Anyone having had a pet has been there. Sadly, they simply don’t live forever. And the loss of a pet can be excruciating, heartbreaking, and a lonely experience indeed. It surprises some people, in fact, just how truly devastating it can be. So affected are certain individuals that they swear they can still smell, see, or hear their beloved pet after they have passed on.
But is this normal?
The “normal” grieving process for pets is no less unique than that of the grieving process for a human family member – grieving processes are as different as the individuals doing the grieving.
Dealing with the Death of a Human Family Member vs. the Loss of a Pet
When a mother, father, sister, brother, etc. dies, the sense of loss that we feel is largely due to compassion. In order to cope with the death, we write obituaries, display flowers, send sympathy cards, and attend funerals. The grief for a deceased human family member is validated and acknowledged. But what about when a pet dies? Frequently, misunderstanding and silence are the result. Many of our friends and acquaintances can make us feel like we should just move on. “It’s only an animal after all.” This method of dismissing the feeling of loss is referred to as disenfranchised grief by mental health professionals. In this instance, our loss doesn’t receive the validation that it deserves, leaving us to feel an unbearable sense of sorrow.
What Our Pets Mean to Us
We love our pets – there can be no doubt. We refer to them as our soulmate, our rock, our sidekick, our best friend, or even our fur baby. Many pet lovers take their little buddy everywhere – they wait while you cook your dinner and while you shower, they greet you at the door, they join you on road trips, they sleep with you every single night of your life. And in most cases, they have been there when you marked some of the biggest milestones in your life. Once the children moved out, who kept you company? When the new baby came home from the hospital, who was there to greet it? Your pet may have even been an attendant at your wedding. Any number of individuals will tell you that they have a far more intimate connection with their pet than they do with other humans.
So is it so surprising that when an animal is lost forever, it hurts like nothing else? Why does it hurt so much? Because they matter.
Dealing with Disenfranchised Grief
When someone you know and care for experiences the loss of a pet, it only takes a little bit of work on your part to help them through it. Talk to them. Call and check on them. Send a memorial gift, flowers, or a card. These are little things that end up meaning a lot.
What can you do to deal with your grief after the loss of your little companion? First of all, know that the sadness you’re feeling is absolutely okay. You have permission to be sad and you need to look for ways of expressing your sorrow. Here are a few ways in which to start dealing with your disenfranchised grief:
· Talk to a professional in an appropriate environment
· Attend a grief or pet loss group
· Conduct a funeral of sorts, or a ceremony and, by all means, create a memorial
· Write a poem, a journal, or a letter expressing your feelings
The worst, most difficult part about loving a pet is saying goodbye. It may well be the most painful thing that you have gone through thus far in your life. But if you validate the loss, work through it, and deal with your grief without shame or inhibitions, the process of healing can begin.