How To Deal With Grief After The Loss Of A Pet

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How To Deal With Grief When Mourning The Loss Of A Pet

Learning how to deal with grief when mourning the loss of a pet is tough. 

Losing a pet can be devastating. Ask any animal lover who has opened their heart and home to a dog, cat, horse, bunny, or gerbil.

It can be harder than losing a loved one in many ways. Learning how to overcome grief and the loss of a pet requires an understanding of why the loss — and your sorrow — is so deep.

RELATED: What Having A Pet Can Teach Your Kid About Life, Love, And Yes, Even Loss

It's another one of those life events that can rock your world and turn you upside down. What is it about the loss of a pet that is a special kind of hurt?

Except for the children you birth or adopt or parent in other ways, few others in your life depend on you entirely. Even the children, as they mature and become self-sufficient, and outgrow the need for your active attention.

Pets, on the other hand, rely on their humans for everything. You take the responsibility to feed them, keep them safe, and let them out to “take a break.”

You take them for a walk as you get exercise yourself. You socialize them with the neighbor’s pets or at the dog park. You train them to behave so they are acceptable family members.

Most importantly, you love them with all the unconditional love you get in return. You create their world, and you both get to live in that world.

As a result of all this care you give your pet, it's no small wonder that you become attached. So attached that when you lose them, you're left with an enormous hole in your heart and a life-altering change in your daily routine.

As an animal lover myself, I speak from heart-wrenching experience.

Here are three things to think about that can help you get over the loss of your pet.

1. Why is grieving the loss of a pet so hard?

First of all, not everyone understands how you’re feeling. People who are not lovers of animals and have no pets likely won’t get the depth of your connection.

You may feel ashamed to talk about how deeply you feel the loss, leaving you feeling isolated. Those are not the people you should hang out with during this grieving period.

Secondly, I don’t know of any company who gives bereavement time for the loss of a pet. Consequently, if you work for someone else, taking extended time off from work may not be in the cards. And if you work for yourself, your business success depends on you showing up.

It’s hard to show up, especially in the early stages, when you’re trying to cope with grief over the loss of your beloved fur-baby.

Thirdly, your identity has changed. This is most significant when you’ve lost an only child-pet. You are no longer pet-mom to the three-pound yapper at the dog park, or to that gorgeous gentle giant who loved everyone you met along your daily walk.

Even when you have multiple animals, as I do, the loss of one dear pet changes everything in the family. One day everything is normal and the next day everyone in the family is reacting to the loss, including your other pets.

Lastly, there is the emptiness you feel when your furry friend no longer greets you at the door. The tail wagging so hard her whole body does, too. The way she'd stand on her hind legs and pin you to the door, licking your face, garlic breath and all.

It didn’t matter whether you had been away for five hours or five minutes, the greeting was the same. That unconditional love is hard to find from anyone else. And now it’s gone.

RELATED: 20 Comforting Quotes About Loss To Help You Cope With The Death Of A Loved One

2. What can you do to ease the loss of your pet?

Grief is grief. And it is your grief. Experiencing the emotion you feel is important. In the Scientific American article, "Why We Need to Take Pet Loss Seriously," Dr. Guy Winch indicates that overcoming the loss of a pet can take one to two months, with symptoms of grief lasting up to a year.

Finding a support system of people who understand your loss, typically other animal lovers, is essential to you being able to talk about your loss. Exchanging stories without feeling judged for your deep emotion will help ease the pain. If you don’t have anyone who understands, you might seek support from the online community called Rainbow’s Bridge.

It is equally important to share your memories as you learn how to overcome the grief and loss of a pet. That includes the fun times, the challenges, and love. At some point, you may even want to memorialize her with a special box or framed display case that hold her ashes, collar, a lock of hair, and the like.

The act of creating a memorial for your pet helps to keep her close and put some closure on the loss.

Adjusting your routine can help to shift the sense of loss. When it is time to take your normal walk with your pet, consciously do something else. Walk at a different time and take a different route — not to the dog park but to another destination.

Invite a friend to join you. You can use this time to talk about your loss, memories, and plans for the future.

Exploring ways to overcome the loss of a pet without losing yourself in the process will take a bit of time. Don’t despair. Reach out for the support you need and take care of you in the process.

3. How will you know when it's time to love again?

Only you can answer this question for yourself. For many, it takes some time before they can consider opening their heart again and bring a new pet into their home. No one else can tell you when your heart is ready to love another furry friend.

What I know for sure is this — an animal lover like you has a lot of love to give. And that love doesn’t end when you experience the loss of a pet. It may hide for a while, but not forever.

And you may be one of those who say, “I’ll never be able to replace her.” That’s a true statement. No pet can ever be replaced. But, I’ll bet you this — when the deep sorrow subsides, there will be something missing in your life that only another pet can fill.

It is probably because animals add meaning and purpose to your life. That is not something to take lightly or to ignore.

You may think that you would betray the pet you lost by bringing another into your life. Think about that some more. Every dog or cat I’ve ever had wanted nothing more than for me to be happy — and they did everything in their power to make it so.

Don’t you think they would want your sadness to subside so another loving animal could bring you joy again? I think so.

When the time is right, you’ll know it. In my life, every pet that I have rescued has somehow found me at the exact moment I was ready to open my heart and my home.

RELATED: 7 Quotes That'll Help You Cope With Losing Your Pet

María Tomás-Keegan is a certified career and life coach for women, and the founder of Transition & Thrive with María. If you’re ready to explore how change can impact you and how to move through it with more dignity and grace, get her free ebook From Darkness to Light: Learning to Adapt to Change and Move Through Transition now

This article was originally published at Transition and Thrive with Maria. Reprinted with permission from the author.