According to statistics, nearly 60% of households in the UK own a pet and yet pet loss is one of the most frequently disenfranchised types of grief.
Our animals are part of our lives for years, often over a decade, yet when they die we rush ourselves to ‘get over’ the loss, it can feel almost embarrassing to be so distraught, telling ourselves to ‘get a grip’ and they were ‘just a dog/cat/horse/rabbit etc.’.
Of course, that just isn’t true. Our pets are never just an animal that we happen to share our homes with, they’re family members with unique personalities of their own. They make us laugh, they make us cross when they misbehave and they comfort us when they sense we are down – just as any other family member does.
What makes pet loss so hard?
When a human dies, we lose more than just the person, we also lose everything that they brought to our lives and the same is true in pet loss.
We lose the warm reception when we arrive home, our walking buddy, our non-judgmental listener, our mischief maker, our loyal companion, our routine, the one we cuddle up with to watch television and often the escapism spending time with our animals provides.
Pets bring so much to our lives that there is a huge gap when they are gone, yet we don’t feel comfortable openly grieving for them, simply because they are not human.
Quite often there are additional factors that make grief for a pet somewhat complicated.
Often it is up to us to decide that it’s time for them to be put down – to be kind and prevent their suffering, rather than them dying naturally. Making the call to have a pet put down is hard, often people worry that they’ve let their pet suffer too long before making the decision or wonder about the ‘what ifs’ of if they’d waited a little longer.
This is a normal grief response, it’s natural to question whether you did the right thing when you’re backed into making an impossible decision like that. Even though you know it’s in your animal’s best interests, making that call to the vet is guilt inducing, heartbreaking and selfless, and your feelings are valid.
Another complication pet owners sometimes face is not being able to afford the life saving medical attention their animals need and, if they don’t have insurance, they have no options. This often leaves them feeling heartbroken and guilty.
Although this can be a difficult situation to compute, it’s important to remember that you loved your animal and did the very best you could for them at the time with the knowledge and resources you had available.
Sometimes the death of a pet can unlock hidden grief for past losses, meaning you face two lots of grief at once, which can be overwhelming. Due to busy lives people often don’t have chance to process the death of a loved one and so it can lay dormant until something unlocks it, like the death of a pet.
This can be confusing for both the person grieving and those around them, but is not unusual. Just take the feelings as they come and work through both losses at your own pace.
As with any other type of grief, it is important to allow yourself to mourn the loss of a pet, here are some ideas on how:
Journal your feelings about their passing, write about what you miss most, what hurts the most, your favourite memories with them and how you are currently feeling.
Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling, choose someone that you know will be non-judgmental and will not try and ‘fix’ the problem, but will just listen.
Have a small memorial area for them in your garden where you can sit and remember them. Art Stones Memorials, which works closely with Wathall’s, have a lovely range of pet memorials, which is an important part of the grief journey after losing a beloved pet. For more information, please visit https://art-stone.co.uk/services/pet-memorials/
If they were cremated, perhaps have an ashes scattering ceremony with those closest to you, it can be nice to scatter the ashes somewhere you and your pet made a lot of memories together, or where they seemed happiest.
Keep photos of them, just because they are gone does not mean they have to be forgotten, they will always be an important part of your life and thinking about them and keeping photos does not mean you are ‘stuck’ in your grief.
But most importantly, allow yourself to grieve and be patient with yourself. Don’t put pressure on yourself to hurry through the loss and feel better, just take the days as they come and remember that it is ok, and normal, to feel the way you do.
This blog was written by me, and originally posted on Wathall's website. The original post can be found my clicking here.