When your family or companion pet dies, there can be overwhelming feelings of pain and loss. You are grieving. But few people recognize the death of a pet is a very real loss. Many people even say things like, "It's just a pet" or "you can get another one." Little do they know how they are diminishing the strong feelings you have for this "little or big" creature that has loved you and your family unconditionally. The bond that has been formed between you and your little friend is everlasting and has truly marked them as a part of your family.
A pet is taken into a home as a family friend, companion or mascot. The pet loves you and your family members and asks for nothing in return, except food, water, a little recognition and play time every now and then. Your pet is happy to see you come home and greets you eagerly, wagging its tail, kissing whoever will allow it or making whatever kind of creature sounds or actions that are significant only to them and you. You can tell this little creature all of your secrets and never worry that your confidence will be broken. They are there when you are down and playing with you when you are excited and happy. Your pet loves you in a way that is indescribable.
Today, pets are integrated into family life, support services and health care in such a way that immense feelings of loss and pain are felt when they die.
- Pets are being used with physically challenged children to teach them balance and coordination. Pets also teach children how to love, experience joy and set priorities. They also may give kids their first real experience with death and grief.
- In addition to seeing-eye dogs, pets are being used as companions and aids. Dogs are being trained to help invalid people open doors, get different items in the house, hear doorbells and phones. Pets are also being used in senior centers for therapy. Pets are known to lower blood pressure and keep the elderly more alert and motivated.
- The pet has become an extension of the family unit, providing a mutual interest for the entire family. They provide laughs, exercise and the experience of nurturing, love and companionship.
Because you now know this about pets, it is even more important for you not to let anyone diminish the relationship you have with your pet by telling you that "it's just a pet" when your pet dies. Your pet has become a significant part of you, your family and who you are. Your feelings of loss and grief are very real. Don't ever feel embarrassed or afraid to acknowledge these feelings. You are grieving.
If euthanasia had to be something you had to choose because your pet was ill or old, you may feel guilty or that you disappointed your pet. Making your pet as comfortable as possible during the last days of their life is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give them. While the decision is difficult and very emotional, it is important to know that you provided your pet love and quality in both life and death. You will grieve the death of your pet. Those feelings are real and legitimate.
Grief is a physical, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual reaction to loss. It is natural, normal and necessary. When you are grieving, you may feel tired, unable to sleep, or want to sleep most of the time. Grief can alter your appetite. You may feel hungry or you may not want to eat at all. Grief may cause anxiety. You may feel as though your heart is racing and you can't "catch your breath." You might feel worried and excited at the same time. You may feel like doing nothing or you might feel empty and hollow inside. It might be hard to concentrate or to remember things. Grief can make you feel helpless, angry and frightened.
What Can You Do?
Recognize and acknowledge that your grief is real. Do not be afraid of the intensity of your pain. You may experience a wide range of feelings and feel confused. Write about it or talk about it with someone who will listen and hear your pain. You may want to create a journal or scrapbook about you, your family and your pet. This can be a personal project just for you or a family project that may be shared by everyone.
Have compassion for yourself and don't allow others to diminish your feelings. Grieving takes time.
Honor your pet with a special funeral or burial service. It can be a private ceremony with your family and friends. Today, there are even pet funeral homes. If there isn't a pet funeral home or cemetery in your area, you can bury your pet in a special place in your yard. You can create or buy a special marker for your pet's grave.
Many pet owners choose to have their pets cremated. If this is your choice, you can still have a memorial service. You may choose to bury the cremated remains or scatter them in a special place. If you choose to bury the remains, there are a wide variety of pet urns available. If you do not have a pet cemetery or funeral center, check with your local funeral director.
You might consider purchasing a sand-cast replica of your pet and place it on the mantel or on a bookcase. Many times, people have made photo groupings of their pet with different members of the family to accompany these statues.
Consider creating a rock garden in memory of your pet. You can purchase garden stones and have the name of your pet engraved on it. Put it in a garden of flowers or bushes in memory of your pet.
Children love to create memory boxes. They can use a shoebox and decorate it. In this box, they put special things that remind them of their pet: a photo, a special toy, a leash, collar or pet tags. They may choose to write a poem or story about the pet and keep it in this box.
You can make a donation to a pet rescue group or your humane society or animal shelter in your pet's name. You may even choose to donate any pet food or pet treats you have left in your pantry to these groups or consider making a gift bag of pet treats and toys for the pet next door.
Don't rush out and buy a new pet. It can take a while to sort out your feelings and your pet deserves to be grieved. Your old pet needs to be buried in the memories of your heart. A new pet can not replace your old pet but it can help ease the pain. Trust yourself. You will know when it is right to buy a new pet.
Remember, what you are feeling is very real grief. You do not have to apologize for your feelings or be ashamed they feel so intense. People grieve because they love, so don't let anyone rob you of that love or the need to honor it.