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Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Grieving the Loss of a Pet

When someone close to us dies, whether it’s a partner, a relative or a good friend, people around us are usually quick to offer sympathy, comfort, and offerings of sincere condolence.  Grief is expected, crying and getting emotional are totally accepted. But what happens when we lose a much-loved pet? A cat knocked over by a car or a terminally ill dog having to be put down by a vet? Can we expect the same kind of support and understanding when we are grieving the loss of a pet?

Many bereaved pet owners say that most people (unless they have been through something similar)  do not understand the depth of their grief. Some even experienced the gross insensitivity of a comment like, “Why don’t you just get another cat/dog?” Many of us view our pets as a family member, as cherished and valued as all the other members.

This blog and the two following will look at various aspects of grieving the loss of a beloved pet. This blog looks at WHY the feelings can be so painful. It seems that we are actually mourning several losses at the same time. These include:

  • The loss of a special kind of love

Our pets provide us with emotional responses that are uninhibited by concern for how their expression appears to others. Many of our human relationships aren’t that simple; they can be riddled with anxiety about rejection and other fears that often dictate how we behave and what we share. Our pets do not judge insecurity or imperfection. They are all-accepting in ways few humans can achieve.

  • The loss of a life we were responsible for

Having a pet is much like being a parent. We are responsible for another life and often go to great lengths to ensure our pet’s physical and emotional comfort. Numerous activities revolve around our animal companion’s needs. We hire pet walkers and sitters to provide our furry friend with company or exercise. We go to dog parks to enhance our pooch’s life with social activity. All are efforts to provide our charge with the best caretaking possible. Consequently, the loss of a pet can feel like the loss of a child.

  • The loss of a life witness

Not only do our animals provide us with their uninhibited emotional expression, but they also allow us to express parts of ourselves that we may never let other humans see. They observe our weaknesses, our good times and our bad times over many years. They grow WITH us.  During periods of upheaval, they often provide us with security, stability and comfort.

  • The loss of routines

We must say goodbye to feeding time, walking perhaps several times a day and all the aspects that made up our practical routines. We must not only say goodbye to the physical activities, but to the reflexive way we called to our companion when we wanted comfort and love. These goodbyes all contribute to the time and patience needed to grieve the loss of a pet.

  •     The loss of a primary companion

For some of us, our pet was our only social companion in the world. We may not have had any other close contacts, due perhaps to depression, anxiety, or a debilitating physical illness. We relied exclusively on our pet for support and love.

All these reasons explain just how real and valid our feelings can be when we lose a much-loved pet. We should not try to hurry through this process or deny our feelings when it comes to an animal any more than we would if we are grieving for a human. My next blog will look at some further complications that can arise in connection to grieving for a pet – misplaced feelings of guilt perhaps that we didn’t do enough at the end, or that we had to have the animal put down, feeling that we should be getting over it much faster, or finding that this loss reminds us of other, unresolved losses.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Book a counselling session today!

See also: Grief and Loss, Grief and Recovery