Grieving is both natural and personal...

When we think of the incredible and intense bond we share with our pets, it is unsurprising how much their loss can prompt feelings of utter devastation and grief. For most of the animal-loving UK, pets form part of the family and when they pass away, the emptiness they leave behind can be felt as hard as if they were fellow humans.

But for those who don’t have animals, understanding the intensity of someone’s grief over losing ‘just a pet’ can be difficult to comprehend. Devaluing the loss can often make the complicated grieving process a lot harder for the person involved, as they may feel ashamed or awkward about their sadness. But it is important to remember that grieving for anything you have loved and lost is completely appropriate and should never be met with judgement from others or your own feelings of embarrassment.

When a beloved animal dies, everyone will cope differently and sometimes as much sorrow will be felt for the death of the animal as for the death of a human. After all, pets are the family we choose for ourselves.

For healing, it is worth being completely honest with yourself and allowing yourself to express your grief without repressing or ignoring it. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel as only you will know how much your dog, cat, horse or rabbit meant to you and how much their absence affects your life.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is seek out others who are going through the same thing and are mourning the loss of a pet. They will be better able to understand the magnitude of your feelings and assist you through the grieving process. There are many pet loss support groups, forums and message boards online, so consider utilising them as a means of help.

Focus on the happy times...

Even if you just end up talking through your emotions to an empathic ear or swapping stories of the happy times you and your pets spent together, it can really help assuage feelings of desolation and guilt. As with humans, the circumstances of death often have a huge bearing on the emotions we are left with and our ability to grieve and cope. Sometimes, picking at the flesh of your grief is the only way to properly make sense of your loss and move forward.

Simple rituals like holding a funeral or burial service can really help in the early stages of grief by giving you the opportunity to openly express your sadness and lay your dear friend to rest. In the long-run it will also give you somewhere to go whenever you are sad or want to feel close to your pet. Some people like to plant a tree, leave a plaque or compile a scrapbook full of memories.

For many people, when a beloved animal dies, meaning and joy is temporarily sucked from life. It is important to find this again and seek something else to be optimistic about. This is easy if you have other pets to focus your energy on and family members to support you. Stay connected to friends, consider taking up a new hobby, volunteer, join a club or class, get active and generally take good care of yourself.

Remember that grieving is completely natural and completely personal and there is no set time for when you should ‘be over it.’ Take as long as you need and reach out to as many people as possible for advice and support. In time, the bittersweet memories and gratefulness for the times you spent will replace the over-riding realities of your loss.

If you have any advice on coping with the loss of a pet, please share it with our other readers. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions: [email protected]

Written by: Hannah Dyball