Losing a beloved pet is often an emotionally devastating experience. Yet as a society, we do not recognize how painful pet loss can be and how much it can impair our emotional and physical health. Symptoms of acute grief after the loss of a pet can last from one to two months, with symptoms of grief persisting up to a full year. For most pet owners, their emotional ties to their pets are more powerful. Although grief over the loss of a cherished pet may be as intense and even as lengthy as when a significant person in our life dies, our process of mourning is quite different. Many of the societal mechanisms of social and community support are absent when a pet dies.
When someone you know is grieving the loss of their fur baby, tell about these few tips to keep in mind.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE STRENGTH OF THEIR BOND
Our relationships with our pets are actually complex, and it takes time to cope with their loss. Some time it can be hard to comprehend the closeness between pet and human. But pets are part of their owners’ lives day in and day out. There are habits that both human and pet develop together, and when a pet is no longer there to snuggle their owner on the couch when they’re sick, or keep them company , or curl up on their lap, it’s hard to bear the absence of your beloved pet.
Some people are very closer to their pets than human members of their family. Jill S. Cohen, a family grief counselor, explains how the relationship between an animal and a human can be more fulfilling than a human and a human:
“There is an unconditional love that a pet provides, where often a human relationship does not necessarily provide that. Also, a pet is reliable and has provided the security and stability through the owner’s life which often transcends other relationships. Children may leave home, a spouse may leave or be absent for a period of time. Parents may die. Friendships may drift. But the pet is always there — a source of comfort, a source of continuity in life, of constant companionship, a way for the owner to show love to a living being. A pet also provides a sense of routine for its owner. This may give the owner some consistency in life — feeding, walking, caring for the dog, tending to the pet’s needs. The bond between a human and a pet can sometimes be like none other.”
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR WORDS
Studies have found that social support is a crucial ingredient in recovering from grief of all kinds. Thus, we are not only deprived of our support systems when our pet dies, but our own perceptions of our emotional responses are likely to add an extra layer of distress. We may feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the severity of the heartbreak we feel and, consequently, hesitate to disclose our feelings to our loved ones.
It’s crucial to recognize the pain that someone is feeling after the loss of a pet even if you yourself don’t quite understand the loss. Though someone who lost a pet may indeed eventually bring another pet into their lives, mentioning that as a solution for their current grief, can be easily replaced only hurts them further. Try to comforting the grieved person. Sometimes comforting someone proves beneficial. We need to seek social support from people we know will understand and sympathize with our emotions and not judge us for them.
TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS
Losing a pet can leave significant voids in our life that we need to fill: it can change our daily routines, causing ripple effects that go far beyond the loss of the actual animal. Caring for our pet creates responsibilities and a schedule around which we often craft our days. Some people may be able to lapse back into their daily routine with relative ease, while others may take days or weeks or months to adjust.We might need to reorganize our routines and daily activities so we do not lose the secondary benefits we derived from having our pet.