If you have ever had a pet that has passed on or had to make the difficult decision to euthanize, you know how challenging the grief can be. Our pets are part of us, they are an extension of our families and when they are gone, there is a big hole in our hearts that often triggers feelings of guilt, sorrow, despair, and depression. The following offers a few suggestions to help you cope with your loss.
Allow yourself to feel, to cry, to experience the death of your pet rather than stuffing your emotions, allow them to happen and be present with them. Deal with your feelings and grief as they arise, this will help you in your ability to process the loss. Talk about it with loved ones, friends, share that you are feeling sad. If you have children, talk to them about their feelings, give them permission through your example to express their grief openly. Give them and yourself the opportunity to talk about your beloved pet.
Prepare a ceremony, either before euthanizing or after your pet has died plan a celebration of life. Gather at your pet’s favorite spot, or in your home. Invite people who knew your beloved companion, light candles or burn incense. Ceremonies help give us closure and a chance to commemorate our pets. They help us deal with our grief and our losses as well as allowing others the opportunity to say good-bye. Maybe have the children sit in a circle and light a candle.
Create a memorial, a place where you can show homage to your pet. If you have their favorite toy or a memento, (such as a tuft of hair or a paw print) choose a sacred spot in the backyard or under a favorite tree where you can make a small shrine. Memorials help you remember, they also help you process loss. Place pictures or anything sentimental on the memorial. Maybe your pet had a favored stuff animal or quirk that you want to remember. Again, if you have children, this is a wonderful way for them to actively work through their grief. They can color pictures, make sacred symbols such as a cross, Star of David, or a rainbow.
Deal with your guilt, if you have any, and most everyone that has had to euthanize a pet, has questioned their decision, even when they know it was the right and humane choice. You may be mulling over memories, imagining that the pet was not that bad off. The truth is, when we are in pain, feeling sad over a loss, we forget details, we tend to gloss over the grim realities and fantasy like ideas that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Going back over what could have been done differently does nothing but perpetuate guilt. Know that you and your vet made a kind and loving decision and that your pet is no longer suffering.
Give yourself time, rather than rushing out and replacing the loss with a new pet, allow yourself ample room for grief. The new pet will never have the exact same temperament and unique nuances that the old one had. Be kind to yourself, create space for grief and sadness and time to truly be ready to move on. Grief is an unfolding process, simply willing it away or avoiding it stunts that process. You may experience all five of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) or perhaps just a few. Over time, the pain fades but not the memory of your pet. You will get to a place where you can once again laugh at silly stories of your pet’s personality while remembering those tender loving moments you shared.