If you are reading this because your beloved pet has died, I offer my heartfelt sympathy. To lose someone you love is very stressful, especially if it was unexpected. Only you know how deep your connection is to your Loved Animal and, the deeper the connection, the more profound your grief. That connection is not gone though. It is possible to maintain it in a different form, throughout the rest of your life, if you want. First, let’s look at what you might experience and what might help you deal with it.
What you can expect
Grief is our reaction to the physical separation from someone we love. It is a normal reaction that is experienced uniquely by everyone. So there is no right or wrong way to grieve (though it is possible to get stuck). Because grief is not really talked about, many people are surprised by the intensity of the pain, for example, and don’t know what to do to grieve. But everyone has grieving instincts that gently nudge them to express their grief. For example, one person might feel the urge to put away everything that reminds them of their pet (for now). While another person might want to keep everything close, as a tangible connection, until their pet’s absence is less of a shock. If you can, lean into your grieving instincts. They will guide you.
It is very natural to experience disruptions in more than one area of functioning because of grief. Your physical body may experience any of a wide variety of temporary changes, from early waking, to increased or decreased appetite, from headaches and digestive upset to numbness or tingling, even fatigue. Your social self might want different things, e.g., you might want to withdraw from others, for a while. Your mind might have some difficulty with standard tasks, such as concentrating or remembering. And depending on what you believe, your spiritual self might struggle with the fact that a loving God or Creator would allow this to happen.
These are all reactions to the shock your whole system has had. Each person will experience a different mix of these grief reactions. And there is no schedule for when they should end. The best thing to do is to be patient with this process and to be gentle with yourself. (It will also help you deal with the stress if you can eat nutritious food, get any kind of exercise and rest as needed. Your motivation to do these things might be low, but they actually help. Trust me.)
Grieving requires actions
Every time we do something to express our grief we inch forward on what is known as our grief journey. Crying and telling your story to others are two of the most obvious, and probably, involuntary ways we grieve. But there are as many grieving actions as there are creative people in the world. Here are some ways that others have found meaningful:
- Plant a tree or flower in honour of your cat.
- Keep a journal to allow you to express your thoughts and feelings and to also track the course of your grief journey.
- While they are still fresh, write down all the good memories you have of your pet, anecdotes and favourite traits in a nice blank book. These memories fade with time so it can be comforting to turn through the pages of such a book.
- Put some of his or her hair in a precious box or locket.
- Light a candle.
- Frame photographs of him or her.
- Make a donation to an organisation that works on behalf of animals.
- Volunteer for an animal organisation.
- Foster an animal who needs a temporary home.
There are many other ways to do something that is either comforting or meaningful. Just let yourself do the things that feel appropriate for you. We are all different. This is good to remember when people are giving you advice on how to deal with this big change in your life. What worked for your friend, might not work for you.
It is vital to talk to people who can be sensitive to your loss. Even if there is just one person who seems to understand, make use of them. And the online community might offer a resource of support if there is nobody in your immediate circle. As human beings, we have a need to tell our story, usually multiple times. We need others to know what we are dealing with. It is part of the process of making it real. For at first, the shock usually numbs us and we just feel stunned. This is a protective response that gives us time to get used to this change.
Unfortunately, not everyone has experienced a strong connection with an animal and so, cannot understand that it is possible. This may result in insensitive remarks that make things harder for you, at a time when you are least able to deal with them. So, try to be selective about who you talk to about this very personal loss. Don’t feel obliged to tell anyone who asks why you seem to be different. This is not a grief that is universally appreciated as significant, but I can tell you, as a professional and as an animal lover, that loss is loss and grief is grief. We need support when we lose someone we love, no matter whether they had two legs or four. And we need to protect our grieving hearts from the possibility of thoughtless words from people who cannot understand.
When your beloved pet passed away, there were other things going on in your life. Your ability to deal with this real loss is affected by whatever else you must deal with. You could be facing exams or dealing with caring for an elderly parent. You might have a health issue or be worried about money. As human beings, we can only deal with so much. I think of it as a battery that is charged that then runs down. Certain things recharge our batteries. You know what boosts yours. And stressful life events run them down. It’s important to know this as you deal with your loss and figure out how much charge is left in your batteries. Self-care is important all the time, but especially at a time like this. If you make time for the things that feel nurturing to you, it will ease your stress.
It is a common myth that we must forget those we have lost. To grieve someone we must remember them. You might remember your Loved Animal by thinking about him or her each morning as you start your day. You might just say their name from time to time. You might sit by the tree you planted in honour of this tender creature who gave you unconditional love. And though it might sound strange, you could try writing a letter or several, over the years, to express your thoughts and feelings directly to him or her. This can provide relief and there is no reason not to do it. If it feels healthy to you, listen to your grieving instincts. If you are concerned that you are not making progress or you are unsure about whether things are moving in the right direction, I welcome a call or e-mail.
Finally, one of the best ways to remember and stay connected to your pet is to think about the traits they displayed and incorporate one trait into your personality. For example, your pet may have been patient, and you find yourself lacking it. She may have been very loving, and you find it difficult to show your affection easily. Or he may have been compassionate, sitting quietly by those who were distressed, calming them by his presence. You know your pet like nobody else. So you will know of at least one trait that you admired. To adopt that trait for the rest of your life would be an enduring legacy for your Loved Pet.
For more information on grief counselling please contact us.