Grieving Our Pets Death

Our pets give us so much. They entertain us, listen to our secrets, and give us unconditional love. Losing a pet can leave us with a muddle of other feelings in addition to the sadness: anger, anxiety about other problems we couldn't address because we were so busy caring for our sick pet, and even guilt, especially if your pet died suddenly or of an unknown cause. We may think to ourselves, "My pet trusted me to take care of him/her. Should I have taken him/her to the vet sooner"? Or maybe we are not convinced our pet got the right medical attention. Losing a pet can also bring up pain from previous losses we have experienced.

When we lose a pet, we may encounter well-meaning people who do not understand why we are so upset about losing "just an animal." They may encourage us just to "get another one." Not everyone is bonded in the same way to their animals, and that's okay. But it's not whether our loved one was a person or an animal that determines our "right" to be upset. It's the quality of the relationship and the level of our love. It's hard to recover fully from the loss of a long, possibly many-year, relationship in just a few days or weeks.

You're not crazy to hurt so much. You have had a loss, and you deserve support. It may help to talk about it to people you feel understand and will be sympathetic. Grief is a powerful emotion and is one of the most painful we face as human beings. The good news is that if you get a chance to talk and work through some of the pain, grief is a time-limited process. Over time, the pain recedes a bit, and you can access the happy memories of the love you and your pet shared.

It may help to look at grief recovery as a process of convalescence. The dictionary definition of "convalescence" is "gradual return to health and strength after an illness." Seeing grief in this way can help us to be patient with ourselves during the process and know that, in time, we will feel better again. Crying, some trouble sleeping, or loss of appetite is normal after a loss. But if you are having physical symptoms that are of concern, please seek medical attention. If you feel you may be "stuck" in grief after a long period of time, you may benefit from professional help.

As Leo Tolstoy said, "Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving counteracts their grief and heals them."

© 2005, Ann Palik.

Ann Palik is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California, and is a member of the Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement, Inc. She has appeared as a pet loss consultant on the radio program "Talking Animals" on KUCI, 88.9 FM. She can be reached at (310) 840-2341, or [email protected].

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