Photo by Michael Hardy on Unsplash
While this article is here to help you learn how to get over the loss of a pet, you’ll quickly learn that it isn’t something you can just immediately “get over”. Whether you’re trying to cope, or want to help someone else, this can get you started on the right path.
Losing a pet is painful, there’s no way around that. When you form such a close emotional bond with a companion, it’s normal to feel devastated when they pass away. If you’re here, chances are you can relate to what I’m talking about: grief, heartache, confusion. Understanding what you’re feeling is a good place to begin.
Understanding the Grieving Process
The first thing that you need to understand is that what you’re feeling is natural. Losing a loved one is one of the causes for the most intense types of grief, and the same applies to losing a pet. In fact, studies have shown that losing a pet can hurt just as much as losing a relative.
Second, it’s important to understand that everyone grieves differently. Maybe your feelings are much more intense than another’s – this doesn’t mean you’re weak or fragile. Maybe you don’t feel as sad about the loss of your pet as a loved one does – there’s no need to feel guilty about that. A big part of these differences comes from things we can’t control; such as personality, faith, life experiences, temperament, and so on.
Myths about the Grieving Process
You’ve probably heard before that there are several stages which people will move through in the grieving process before moving on. A common misconception is that people move through these stages one by one before healing. This is not entirely true. There are five stages and people do experience them, however not in any linear order. You may even feel as if you leave and then return to certain stages or skip some of them all together.
The main idea is that being able to identify the five stages may help you to understand what you are feeling and how to help it.
You don’t actually have to believe that an event has not occurred in order to be in denial. Often coming with feelings of shock and disbelief, you’ve probably heard someone say before “I can’t believe she/he is gone”, or “it just doesn’t feel real”.
Denial is a natural defense mechanism which lowers our anxiety, and gives us time to adjust and deal with all of our emotions. If you’re in this stage it’s important to understand that it’s normal, it doesn’t mean that you don’t care, and that you don’t have to feel in any rush to move through it. Everyone moves at their own pace. A good thing to do here is to talk openly with someone about some good memories of your pet, and how you’re dealing with the loss.
The anger stage is, as you would expect, categorized by anger. Anger at others, at the world, at your faith, or even at yourself in a form of guilt. You might have heard someone say “you should have been there”, or “I should have known”.
Once again you should understand that anger can be a natural reaction to losing a pet. A good thing to do is to recognize your anger and avoid displacing it on others, or taking it out in an aggressive manner (don’t beat up your pillow).
So how do you release your anger in a positive way? Try exercise or meditation, both have been proven to help.
The bargaining stage could also occur before losing your pet (for example, if you know your pet is very ill). It is often characterized with asking or hoping for some sort of higher power to change the situation. You may find yourself constantly thinking of what you or others could have done to prevent losing your pet, or about what life could be like under different circumstances.
A productive thing to do in this situation is to begin focusing on the present or the future, rather than the past or what could have been. Instead of “bargaining” for things to be different, make wishes that your pet may rest in peace, or pass quickly without worry or pain.
Depression is characterized by intense and often overwhelming feelings of sadness or loss. Losing a pet is very hard and can unfortunately lead to this stage, but it’s very important to understand that it is not abnormal.
You may feel very empty or tired, as if even the simplest tasks would take extreme effort to accomplish. You might notice a loss in your appetite. Maybe you find yourself or someone else lying in a bed all day, seeing no real point in doing much else.
Feeling depressed after a loss does not mean that you are mentally ill. Rather, it’s a natural response to mourning. An important part of helping yourself out of this is to recognize and open up to your feelings. You should allow yourself to feel your grief rather than trying to push it away. Exercising is also another positive way to help yourself feel better.
*Important note: if these feeling persist for more than 2 weeks, you begin to have very negative thoughts, or you’ve become concerned with your health, please talk with your doctor as soon as possible.
In this stage, you might not necessarily be fully healed; losing a pet is something that can stay with you forever. However, you might feel that you have now accepted your loss and are now ready to continue living your life.
Once again, remember that healing takes time. Being cautious to move through each of these stages exactly as described is not how you get over the loss of a pet. Everyone is different, and there’s no time schedule or exact way to get over that loss. If you’r know someone who is grieving, show care and compassion towards them, but don’t try to rush them out of their emotions.
How to Get Over the Loss of a Pet: Tips
- Be honest with your feelings and learn to accept them.
- Don’t try to hold your feelings inside; it’s okay to cry or to be angry.
- Open up to someone (who you feel comfortable with) about what you’re feeling.
- Understand that healing will take time, and that it is different for everyone.
- Find positive ways of release, such as exercise, meditation, writing or coloring.
- Continue to participate in your regular activities. Having a routine can be a great help.
- Seek a community of people who are going through the same experience.
- Also understand that healing will take time; do not expect to be able to “snap someone out of it”.
- Let this person know that you are there for them.
- Be accepting and empathetic to all of their emotions.
- Don’t feel like you need to have all of the right words, sometimes all you need to do is listen.
- If you have a child, help them to understand what has happened.
- Find ways to symbolize or memorialize your pet; we offer free online pet memorials as well as physical memorials that can be bought through our store.
- Watch for prolonged depression. If you become concerned, consider suggesting professional help.
- Review a longer list of how to help.
What Not to Do After Pet Loss
- Don’t try to avoid, reject, or bottle up your feelings.
- Try not to take your emotions out on others.
- Don’t use alcohol or other substances to try and help how you feel. It’s a good idea to avoid consuming any alcohol or other substances for at least 24 hours after your loss.
- Don’t be pushy or overwhelm the person in grieving.
- Try not to judge someone for what they may be feeling.
- Don’t lie to a child about the loss.
- Do not become someone that the person in grieving comes to fully depend on. They were an individual before, during, and after losing a pet. They need support, not someone to take over.
Moving Forward after Pet Loss
Learning how to get over the loss of a pet is hard, and will come overtime from your experience. The above suggestions aren’t set in stone, but rather meant to help guide you in the right direction. Once again, each person will adapt differently after losing a pet.
If you’ve recently lost your pet, I want you to know that I am truly sorry for your loss. I hope that you find peace in saying goodbye, and joy in the memories that you created, because those will last forever.
If this article helped you, and you know someone else who is coping with pet loss, feel free to share it with them and offer support.