It is an unfortunate fact of life as a pet owner that we will almost always outlive our pets. We will have to say goodbye to those members of our family that relied on us the most. Whether sudden and accidental or the result of a long-term illness, the loss of a pet is never easy and always causes pain.
EMOTIONS AFTER THE LOSS OF A PET
Allow yourself to feel that grief. You may encounter people who will not understand the depth of your pain after you lose a pet. To some people, animals are not family but just a nuisance, but you as a pet owner know better. You know about their individual personalities, their unconditional love, and the joy they brought to your home. Talk to other animal lovers and pet owners. They will understand your loss without being dismissive. It is likely that anyone who has owned pets has experienced the death of a pet as well, and knows exactly how you feel right now. They will not belittle your experience.
Allow yourself to feel any other emotion that comes with the loss as well. An accidental death may bring with it anger, a death from a long illness, guilt. If you had to make the difficult decision of putting your animal to sleep, and then decide when to do it, you know that you will always question if you made the right call. Was it too soon? Did you wait too long? Did finances factor into your decision? There is always guilt. Knowing that you did the best you could in your circumstances helps. But you will still feel that gnawing in the pit of your stomach.
Any loss can bring up the painful memories of past losses – animal and human. You may have gotten a handle on the death of a parent, at least enough not to be crushed by it, but when your pet dies it all comes rushing back to you again. Process that grief. If you ever feel that you cannot move on from any loss and that your feelings of sadness are overwhelming you, please do ask for help. Do not feel bad or weak, or that you cannot handle the death of your pet as another person would. That loss just began an avalanche that you cannot hold back on your own. For some people, it can be job loss or divorce. For some people, it’s the loss of a pet.
REMEMBERING YOUR PET
You can mark the special place your pet held in your home and in your life by having a physical memorial to his or her memory. If the final resting place is on your property, planting a bush or tree where the burial is will allow something to grow from the loss. If that is not practical, a stone marker – like a special patio stone or even a bird bath for the cat who liked to watch the birds from the window may be a better choice. If you can, you could include your pet’s favorite toy or special blanket as a kind sendoff.
Those without a yard, or who do not own their property, do have the option of requesting that their pets are cremated individually, and the remains returned in a pet urn at the vet’s office. There can be options for urns depending on what you like, and any personalization you may want to add. Do not feel you must have, and do not allow a vet office to pressure you into having, an urn. Not having one does not mean you loved your pet any less. Not having a tangible reminder of your pet at all does not mean that either. Some people would rather have their photographs and memories. Having the physical memorial around would be too painful.
COMFORTING CHILDREN AFTER THE LOSS OF A PET
For many children, the loss of a pet will be their first experience of death. The discussions following such a loss will be difficult for parents. Depending on what your own faith says of the afterlife and the souls of pets, you may wish to tell your children about the Rainbow Bridge. This is a story meant to comfort those who have lost pets by telling of a place next to Heaven where the souls of departed pets wait for their owners so they can enter Heaven together. The pets cross a rainbow bridge and are transported to a pet paradise where it is always sunny and there is always food, water, and toys for them. This may comfort your children to feel that their pets are happy and they will see them again.
Let your child grieve as well, and to ask questions as difficult as they may be to answer. Children find rituals comforting, so let them perform what ceremonies they wish to honor their pets. They may wish to have their own service or memorial for the pet. It will help provide some closure for them, and may be comforting for you as well.
Your children will probably be ready for a new pet long before you will. Those without children can take the time they need to feel ready, but parents should take that time as well. You should not get a new pet too soon and always feel that you are comparing your pet to the one you lost. They are not the same. And for those who had older pets, you do forget what it is like having a kitten or puppy in the house and how destructive they can be.
BRINGING HOME A NEW PET
One day you will find yourself at a place in your life where you can open your heart and home to a new pet. Maybe it will be a surprise, by finding a scrappy stray living under your porch that you just fall in love with, or you’ll go to the shelter with a friend and spy a puppy with the biggest eyes in the corner looking at you and your heart will know he’s your dog. Or maybe you will plan to bring home a new pet because you feel like your home is too empty, too quiet, and you need to bring home a pet to fill it. There is always the hurt at the end of our time with our pets, but in the middle is too much love to not have them in our lives.
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