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Death of a Family Pet: Overcoming Grief and Sadness

By Amber Shimel MSW, Thriveworks Richmond Counseling

Although there’s usually no public funeral, no sympathy cards, no time given off from work, and little understanding from those around, the grief one can experience when losing a pet is no less real—and no less intense.

Over the course of your pet’s life, he/she has become a treasured family member, and a beloved companion. He/she has given unconditional love, and now that your pet is gone, the feelings of loss is profound. Although you may not get the same support from family and friends as when a relative or another human loved one dies, you are still entitled to a grieving process. If you have recently experienced the loss of a beloved pet, continue reading to learn a few strategies for healing.

1)Give yourself time (and permission) to grieve the loss

As we have discussed, the loss and grief is real. There is no need to push your emotions aside or try to ignore them. Accept that you feel intense emotions, and take the time to process them. If you need to to take time off work or miss social activities, be gentle with yourself and allow that time. The healing process should not be rushed. We may want to move on quickly, possibly even find another pet, or stay busy. But dealing openly and honestly with your feelings is the healthiest way to find true healing.

2)If a child is hurting, help the child to express (and understand) his/her feelings

For many kids, the loss of a pet is their first brush with death. This is an opportunity to help them learn to deal with grief in a healthy manner. For many kids, their dog is their best friend. Sadly, it is hard for children to understand that pets have shorter life spans that humans. Although the loss of a pet is an expected part of life, the world seems shattered to a child that just lost their four-legged friend. Helping a child take the time to process and understand these feelings is an important part of moving on as a family.

3)Don’t feel that you need to hide your sadness

Share with your friends and extended family about the loss of your pet. Consider having a small family service for your beloved furry family member. Make a memorial or frame a picture of your beloved pet and display it in your home. There is no need to sweep your grief under the rug. Tell others your favorite stories and memories about your pet. Honor their memory.

4)Should you need some help, reach out for some help.

If you are having a particularly difficult time dealing with your grief, consider looking for a support group or professional counselor to help you through this time. Losing a pet is a common but difficult process, and there are many people available to help you, in both a community and professional setting. There is no reason to feel hesitancy or embarrassment about needing some extra help in getting through this grief. Every person processes situations differently, and in their own time. If the feelings of grief are becoming overwhelming, and preventing you from being able to carry out your normal tasks in the day, it is time to seek help. You do not have to deal with this pain alone.

The loss of a pet is a source of true and deep grief. Our four legged friends, birds, lizards, snakes, hamsters, and other creatures become part of our family. They provide love and companionship, in a distinct and unique way from human companions. The loss of a pet is a difficult thing to deal with, regardless of how common and universal it is. Take the time to be kind to yourself, process your feelings, help children grieve, and seek help if needed.

About Us: This article is provided by the outreach team at Thriveworks Richmond Counseling. To reach us with any questions, call 804-554-0356.