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When a beloved pet (any kind) dies, it’s a big deal. Therefore, it goes without saying (or should) that pet grief is real grief too.
If you’ve ever grieved deeply for a pet and have wondered if, in fact, you’ll ever feel like smiling again, this post is for you. If you’ve ever felt embarrassed, or even a little ashamed that you’ve grieved more deeply for your pet than a person, maybe even a family member, this post is for you.
Maybe, you’ve even thought there was something wrong with you for feeling the way you do/did.
Nope. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not losing it, and you’re not crazy. You’re grieving deeply because you loved your pet deeply, and there’s nothing crazy about that. In fact, it’s a beautiful thing.
I’ve heard it said (not sure who said it first) that with each dog (or any pet) that comes into your life, you don’t necessarily get the dog you want, rather you get the dog you need.
Maybe this is true. Maybe not. I do know I learned things from each dog that I might not have learned had they entered my life at other times. Undoubtedly, that’s more about me and where I was at that given time than about any particular dog. Still, it’s a fascinating concept.
As I shared last December, just when I thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, it did. On top of the other crappy things that happened in 2020, it was also the year we said goodbye to our sweet Sophie.
You can read about that here.
I still grieve for Sophie—for all the dogs I’ve had, of course, but especially for Elsie and Sophie, my eye witnesses and secret keepers. I am not embarrassed or ashamed to admit this.
Being there at the end for Sophie was brutal. Yes, brutal. Seeing her stretched out on a brown fleece blanket with orange basketballs on it, holding her in my arms while she took her last breath and watching Dear Hubby sob after the vet gave the final injection, all at the same time, nearly did me in.
Btw, you can tell a lot about a man (or a woman) by the way he treats animals and by watching his heart break, just like yours, when he says that final goodbye to a beloved pet.
Yes, going through that was brutal, but it was also a privilege. Witnessing and helping another breathing being with that final transition always is.
It’s ironic I was there with my two beloved dogs when they took their last breaths, but I wasn’t for either of my parents when they took theirs. But that’s a different post.
Another December has rolled around, and we’ve yet to get another dog, though we’re getting closer. Long story. Luckily, we still have a little black cat named Ninja as well as lots of other pets in the family to dote on in the mean time. Okay, maybe Ninja’s not so little anymore.
During the past year, I’ve thought a lot about pet grief and why it’s so hard.
Grief, in general, remains a tough topic to talk about in our society. Maybe it’s not taboo anymore, but it’s still a topic many avoid whenever possible. Talking about grief and loss makes people uncomfortable. Why this is I’ve yet to figure out.
We often don’t know what to do with grief. We struggle to do it right, which is ridiculous, of course. There is no right.
If we’re “merely” a witness to another’s grief, often we don’t know how to do that either. IMHO, death, dying and grief should be topics included in school curriculums. I know, I know. One more thing to pile on educators, and yeah, some parents would freak out, but still…
One thing I know for sure is that pet grief is real grief too.
No, I’m not saying it’s exactly the same as grieving for a person. I’m not saying I value pet life over human life. I’m just saying it’s real and it hurts. A lot.
Some people understand this kind of hurt and some never will. And this is okay. Like with most things, just one or two folks who get it, who get you, is likely all you need.
Thankfully, a lot of folks do get it.
This brings us to the crux of what this post is supposed to be about — dealing with pet grief.
I asked a few pet lovers I know who’ve also been pet grievers to share some thoughts on pet grief or to finish the sentence:
Pet grief is real grief too because_______.
I love each contribution and think you will too.
Pet grief is real because you lose your best friend and family member. You lose a part of your routine, your workout buddy, your social life or even a part of your own identity. Sometimes, it’s the hardest kind of grief.
Elaine shared these poignant words about her sweet Lily:
We let our sweet girl go in mid September. Her heart was just too weak. We miss her every day. You form a real bond with a beloved pet. It‘s not just a dog, or cat or whatever. Our dog Lily was part of our family. And her loss creates a void. At the end, there were parallels between caring for Lily and caring for my mother 30 years earlier as she was dying of MBC. There is a certain restlessness when death is imminent. Just as I stayed awake with my dying mother until she fell asleep, I stayed awake with Lily.
Our pets’ lives are closely interwoven with our own like any member of our family sharing our home and their absence leaves a big hole. If we’re lucky enough to have had them with us for many years, as was the case with our dog, Rocco, who died recently, we have memories of them through their lives from young pup to elder dog. It’s a lot to suddenly let go of. Yet in a way they’re never really gone because there are those wonderful memories to cherish.
Gogs Gagnon completed the sentence with this:
Pet grief is real grief too because a pet is not just a pet but a loving member of the family who becomes a part of us and our daily routine. And we lose a part of ourselves and our hearts when a pet dies. My two dogs played an instrumental role in providing companionship, comfort and emotional support, especially during my cancer diagnosis and treatment. Their unconditional love and support helped reduce my anxiety and provided a much-needed distraction from worry. I’m still mourning the death of my dogs, but I’m grateful they were in my life. I find comfort in the memories and sharing stories.
To this day I often get teary-eyed when thinking about the times I’ve had to give ‘that okay’ to the vet and when I think of holding them until the very end. It is some comfort to know that they had their humans with them at the end, surrounded by love, which I am unalterably convinced is what dogs care about most — the love for their people.
See what I mean?
Such heartfelt insights.
Now, let’s discuss some tips for coping with pet grief.
I look forward to reading what your tips are, so be sure to share one or two with a comment at the end of this post.
Pet grief is real grief too – 8 tips to help you deal with it
1. There is no right way to grieve for your pet. There is only your way.
People will suggest ways to go about grieving as well as offer advice about things you should or should not do. For example, someone might tell you to get rid of all your pet’s toys, food and other reminders right away.
Uh, uh. You don’t have to do that. Do it when it feels right for you. Same deal with all the good-intentioned advice and suggestions. Pick and choose what brings you comfort.
2. There isn’t a timetable for pet grief either.
As with all grief, it’s personal, and we all grieve differently. Most people will allow you a few days or weeks to “feel sad”. Some will grant you more time — according to whatever their timetable is. Unfortunately, a few will be so bold as to suggest that it’s time for you to get over it. Sadly, you might even hear comments like, he/she was just a dog.
You and I know better.
Pet grief can be intense and last a long time. Follow your heart.
3. Talk to people who get it. As I’ve said many times, never suffer in silence.
Like usual, finding others who understand your pain can be a lifesaver. This is one of those situations when being on social media is awesome. If you don’t have a person in your real life who gets it, I guarantee you there are folks out there on social media platforms who do. No need to do this alone either.
In addition, there are pet grief counselors and pet grief support groups too. Support and help is waiting for you. If you need it, seek it out.
4. Routines and rituals can help.
Light a candle. Take the same walks you took with your pet. Keep talking to them if want to. Put together a scrapbook or photo album of some favorite memories. Get a special Christmas ornament to hang on your tree every year or to keep out all year long. Create a memorial space.
5. Journal your grief.
You know how I feel about journaling by now, right? You get to write whatever you darn please in there. Grief journals in general can be godsends. You’re putting your grief on the page. Literally. Having a place “to put” your grief can do wonders. And there’s no judgment. Ever.
6. Prepare ahead of time.
Sometimes we know the end is coming. If this is the case, get vet support ahead of time. Make plans for that final decision, if need be. Choose a day of the week and time of day for that final goodbye that suits your work schedule and your personal needs. If possible, taking time off from work is a good idea. Decide ahead of time about burial or cremation and what you’ll do with the ashes if choosing the latter.
7. Ditch the guilt.
I felt guilty for not spending more time with Sophie at the end doing all those things I thought I should be doing with her in her final days and hours. There are all those articles about doing their favorite activities, feeding them their favorite meals or creating a special last day. Not that those articles don’t offer great suggestions, but none of them are requirements.
Sophie didn’t care about any of that. I loved her right up until the end. That was enough. I did my best. That was enough. Your love and your best are enough too.
If choosing euthanasia, don’t feel like you must do that in your home or yard unless, of course, you want to. I didn’t want that memory. You might be drawn to that idea. Also, if you just can’t handle being with your pet for that final breath, that’s okay too. Years ago, I opted out of being there for a couple of our dogs for various reasons. No one gets to judge you for that decision, and should you come to have regrets down the road, don’t judge yourself either.
Also, don’t feel guilty for grieving more for your pet than you have for a person. That’s okay. Really, it is. There are a lot of reasons why the hurt might be deeper and harder to bear.
8. Get another pet if and when you feel ready.
This, too, is highly personal.
Some are ready right away and others need time — a little or perhaps a lot. Some choose never to get another pet. Though the latter is not a choice I’d make, I understand it. I respect it.
With that, I’ll end with an excerpt from my upcoming book, Emerging: Stories from the other side of a cancer diagnosis, loss & a pandemic. (More on the new book in 2022.)
When Dad was in hospice care, while taking Sophie for a walk one day, I struck up a conversation with a guy who was also visiting a loved one.
“I will never get another dog,” he said with conviction. “I can’t go through losing one again. It’s too hard. It’s just not worth it.”
I get that; I do. It’s just that I don’t agree with his conclusion. To me, it is worth the heartache. Very much worth it.
If you’re pet is still by your side, you know the depth of the love you feel for your sweet companion, and you know it’s a beautiful thing. You also likely fully realize inevitable pain will come one day too soon when you have to say goodbye. That pain will make you question if it is worth giving your heart away again.
And then one day, you do.
Finally, imagine my surprise one cold January day last winter when I discovered a surprise package in my mailbox. Inside was a beautiful mini portrait of Sophie hand-painted by a kind dear reader. There were tears. Yes, of course, there were; but they were good tears.
Thank you, Angela, for giving me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. I love it.
If you like this post, thank you for sharing it!
You might want to read:
Tell me about a beloved pet you’ve grieved for.
How would you finish the sentence, pet grief is real grief too because______?
Have you ever felt guilty about grieving for your pet more than a person?
Do you have a tip for coping with pet grief?
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