It can be very difficult to know how to help yourself recover from the loss of your pet. There’s a part of you that may think that you shouldn't suffer so much. That’s simply not true.
Many of us spend decades in the company of an animal companion. They have grown to hold a large place in our hearts. Your grief and sadness are honest, and very expected. Learning to ‘dig down deep’ to feel and accept the pain can be hard to do.
The better your understanding of grief, the better equipped you'll be to help yourself through it. Basically, there are a few things we’d like you to know:
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief does not unfold in orderly, predictable stages. It is an emotional rollercoaster, with unpredictable highs, lows and setbacks. Everyone grieves differently, so avoid telling yourself how you “should” be feeling or what you "should" be doing.
Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviors. Feelings of guilt, anger, despair, and fear are common. If you find that you’re in the mood to yell to the heavens about how unfair this is, or sit for hours holding your companion’s leash or cat toy, allow yourself time to do it. Don’t judge your feelings or actions too harshly. As long as they don’t hurt you or anyone else, let yourself do what you’re compelled to do.
There is no set timetable for grieving. For many people, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others the grieving process may be longer or shorter. Don’t pressure yourself to move on or feel like you’ve been grieving too long. This can actually slow your healing.
Many people blame themselves after the death of an animal companion. It’s important to realize that everyone has regrets, but focusing on guilt can prevent recovery. Talking with friends or a counselor can aid us in confronting and dealing with feelings of guilt. Grief changes, but doesn’t have to destroy a person’s life. It can be a time of real personal growth as you discover new things about yourself and the strength you have now developed through the grief experience. Finally, we realize that the love we shared with our animal companions endures and life does go on.
Feelings of panic and confusion often follow the death of an animal companion. These feelings can cause us to run from life, to avoid family and friends, and to refuse to try new things. While these feelings are a normal part of grief, our willingness to accept the loss can help us to overcome panic and confusion. At times during the grieving process, we find that familiar and necessary activities are difficult. We prefer to drift in our memories and daydreams. This stage will pass.
We ask that you:
1) Give yourself permission to grieve.
2) Don’t be afraid to cry.
3) Be patient with yourself - grieving takes time and feelings of sadness and despair don’t just disappear.
4) Find a compassionate listener.
5) Lean on old relationships and reach out to build new ones for the future.
6) Live in the moment, one day at a time.
7) Postpone making major decisions until you feel you are ready to handle them.
8) Focus on your responsibilities like your family, your job, and your friends to rally your inner strength.
9) Join a support group.
10) Take care of your body by exercising, eating properly and resting.
11) Knowledge is power. Learn about grief through books and videos.
12) Realize that it’s O.K. to be angry about your loss.
13) Don’t panic when you have a setback. Grief has its own timetable.
The pain of bereavement may never fully heal. Be sensitive to the fact that life may never feel the same. You don’t “get over” the death of an animal companion, but time helps you live with the loss. The pain will lessen in intensity over time, but the sadness may never completely go away.
Give yourself permission to take time, on those special days of the year, to honor the memory of your pet. Holidays, family milestones, birthdays, and anniversaries often reawaken grief. Be sensitive on these occasions. Be the best friend you can be to yourself by giving yourself the gift of time. Time to heal and to perhaps realize that you’re ready to love another companion again.