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Losing a Pet

For so many of us, our pets are much more than animals. They are often described as members of the family, loved ones, or best friends. They are companions. They are keepers of secrets, and guardians. They have our trust, and they trust us without question. The contributions they make to our lives are unique - just as they are.

It shouldn't be a surprise then, that grief surrounding the loss of such a valuable part of our lives is different, and unique in so many ways from grieving for humans who enter and exit our lives.

No matter the intensity of feelings, it's important that we allow ourselves the time and space to grieve fully, when the time comes.

Sometimes, the care questions and end-of-life decisions that arise relative to our pets are harder to answer than those we ask and face for the humans in our lives.

Why? For starters, our non-human friends can't talk. They can't tell us what they want, or if it hurts, or how it hurts. They can't communicate with us in ways we can translate into decisions about medical choices. We are uniquely separated from our pets when facing these decisions.

Such decisions are one instance when those on your pet's care team can make a big difference. At MPAH, we recognize that difficult decisions are different for each of our clients - and we're all here to help inform you when you are faced with them.

There are however, some themes and questions that recur for many people within those experiences - and we've chosen to share some of our observations here, in the hope that they may be helpful to you.

  1. Everyone's grief is different -- everyone processes grief in different ways, and differently for each loss. There is no singular "right" way to experience a loss, or single linear process that occurs.
  2. Grief is real and normal -- even, and some would say *especially*, for a pet. The experience may include depression or anxiety, lasting either a long or short time. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety or depression that lasts a long time, or interferes with daily activities, you may want to consider meeting with a therapist, even if it feels silly that the trigger was a loss of a pet. It's a lot more common than you may think.
  3. Time does heal. While grief may come in waves, over time, the waves get smaller and smaller and eventually subside.
  4. What to do? Talk to those who support you. Often, taking a walk or engaging in other exercise will help reduce your stress and feel better. It's also important to express your feelings of sadness. Expressing your feelings can be talking to someone or writing a letter or simply crying. Intersperse taking time to feel your feelings and express them, with taking the time to do things you enjoy.
  5. You can run, but you can't hide. Putting off grieving is possible, but eventually, it will hit. When it does, you'll get through it by expressing your feelings and taking good care of yourself.

Other Resources

  1. Humane Society 'Coping with the death of your pet'
  2. Pet Loss Support Page
  3. Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement