Loss of a Pet

Understanding Grief: The Path to Recovery

If we’re fortunate enough to love and be loved, losing a loved one is a part of life and, thereby, so is grief. When one cares for another, grief does not distinguish between human or animal beings.

Though surprising to many who are close with animals, it’s not uncommon for someone who has lost an animal loved one to apologize about being grief-stricken. Some even tell friends, coworkers and others that they’re embarrassed about reacting to the death of an animal, especially if there are tears or significant sadness involved. Yet there is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. To the contrary, better to feel good about being caring and compassionate people, as evidenced by our sadness and grief.

Dogs, cats, horses and many other animals become a part of a person’s extended family. We form bonds with them as they do with us. Our love for them may run so deep as to their becoming a part of our very soul. So it would be unnatural to experience no sadness or grief when they are suddenly gone.

Not everyone reacts the same way, of course. Some people internalize feelings and are reluctant or even unable to show them outwardly. Or they may express them only with certain people where they feel safe or comfortable in doing so. Some people believe that it’s not appropriate to openly express one’s emotions. It doesn’t mean that these individuals lack feelings and are immune to grief -- although, sadly, there are people who really don’t care (and we may not get to know which category someone falls in).

There also are those who loved the animal and are unexpressive about the loss because they are able to quickly accept and adapt to loss. They understand it to be a reality of life and they see it as their job to “move on”.

Those who are “empaths” (who feel with especial depth and intensity) often have the hardest time coping with such losses. The pain can feel overwhelming and the grieving can be prolonged.

These are but examples of people’s reactions to loss of an animal loved one.

Because people are indeed different, despite our commonalities, it can be counterproductive to judge others based on our own personalities and expectations. What we can do instead is offer support and seek to be understanding. There, too, it’s important to accept that what feels supportive to one person may not be to another. Letting others know that we care in their time of loss is what matters, along with (if possible) finding out how they would like to be supported.

Also important is to be understanding and supportive of ourselves when we experience the loss of a beloved animal friend – in whatever way is nurturing to us as individuals. This includes not demanding an instant recovery and not being pressured by how others may think we should feel or how long they think the recovery process should take. It’s an individual thing based on a personal relationship between us and our loved one. And no apologies or embarrassment needed, EVER, for the fact of our caring. 

No matter how we as humans express ourselves, some form of grief is most often an integral part of recovering from the loss. As some do with human family members and friends, celebrating the being who we loved is a further way of supporting ourselves, and others, on the road to recovery. Honoring our departed loved ones in this and other ways can keep their spirits in our lives forever.

Written by Marcia Elder (c) July 1, 2018