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Grieving the Loss of a Pet

For many people it may be difficult to understand how the loss of a beloved pet can trigger a deep grief process.   When we lose a family member or a close friend, our loss is usually met with sympathy and condolences. We are allowed to grieve.  But, talk to a pet owner who has lost an animal companion and you will hear quite a different story.

I know from clients in my therapy practice, as well as from my own personal experience, that many people do not understand the depth of grief at the loss of a pet.

The relationship with pets is multidimensional.  When a pet dies we lose a being that offers unconditional love in an uncomplicated and accepting way that few human relationships achieve.

Guilt is one of the primary stumbling blocks to a healthy grieving process.  The potential for guilt abounds in a pet/human relationship. The grieving owner wonders: Did I do enough?  If only I had…. If we are unsure about whether all options were exhausted, guilt may hinder moving through grief effectively.

Moreover, if our pet died in a way we perceive could have been avoided, the duration and severity of guilt can be intensified. “I shouldn’t have left the gate open, even for a second and he wouldn’t have run into the street” or “I wish I had noticed her symptoms sooner, because she’d be alive today if I had.” Such comments only serve to punish us even further.

For some, the loss of a pet reawakens an old loss, one that was not, perhaps, fully grieved.  This complicates the current mourning process. It is then important to not only mourn the lost pet, but to take this opportunity to achieve closure on earlier losses.

Staying conflicted about the death of our pets binds us to our deceased companion, keeping us closer to the time when he or she was alive.  Letting go of grief can also be mistakenly interpreted as a betrayal, that trying to feel better is equated with trying to forget. That is not the goal of grieving. We’ll always love our pet. Healthy grieving is getting “through,” not over, a loss.

Mindful grieving informs us to allow ourselves to feel what is there, without judgment. When my dog Shanti died, I felt a painful sadness. Although I wanted the pain to go away, I needed to non-judgmentally acknowledge it, feel it, and let it be.  It was important in that moment that I didn’t resist it or strive to make it any different, but just feel it as it was.

Grief is a natural part of the human experience.  It means we have loved and it means we are honoring that love. If you are mourning for a recent pet loss make sure to make time for feeling the emotions that arise, whether they are anger, sadness, or pain. There is no need to judge these emotions as good or bad and know that it is Ok to feel these and they will not last forever as all things come and go.

Victoria, BC
September 23, 2012

 

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2 Responses to Grieving the Loss of a Pet

  1. Carol says:

    Your words are helpful for indeed I am experiencing the guilt of not being able to do more to help her when she was so sick. Or, not ‘being there’ for her when I had to go away to visit family members who needed me. Still, I do remember that I told her every day how much I loved her and what a wonderful dog she was and how beautiful she was and how absolutely amazed I was that ‘god’ (whom ever/whatever) made such a wonderful being as her. And, of course, those languid brown eyes would just look through to mine as if to say, I understand and of course it is miraculous but that is life…Oh, my heart aches to hold her once again…and, I sometimes feel that I need to go and find another ‘one’ to hold, and embrace – to bury my face in their body – to seek some comfort in that now and present warmth and life. So I find myself each day going on-line to look for dogs at the SPCA or other rescue groups knowing full well that it is too, too soon. Its only been 2 weeks – I know I need to keep doing what I am doing and feeling. I only wish there was a support group still meeting. While my family is supportive, I need another place to talk about what I am experiencing….thanks for the opportunity to express some of what I am going through…

  2. Gine Oquendo says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve lost my beloved Tyra and it is very painful to me and it’s been 2 months she’s been gone. I don’t know where and how to start again, I tried to join already some groups and reading this kind of blogs but the pain is still here and her memories are still fresh. Thank you to my friends who understand.

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