Grieving a Pet: How to Cope with the Loss of Your Beloved Pet
Updated: May 25, 2020
The hardest part of sharing our lives with pets is when it's their time to go. Our beloved pets are never here long enough, and the pain we feel when it is their time to leave us can feel unbearable.
This past week, our hearts broke. Finn, our almost 12 year old German Shepherd, lost his courageous battle with cancer. Even though we gained an additional 10 months with him that we didn't think we had, the pain is still unbearable. Our house is quiet and empty. Even though he spent a lot of the day sleeping, his spirit is gone. The work breaks I had of petting him and just being present with him are gone. Sharing our walks together are gone. Playing with his stuffed animals every morning is gone. Our routine is off and feels empty.
These changes are just a small number of the changes that have occurred in our lives. You may be experiencing something similar after losing your pet. We share an intense love and bond with these special animals. We are essentially losing our family member.
This pain can be quite overwhelming and difficult to deal with. Throughout the past week, I've found myself crying for no reason. I see other German Shepherds on walks, and I start crying. I've gone through our photos and videos of Finn and have found myself lost for a few hours, remembering and also crying over his loss.
And this is ok. We should never feel guilty or ashamed for the grief we have for the loss of our pets. Active mourning is essential to moving forward. We must acknowledge the reality of our pet's death - this will take time and there is not a right or wrong amount of time. It takes time getting used to your pet not being there.
Another large part of coping is adjusting your self-identity - this has been a hard one for me. I've always had pets. We were known as the German Shepherd people who had a crazy pup full of life on our street. Finn was a beacon of hope that herbal medicine could fight cancer in a way that conventional medicine couldn't. Losing him made me lose a little faith, until I realized, we had ten more months of amazing quality of life, because of what I can do with herbs.
The realization that herbal medicine essentially saved his life and allowed us more time, has become a big part of how Finn will continue to live on in our life. He's a testament to why my job is so important, and how we need to get the message out far and wide that pets have other options, especially when they are being told there is nothing more you can do. Even though times feel hard right now and I would love to curl up and watch Netflix all day, there is a bigger mission at hand to have Finn live on through helping other pets.
His loss has shaken my core, and it will take a long time to heal. Yes, we will get other pets, and it may be sooner or it could be later. And that is ok.
Remember to give yourself grace during this difficult time. Create a legacy. Prepare a memorial, plant a tree in their honor, compile a photo album, just do something that honors their memory. We put a tower of plants with photos and the cards we received right where his bed was, so we could think about him every day, rather than seeing an empty space.
Reach out to others who have lost pets. Telling Finn's story to others and posting about him on social media has been very cathartic and healing for me. Yes, I cry, and my heart is broken, but so many of us have been down this path. Every pet is different, and we grieve over some more than others. And that is ok. However, never isolate yourself with your pain. We need each other more than anything when we lose a pet.
Make sure you look after yourself. Self-care can go out the window when we experience severe grief. Go for walks and talk about the things they loved doing on those walks. Every morning, my husband and I go for our walk we used to do with Finn, and remember his favorite places to sniff. In the evenings, we go for another walk and express gratitude over the amazing memories. Sometimes I start crying, other times I laugh. Finn was a character and did so many funny things that bring a smile to our faces. Remember those happy memories, and hold them close to your broken heart.
If you have other pets in the house, they can grieve for their lost companion. Try to keep their routine the same. Get in more exercise - it's not only good for them, but also for yourself. Give them extra love and attention. The touch of a pet helps our hearts heal so much faster. You may notice they whine more, eat a little less, and seem depressed. These can be normal grieving behaviors for pets, but if you are noticing these behaviors are going on for longer than you feel normal, make sure you take them to the veterinarian to get assessed.
Try to find a new meaning and joy in life. This new way of life could be volunteering at the local animal shelter if you're not ready to get a new pet yet. Helping other pets will give you a new sense of purpose, and you get to experience the love of these beautiful animals, while giving them extra joy in their day. Eventually, many people will get a new pet. Even though that pet is not a replacement, they will help fill the void in your heart and bring you joy in a different way from your lost pet.
Remember, you are never alone when you lose a pet. It can feel very alone and everything feels off and horrible. Time does help heal the heart. Be kind to yourself during this hard transition. If you need help and are not coping, please reach out. We are here for you.
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