Is it possible to grieve the loss of your beloved animal companion? Absolutely! Losing a pet touches very deep our hearts, as we love them dearly. We experience a painful loss because there was a special bond between you and your cherished companion animal, and… grief is the natural response to a loss.
The first loss I experienced in my life, when I was eight years old, was the loss of my rabbit, Blancanieves (Snow white). I remember like if it was today, how much I suffered when I realized she couldn’t move… that she had died. Being the first time I had experienced death, it was an event that touched my heart tremendously. Based on what many parents do, I was offered to have another pet so that I wouldn’t be so sad. I didn’t want to have another pet, as I didn’t want to replace it. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to have a ritual, my mother allowed me to use morning clothes for a month. I imagine that was my way to express my grief and honor my beloved rabbit. I kept this pain in my heart, and it was not until I was doing my graduate studies in Loss & Healing, that I could cry about Blancanieves. When our teacher told us to do a history of losses (something I do now with my clients), I thought the first loss was the death of my father when I was 12 years old. Then, she explained the concept of losses… that they entailed more than the death of a loved one (person) but animals as well. When I wrote about Blancanieves I cried so deeply, as I had never had the opportunity to express my real feelings. This made me realized that what the grief that we ignore doesn’t cease to exist, it is only repressed.
If you are experiencing this type of loss, you may feel people do not understand how you loved your beloved pet, as they minimize your loss. They may have never had a pet or love animals. Moreover, they may tell you that you are not a child to be crying and that is was “just an animal.” Yes, it was your beloved animal… You may think they are not sensitive, and that they do not validate your grief. Moreover, you may think that you will be fine and won’t suffer the absence. However, do not be surprised if you find yourself experiencing despair over the loss of your cherished pet.
This reminds me of a story of Ellen (changed names), a woman who lost her dog and came for grief counseling. When she suffered the loss, a mutual friend called me to let me know about her loss and that must likely she would call me. She did indeed. But not to make an appointment for grief support, but to tell me her friend told her about me, but that she was fine.
After three weeks, I received another phone call from Ellen. This time sobbing and letting me know how sad she felt without her dog. She realized… she was grieving and was surprised by it, as she never expected one could grieve the loss of an animal. Denying grief is what happens in our society. We are not allowed to grieve. Many times we do not give ourselves permission to grieve. If you lost your beloved animal, cry if you feel like it. Do a ritual. Share stories of your pet, and allow your heart to heal.
If you feel like talking about your pet loss, share your feelings with people who understand and validate the love you feel toward your pet.
If you are the friend or family of someone who is suffering the loss of a pet, offer your helping hand, as what they need is your compassion and support. Allow them to express their pain and accompany them if they want to elaborate a ritual.
To be surrounded by people who love us in times of grief, can make a real difference in our lives.