As a pet owner, you’ll likely understand and agree that 88% of pet owners say their furry friends are a part of their family. This is why losing a pet can be heartbreaking, especially if you’ve spent many years together.
As an owner, it’s hard to find the words to describe the grief of saying goodbye to your beloved companion. Whether you experience it in an isolated moment or through a wave of sadness, pet owners often grapple with how best to move forward when faced with such loss.
This quick and thoughtful guide will dive into some helpful tips and resources for those facing pet grief and looking for ways to cope. Let’s start by exploring what pet loss looks like personally — from the emotions surrounding saying goodbye to their health journey before passing away.
What Is Pet Grief?
The textbook definition of pet grief is the sadness and sorrow experienced when a pet dies. It is an emotional response to the loss of a beloved animal companion — one that has been with us for years, providing us with love, comfort, and companionship.
People who experience pet grief often feel intense sadness and loneliness, as if they have lost part of their family or close friend. They may also feel guilt or regret for not being able to do more to save or prevent their pet’s death. Pet grief may involve emotions such as the following:
It can be a long and difficult process that requires patience and support from family and friends. And that’s understandable.
Pet grief differs from grieving the death of humans in several ways. First of all, it can be harder to find understanding from those around us since losing a pet isn’t viewed as being as “important” in terms of societal norms as losing someone we are related to or know personally. Depending on your support system, this can make it feel more difficult or heavy.
There is also less closure with pets since they have no funerals or memorial services. We don’t get to say goodbye like we would to human loved ones (however, we will address some ways you can do this below). Finally, it can be more difficult to express our emotions when mourning the death of an animal due to cultural taboos surrounding this type of loss.
The Grief Process
The grieving process involves many stages and is often likened to the five stages of grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Grieving is an individual experience; no two people will experience it similarly. However, understanding how the grief process works can help you navigate these emotions.
1. Denial and Isolation
The first stage of grief is denial, which involves avoiding reality and a lack of acceptance that a beloved pet has passed away. During this stage, feelings are often suppressed or ignored, leading to isolation from family, friends, and other pets. It may be hard to believe that something so dear could be gone forever.
In the second stage, anger sets in when reality sinks in. During this phase, it’s normal for people to feel a sense of rage towards fate, themselves, or even a diety for taking away their much-loved pet.
This anger can result in taking out frustration on individuals or things surrounding them that have no relation to the cause at all. This might include blaming family members or going out and buying a new dog or cat quickly because they think it will fill the void left behind.
This stage involves wanting to turn back time and make things different. You might think, “If only I had done XYZ differently.” However, these thoughts are usually fruitless because nothing can ultimately change what has happened.
During this stage, feelings of sadness and helplessness set in as reality fully kicks in, along with the acceptance that life must go on without their beloved pet companion. This depression often leads to withdrawn behavior from family and friends during this difficult period. However, it allows most pet parents to gain closure.
Sweet memories start flowing back during this final stage, allowing those grieving over their lost pet to finally come to terms with their absence while cherishing any happy memories shared together previously when they were still around. Finally, you can cherish the wonderful moments you had with them.
How to Cope With Grief
Understanding the stages of pet grief is helpful. However, there are things you can do to help navigate the tough emotions that come up after the loss of a pet. Here are a few tips we’ve gathered as specialists in pet loss and end-of-life care over the years.
Let Yourself Grieve
When a beloved pet dies, letting yourself grieve the loss is important.
Not only will expressing your sadness help you process and work through your emotions more effectively, but also, holding back your grief can lead to increased depression and anxiety. Grieving provides an opportunity to release pent-up emotions, heal from the pain of loss, and eventually move on with life in a healthier way.
One way to grieve for your pet is to take some time alone with memories of them. This might include looking through photos or videos of them or writing about how much they meant to you in a journal. You could also talk with friends or family who understand what you’re going through and are willing to listen without judgment.
Additionally, you could create a tribute, such as pet jewelry made from their ashes or a special paw print memorial. Participating in activities like these allows us to pay tribute to our pets while working through our feelings of grief at the same time.
Respect the Process
As emotions arise, respect and honor whatever comes up. Trust and respect the grieving process because it is just that: a process. Understand that you will likely experience a roller coaster of emotions as you grieve the loss of a pet, and be okay with allowing those emotions to come and go.
As part of this, understand that grief looks different for everyone. If your spouse or children aren’t grieving your pet in the same way as you, know that that’s okay. Trust your process and honor the emotions that arise without judgment or frustration.
Join a Support Group
Joining a support group after losing a pet can be incredibly helpful for anyone struggling with the pain of loss. Connecting with others who have been through a similar experience can provide comfort, normalize emotions, and help to restore hope.
Support groups can come in many forms, from online forums to in-person meetings. Participating provides an opportunity to share stories, express feelings and emotions, and receive advice and understanding from peers. It also allows you to discuss solutions to common challenges faced when grieving over your beloved pets.
Create Physical Memories
Creating physical memories of your pet can help you find comfort after a loss. Having tangible items to remember your pet can be solace and help you cope with the grief. You can create memories through photos, artwork, souvenirs from trips together, or trinkets that signify special moments between you and your pet.
One such way is creating a keepsake with their ashes; jewelry pieces such as pendants or rings perfectly capture their spirit and beauty while providing an incredibly meaningful reminder every time you wear them. These objects will always keep them close to your heart and serve as a lasting celebration of their life.
The Aftermath of Losing a Pet
It can be an incredibly difficult time if you have recently lost a pet. We understand what this feels like and are here to help make the experience easier for you and your family. Our team of professionals is here to provide compassion and understanding during this difficult time.
One way to commemorate your pet’s life is through cremation services offered by us. We also offer unique jewelry and keepsakes to help you remember your beloved pet for years. These custom items are engraved with special messages or images, allowing you to keep their memory alive forever.
Or, if you need someone to listen to you to talk through your emotions, we’re here to help you with that, too. Our initial service is complimentary to you, and you can visit our comfortable space in Long Beach, where we can sit with you and help you remember your special furry friend and family member.