There's no easy way to cope with the loss of a pet, nor should you try to bypass the natural grieving process. Always remember, you're not alone. Everyone who's ever been touched by a pet's loving devotion has also known the pain of loss.
- A time of emotional turbulence. After the loss of a pet, you can expect to face the emotional roller coaster known as grief. For a time - sometimes a period of days, sometimes weeks or months - you may experience feelings of disbelief, sadness, anger, guilt, embarrassment or depression. Let's banish embarrassment without further delay, though, since there is no justifiable reason to be ashamed of grieving for your lost pet. Grief is admirable and human, not unnatural or embarrassing.
- Counseling. That mixture of feelings may subside after a few weeks, but for many, residual feelings remain and extend the grieving process for far longer a period of time - sometimes for years after the loss of a pet. This should come as little surprise; a pet's love is some of the purest, most truly unconditional and supportive love we experience.
Bearing in mind that most people have felt the pain of pet loss, don't be afraid to reach out for support in your time of grieving, whether you've had a hard couple of weeks or an emotionally trying year. You'll find that this support comes in many forms, from the casual support of friends and family to the formal support and counseling of pet loss hotlines, counseling services and online pet loss support groups. An online search will reveal the many groups for you to explore and possibly join. Your veterinary office or humane society can recommend local groups, counselors and hotlines to contact for support as you cope with the loss of your pet.
- Memorial. It's an unfortunate misconception that pet memorials are just for kids; for the same reasons that we memorialize our relatives when they pass away, a memorial for your pet is an important step in the grieving process. Whether you bury your pet or keep the ashes in an urn, reserving time to memorialize your beloved pet with family or friends will help you all cope with the loss of the pet.
- Keep a journal. Many people feel uncomfortable exploring their emotions verbally or showing them to others in any way. Keep a journal where you can explore and come to terms with your feelings and grief via the written word.
- Try to look beyond the moment of death. Many pet owners, especially early in the grieving process, have difficulty remembering their pet without constantly revisiting the moment their pet passed away. While you shouldn't deny the memory, you should also make an effort to remember the good times as well - the times that made you smile, the silly moments and the mischievous ones, too. Remember the joy you and your pet felt in the presence of each other.
- Helping children. For children, the loss of a pet is often what causes their first sensation of permanent loss. We all know that experience doesn't dull the pain of loss, and it's also true that children will experience some of the same feelings as an adult. But loss is felt differently by young children; they will likely be confused and possibly angry (at parents, at the vet or at themselves). It's best, however, not to rely upon a well-intended lie like, "Daisy ran away from home," or, "Tiger went away to live on a farm." These explanations might hurt and confuse your child even more as the child tries to figure out whether the pet chose to abandon him or was forced to leave. On top of that, your child could be filled with unrealistic hope, insisting that the beloved pet will come home. Even though it will be difficult, you should not hide the fact that your pet has passed away. Teach your children about this natural part of life.
- Coping as a senior. As seniors cope with grief, they might experience even more difficulty. Many seniors live alone with their pets, some with the knowledge that they can never responsibly own another pet. A sense of inescapable solitude may follow the loss of a pet. Along with that feeling, the inevitability of death might begin to weigh heavily on the seniors themselves. It's vitally important not to give in to despair; again, you're not alone. No one, regardless of age, can ever replace a departed pet. Remember all of the varied support resources available to you - from hotlines to counseling groups and online forums. You can form a network of support and love through family and friends; you may not envision ever owning another pet, but they likely have pets as well - pets who will need a loving babysitter from time to time. You could even volunteer at local pet shelters. As a chapter of your life ends, a new chapter is beginning, replete with new opportunities to share your love for family, friends, pets and life.
Your feelings of grief are a direct and natural result of the love you have for your departed pet, so don't try to disown your grief. As you cope with the loss of your pet, be comforted by the fact that your love was matched by the love your pet felt for you. The bond you formed together can't be broken by death as long as you celebrate it in fond remembrance.