Article by: Melissa Kauffmann
Going through the death of a pet involves not only the grief and trauma caused by the loss but also the poignant aftermath. What happens next? How do you move on?
The death of a dear cat, dog or a long-kept parrot can be just as heartbreaking and real for a person as any other loss. This is why recognizing and processing your feelings as entirely ordinary and necessary is essential for moving on. As millions of bereaved pet parents proved, there are healthy ways to deal with your pet’s departure, the most useful of which we have prepared here to help you find the much-needed condolence and emotional tools for healing.
What is a secondary loss, and what does it have to do with my grief?
When grieving the loss of a beloved pup or kitty, we are actually coping with several different mourning periods. The secondary loss, in that sense, refers to everything else you’ve lost as a bereaved pet owner apart from the pet, such as routine and time spent together, unconditional love, the caregiver purpose, etc. Each time you realize your life has changed because your pet is missing, you may be triggering secondary losses.
The dangers of secondary losses
If you’re struggling with moving on after the death of your pet, you may be experiencing some of these secondary losses:
The loss of a fixed schedule/routine
Involved and dedicated pet owners may be struggling with this loss the most. The change of routine that was mostly developed around the pet - feeding time, walks, grooming, cuddling, etc., are all gone and what is left is an empty feeling of longing.
The loss of purpose and belonging
When your pet is not around anymore, you may feel like you’ve lost your role as a caregiver, parent, friend, and companion. All of the activities you devoted yourself to are lost, and that can cause confusion and a major lack of self-confidence. Pet parenting brings much more than cuddling, it’s about being responsible for another life, so the loss of that position can come quite hard.
The loss of a lifelong companion and unconditional love
Pets, especially dogs, are able to attach to their humans much more honestly and affectionately than people. They show unconditional love, acceptance no matter what, and pure joy when around a person they love. Furthermore, pets keep us healthy, and according to recent research could reduce the risk of death by 24%. Elderly pet owners also make 30% fewer trips to their medical practitioners than those who didn’t have pets. Some people consider their pets their best friend, which clarifies why their death can leave a deep emotional void.
What can you do to beat the grief over a deceased pet?
Each mourning period has an expiration date, but the way we choose to accept the faith can be done healthily or negatively. Here are some recommendations on how to positively approach your pain and grief:
Show compassion to yourself before anyone else does
The first step to healing is recognizing that your mourning has not determined the ending point. Take as much time as required to properly accept that your pet is gone. If you feel like crying, isolating, or maybe laughing, let it be the outlet you’ve longed for.
Look for support in people with a similar experience
If you don’t have anyone around you who is patient enough to show you compassion, then look for the understanding in other people who have gone through the same thing as you did. There are support groups and organizations that help people open up and talk about their struggles. You might evolve from other people’s experiences and find the strength to move on.
Find a way to symbolically say your goodbyes
Sometimes what you need to make the next step is to create a physical gesture to make an emotional improvement. Organizing a memorial for your pet is a comforting way of expressing your grief and acknowledging it. There are also websites created explicitly for pet memorials.
Make a meaningful contribution
Donating to a shelter in need, fostering, volunteering, or even adopting a pet is a noble way of paying your respects. The fact that you’ve lost your beloved animal can be a lifesaving chance for other animals in need.
Turn your pets’ belongings into a cherishable memory
Another idea for keeping the memory of your pet alive is to use their stuff to make a meaningful memory object. A collar chain can become a necklace pendant, while your cat’s paw print can be framed into a lovely picture same with other things like bed, clothes etc. Whatever you remember dearly about your pet can be turned into a physical reminder of the beautiful time spent together.
Why is the loss of a pet so hard to process?
Bereaved pet owners often need to deal with their sadness alone or hide their emotional pain just because there’s no one to understand the severity of the situation. Suppose you know someone (or you are currently) dealing with disenfranchised grief. In that case, the best way to help is by giving them a chance to share their feelings, fears, and pain as it will speed up the recovery process and let them fight the toxic emotional restraining in a healthy and relieving way.