How to manage your grief when a pet dies
One of the most difficult times for a person is dealing with the loss of a loved one. For most people, the term "loved one" means a human friend or relative. If you are the owner of a pet, then you realize that the term loved one has a much broader meaning. Warren Eckstein offers advice how to get through the grieving process.
EVERYONE WILL REACT differently to the loss of a pet, and how your pet died and how old they were are also important factors regarding how you will react. For example, some people will feel less guilty if their pet dies of natural causes vs. a pet that may have been hit by a car, choked on a bone or died from heat stroke.
• Grief, confusion, anger, guilt and depression are all normal and typical reactions. However, the length of time for grief varies from individual to individual. The most important thing in coping with the loss of a pet is to acknowledge that you are going to have the emotions, and know that it's O.K. to be angry/sad/upset. Regarding anger: as with any loss, it's not uncommon for a person suffering the loss of a pet to find someone or something to blame - even if that mean blaming themselves.
• Guilt: when you love and nurture a pet, you tend to feel responsibility for everything that happens to the pet even if it is out of our control. Consequently, when something goes wrong (like the death of a pet), feelings of guilt are common.
• Depression: the loss of a pet can cause depression that can range from just feeling blue to being paralyzed by the loss.
• Find support: You may talk to people and even family who think you are being silly to grieve over the loss of a pet. But it's important to let yourself grieve, and to get support from others who do share your feelings. Getting help from people who understand your feelings can be a huge relief. Outside help is available - many humane groups offer bereavement counseling as do private therapists. Talk to your vet, who may know of other community resources or support groups as well. It's important to have a good support group - friends, family, people who understand how important your pet was in your life. There are even online resources for people who have lost a pet, and even simply reading other people's thoughts and feelings on their loss makes it easier to handle. Many people suggest remembering the good times you had with your pet. At first it may be painful, but after a while, remembering those quirky moments with your pet will bring a smile back to your face.
Deciding on your pet's final resting place, whether it's a home burial, cemetery burial or cremation, can be an important part of saying goodbye. (Some people even have had their pets stuffed by taxidermists.) Any of these options, whichever one is right for you, gives a person the opportunity to say that final goodbye and move on. A burial is great for people who consider their pets just like another member of the family and provides a physical location where you can visit their gravestone. Some people even get their pet stuffed at a taxidermy shop, so they can remember them like that forever.
Some people have other, more personal ways of saying goodbye. Warren has had many many pets over the course of his life, and used to hand-carve their headstones personally when one passed away. It was his way of coping with the loss and paying homage to his pet. So everyone will want to pay their final respects in their own way - and there are plenty of options out there to decide from. Talk to your vet about these and other options that may work for you.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NEXT?
Should you get rid of the pet's stuff: Bed, toys etc? That's a choice that individuals have to make. For some, it's a way to move on and creates a sense of resolution and completion. For others, it's almost like if they get rid of the stuff, they're betraying the memory of their pet, and the blank space on the floor where the dog bed used to be is a more painful reminder that he's gone. If you think you should get rid of their stuff, put everything in a box. But don't throw it out - store it in a closet for a while, to see if that's really best for you. And if that's too hard, pulling out a toy or some old photos may help alleviate the pain of separation.
Should you get another pet right away? For some, getting one right away is the exact right thing to do. To have a new puppy or kitten breathe fresh life into the air and remind us that even in times of loss, there is always time for a little fun and frolicking. However, for others, getting a new pet immediately is a disaster, easily losing patience with their new pet and getting angry because the new pet is not behaving like the pet that they just lost. After all, no one can live up to the perfect memories you have of your lost pet.
Wait a bit, and then visit a shelter/breeder to look at the new dogs available, but leave your wallet at home. You don't want to buy a new pet on impulse or right away. Take some time to do some soul-searching, to figure out what is the right move for you. After all, it's not fair to a new pet to be neglected for a lifetime just because you were a little lonely at that particular moment.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE WHO HAS LOST A PET
Have an incredibly good ear, and understand that the loss is huge. Don't underestimate the strength of someone's feelings for their pet, or how emotional they'll become when they lose their pet. For most people, their dog or cat Is a member of their family, and losing them is truly a tragedy.
Most importantly, you don't want to belittle the event by saying things like "It was just a cat" or "You'll get over it." Instead, use "distraction therapy" by taking them out to do different activities for short periods of time. Take them to a movie, or out for a walk, or to the mall to shop for a while. If they're grieving, don't let it consume them - listen, but at the same time, try to get them out and active.
Don't take it too personally if they snap at you - it's pent up anger that they're needing to vent. Let them get angry at you, or cry on your shoulder. That's totally normal, and to be expected with any kind of loss.