Grief has many meanings. When we lose a pet, grief can take a physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, spiritual, and philosophical toll.
Grief is what you naturally feel when your animal companions transition into spirit. You are sad. You are sick to your stomach. You cannot get out of bed. Your life has no meaning without the soul you lost. You cannot eat or sleep; or maybe you’re experiencing the exact opposite and are over-sleeping to escape or eating to comfort yourself.
Getting through grief is as multi-faceted as the grief itself. It involves not only accepting and working through your feelings, but also taking some cognitive and physical action steps to help yourself heal.
8 steps to healing
1. However you experience your loss, know you have a right to feel as you do. No one should tell you to “get over it” or that “it was only a pet”. Your beloved dog or cat was a member of your family, and whether that family is large or small, your animal was a big part of it, and of your life. Without your companion, life as you know it has changed dramatically, and grief is a natural result.
2. Accept that grief hurts, and that the time it takes to heal varies from person to person. Know that it eventually gets better – not because you love your dog or cat any less, but simply because life goes on. You may have a job, and kids or a significant other to take care of. There is shopping, cooking and cleaning to do, school projects to complete, and the lawn to mow. All these external factors help to push the pain away. It may feel temporary at first, but the time between your meltdowns will become longer over time.
3. Don’t feel guilty when you start to feel better, and when you are able to smile instead of cry when you remember your companion. It’s the best honor you can bestow upon your beloved animal friend.
4. Many people, myself included, believe that every time you think of your dog or cat, he knows it, and that he can feel your heart remember. Our beloved companions are not “gone”; we simply cannot see or touch them. They are in spirit, but they still exist. So go ahead – send him love, laugh out loud as you remember his antics, or cry when you think of a tender moment. I am an animal communicator and have spoken to many animals that have passed away. The most common thing they tell me is how much they love their families, how much their people did for them and how cherished they felt. That is a wonderful legacy. Your dog or cat still feels your love, and remembers all the good in his life.
5. I also believe through my communications that animals do not dwell on how they passed away. It’s of no consequence to them other than to place a physical distance between you. Your dog or cat visits you often, even if you may not be aware of it. You may catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of your eye. You might feel him touch you softly, or jump on your lap or bed. If you experience these things, you are not losing your mind. It’s simply your companion coming to visit. He misses you too. This was not a one-sided love affair. In fact, he has the best side of the deal, because he can still see you!
6. To further cope with your feelings, you might consider a grief counselor or bereavement group. Some of the latter are geared towards pet loss. If you cannot find one specifically for pet loss then join one that resonates with you. Loss is loss, in my book. Love is love. It doesn’t matter if it’s a person, dog, cat, or any other creature.
7. Sometimes action is the best way to help kick start the heart healing.
a) Celebrate your dog or cat’s life. Throw a party and talk about all the things he meant to you. Invite others who also cared about him.
b) Donate time, supplies or money in your companion’s honor to the charity/ shelter/rescue of your choice.
c) Some people like to set up a special spot in their homes where they can keep reminders of their animals. You might place his favorite toys, collar, dish or other significant items along with some photos on a table or desk. While these reminders might be too painful for many people at first, it’s something you might consider after the first acute stages of grief have passed. Eventually, as you walk by your memorial every day, you will begin to heal and the pain will fade. In place of the pain will be the beloved memories you’ll always cherish of your animal.
8. Many people feel an urge to rush out and adopt another animal to fill the void left by the old one. While this may work for some, it’s usually better to wait until your grief has eased a bit before bringing another companion into your life. Whatever you decide to do, don’t feel guilty about it. You’re not “replacing” or betraying your old companion!
Every dog and cat is unique, and you’ll never forget the love and companionship you shared with your friend. He’ll never forget you, either. Honor him by celebrating what you had together. Who knows, he may even come back to you someday…but that’s a topic for another time!