Grieving the Loss of a Pet: A Season for Healing

Losing a beloved pet can feel like losing a close friend. Nothing can replace the pet you have lost. Your pet’s death is one of the most severe stress responses that you can experience. In fact, on the classic Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale of stressful life events and later update, the loss of a close friend is ranked number six. For many of us, the pets in our lives are very special friends and part of our family.

During this time of grief and mourning, while your bereavement crosses through its natural course of cycles and expression, realize that it is important for you to maintain your mental, emotional, and physical health. It is also important for any others who have experienced this loss with you.

Coping with the loss can seem lonely and overwhelming. To an extent, there is some comfort and solace in knowing that you are not alone. Others who have lost an important pet in their life have had similar experiences. However, the feelings you have and the emotions you display are real, genuine, and unique. Your way of grieving is an expression of the person you are and that is okay. The range of emotional responses a bereaved person might experience is as wide and varied as the people experiencing them. Normal responses range from shock and denial, to anger, guilt, sadness, anxiety, feelings of isolation, depression, and confusion. You don’t have to, and probably won’t be able to, conform to anyone else’s exact expectations or experiences.

Stages or phases of grief are not clear-cut. They mix, overlap, and sometimes repeat themselves. While grieving, try to live each day the best you can, using all the help and support at your disposal. Eventually, you will notice a change, subtle at first, more pronounced as time passes, that allows you to feel and believe you are returning to a semblance of normal – not the same, never the same, but a new normal, a new way of living, expressing, and being.

You are mourning a real loss. You should not try to deny the emotions you feel, or suppress them. Again, you do not need to conform to someone else’s expectations. Research shows that most of us will begin to feel better on our own with just the support of friends. However, if you ever feel overwhelmed or desperate, consider allowing a trusted friend, member of the clergy, or a trained professional to help you through that particular challenge. It is difficult to handle everything alone even during normal times; we all need occasional help. Remember, it is an indication of wisdom, not weakness, to recognize the benefits of allowing qualified, supportive people to help you during times of bereavement, when necessary.

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