The intense emotional pain that comes with losing a pet can be an overwhelming experience, to say the least. If you’re navigating the grief process, the ideas below can help you find your way:
1. Know that what you are experiencing makes sense:
You are not crazy. You feel like something has been cut out of your heart. You are wailing in a way you have never cried before. Of course you are feeling the way you do (more about the emotional pain of pet loss in this previous post on “The Heartbreak of Pet Loss“. Learning about the grief process and how to move through it can help you get your bearings. So can reaching out for support.
2. Learn a little bit about pet loss:
Most of us never want to think about the day when our pet won’t be with us. So when it happens, we find ourselves in new territory right as our hearts are breaking wide open. Just knowing that pet loss and grief is a real thing, that there is information about it, and a path through it can be helpful. (Check out the earlier post on “Finding Pet Loss Support” with information about how to find support and resources.)
3. Find support:
You don’t have to be alone in your experience. Reaching out for the support that you need can really help. There is something about grief, and particularly the loss of a pet, where knowing that others experience it too is a comfort. It doesn’t necessarily make the pain any less but in some ways it can make it just a little more bearable, when you know that you are on a journey that others are on too.
4. Take care of your basic needs:
Grief is exhausting. It’s key that you try to take care of your basic needs through the grief – drinking enough water (after so much crying!), eating well (remembering to and trying to), and resting.
5. Move at your own pace:
What moving through the grief will look like is an individual experience, and it is important to tune in to what is right for you. With pet loss, this can be about: with whom and how we talk about the loss, when we leave the house or feel like being at home, what we do/don’t do with our pet’s things, how we adjust to a daily routine without them, if we want to do a memorial of some kind, if we ever or never want to get another pet, when we want/don’t want to see anyone else’s animals – and the list goes on. Find what honors and feels true for you and your relationship with your pet.
6. Catch when you are stuck:
Grief is a process of being in and moving through, not “getting over.” A pet loss counselor colleague once suggested to gauge “moving through” based on how you felt the first day after the loss and how you are feeling now. You can’t move any faster than you can. It’s about taking care of yourself and your heart as you move through the pain.
That said, do take note if you feel like you are stuck, drowning in it, moving into more and more darkness. If anxiety and/or depression is surfacing, if it gets so bad that you are having your own thoughts of not wanting to be alive, get help. There are the supports we talked about here, and for the darkest moments there are suicide prevention hotlines (1-800-273-8255) or your local 911/ER.
When you are feeling “stuck” in the grief, that’s when in-person individual support with a mental health professional who is sensitive to pet loss and grief can really help. It can be hard to find the ropes you need to pull yourself through the grief on your own. Having someone else there to walk and talk you through it can make all the difference.
Kristin Buller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Certificate in Veterinary Social Work. Kristin lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog, Ruby. For more information on Kristin, visit www.kristinbuller.com.