Pets are our chosen family. Their steadfast companionship and their innate ability to make us smile everyday are all testaments to how strong the bonds can be with our pets. Whether canine, feline, rodent or even bovine, they are a major part of our lives. And it is no surprise to anyone who has opened their home to a pet, that the loss of our animal family members can be gut-wrenching. While nothing can entirely take the pain away from the loss of any family member or loved one, there are ways to help guide you on your journey to heal.
After the loss, you may want to consider holding a memorial service, whether it be something small with immediate family, or even just you. Having some sort of ceremony to say goodbye can help you find some closure, as you begin your journey to heal. If you have children, include them in the ceremony and have them say a few words if they wish.
In addition to the funeral ceremony, it is important to find a spot as a memorial for your pet. Whether you scatter their ashes at a favorite spot, under a tree in your backyard or hold them on your mantle, it is healthy to have a spot to be alone with your thoughts and connect with your pet.
While it is perfectly acceptable to want to be alone with your sadness; reaching out for support is a healthy step towards healing. Just know that you are not alone in this process- there are many pet owners before you who have gone through this, hopefully some you have in your life that you can reach out to.
If loved ones don’t understand what you’re going through or if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your feelings with someone you know there are many wonderful therapists and safe spaces you can speak with, reach out to your insurance company to see who is in your network. There are even pet bereavement therapists out there that you can reach out to.
There are also other avenues of support available for you to reach out to if you need it. For instance, the free online grief support site, The Rainbow Bridge, provides a space for pet owners to share memorials, stories, poems; whatever you need to get off of your chest to feel lighter. There is also a forum you can seek advice from. If you’d like to talk to someone over the phone, Tufts University has a pet-loss helpline at 508-839-7966.
In addition to seeking help, you should also give yourself the time and space to grieve. Be kind to yourself. Take time off work if you are lucky enough to have that opportunity. Losing a space is traumatic, you need the opportunity to rest and just be present with how you feel.
When the pain isn’t so sharp, you can keep the memory of your pet alive by looking at photographs and videos. Perhaps there’s a favorite toy you’d like to hold on to and donate ones in good shape to an animal shelter. Proudly display a picture you love, so that every time you see it you smile with the warm memory. Being able to work through the sadness to get to that smile can take a long time, and that's ok.
Give your pet a lasting legacy. Donate money in their name to your animal shelter or rescue organization of choice. Volunteer to walk dogs or help clean cages at your local humane society. Even though your beloved animal is no longer earthside, you can still make sure their memory goes on, all while helping other pets in need.
Try to plan something fun, to get out of the house a bit and attempt to find a spot of cheer. Planning something light, fun and easy to do will take your mind off of things for a bit and improve your mental state. Feeling sad is perfectly fine, but it is not healthy to grieve non-stop- allow yourself to enjoy your life without guilt.
The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that searching for meaning, for the purpose of your pet’s time on earth with you, can be beneficial to processing your feelings. Concrete answers aren’t that important in this step, it’s just the journey of asking these questions that aid in the wading through of emotions. In pondering how your pet affected your life, you will hopefully achieve some clarity.
Just take your time, be kind to yourself and know you’re not alone. One day you will smile again when you think of your best friend.