The grief and sadness of losing an animal companion
While dogs are known as “man’s best friend”, it’s true that any pet can become an incredibly important part of our lives. Humans form strong bonds with their pets. An animal fills many roles. They provide companionship, give emotional support, motivate us and even add purpose to our existence. That’s why the loss of a pet can be so hard.
If you’ve experienced the death of a pet, you may find yourself surprised at the intensity of the grief that follows. It can be just as severe as the loss of any human. However, we don’t tend to have the same kinds of social norms in place surrounding this life event. You may not feel you’re able to take time away from work or dedicate a period of time specifically for processing your bereavement.
This can lead to some complex feelings that manifest in unexpected ways. You may find yourself inadequately able to manage these emotions, and they can spill over into other parts of your life. There are things you can do to come to terms with the loss of your pet. One day you might even find yourself looking to add another animal companion to your home.
In the meantime, understand that your grief is natural. As with the loss of a beloved person, your grieving process will be highly individual and unpredictable. You may go through stages that involve processing denial, anger, guilt and depression. Eventually, coming to accept the loss. It’s possible your grief could come to you in waves or cycles in which you function well for a while, only to sink into deep lows on occasion. It’s not unusual to come across triggers years down the line that cause you brief moments of sadness.
The main thing to remember is that emotional healing can’t be rushed. Go easy on yourself as it unfolds. Any feelings you experience are valid. Allow yourself to work through them and to acknowledge each one. Sadness, loneliness, despair, guilt and numbness are all acceptable and legitimate.
Bottling your feelings up will only prolong the grief process. It’s good to allow yourself to grieve. Let yourself grieve in ways that feel right to you. Lean into whatever feelings you’re having. Invest your physical and emotional health during this time. You deserve extra care right now. Taking time to eat well, exercise and get adequate sleep will aid you throughout the process.
Don’t let anyone downplay your emotions. It’s healthy to get them out. You can write in a journal or share your despair with a trusted friend. A therapist is an excellent outlet to assist you in working through this time, just as they would be beneficial in helping you to cope with any other type of loss.
Above all else, recognize that your grief is real. It’s valid and is to be expected. The loss of a pet is a process that will take time to fully go through. There will be ups and downs along the way, but the pain will lessen. For now, be gentle with yourself.