing out to get a new pet, it is important to allow ourselves to grieve, feel our loss, and share our emotional experience with trusted others.
Don’t Minimize Your Feelings: Some people may tell us, “Oh it was just a dog,” or “Your family pet is supposed to die anyways.” These comments minimize our feelings and our loss, and they often isolate us further in our grief. We may begin to lie to others about how deeply we are hurting in order to avoid feeling judged or criticized. Very sadly, we have not been taught the proper tools to help each other through sad and difficult times like these. It is important to know that it is not “silly, immature or embarrassing,” to be devastated after experiencing pet loss of any kind. We all grieve in our own way, and whatever we feel at any given time is both normal and natural. There is no right or wrong way to feel. It is so important to honour your feelings and to be gentle with yourself as you heal through your grief.
Don’t Compare Your Loss: The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss states that over 14 million people per year in the US will face pet loss. Each relationship between the owner and pet is unique and individual. Not one person on the planet will know exactly how you feel because they are not you. Even if they had a parallel experience, they did not have the exact relationship that you had with your pet. It is easy for us to want to compare feelings with other pet owners whose pets have died, but it doesn’t complete or relieve the pain that we feel in our hearts. We all grieve our losses differently and therefore we should not compare our losses or set standards for how we should feel.
Whether your pet was a part of your life for many years or only a few, your relationship and companionship was meaningful and significant. It is important to acknowledge and honour your feelings as worthy, and normal and natural, and to take new action to heal your heart after loss.
The Grief Recovery Method Program® is a beautiful, heart-centred program that we specialize in at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. It provides you with the tangible tools to grieve and complete your relationship with your pet, so that you can move forward with a renewed sense of hope, meaning, and purpose in life. Click here to book an appointment with us today.
This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.
Photo credit: https://www.arflife.org/pet-loss-support-group