Healing, dealing after the loss of a beloved pet

I said last month that we’d discuss the difficult topic of pet loss and the grieving process that often follows.

Recently, I received a note from two of my readers who experienced the loss of their pet due to a medical condition.

The husband has taken the loss very hard because he was so attached to their pet. His wife was struggling to find ways to help him cope.

I, too, have experienced both human loss and pet loss and have felt levels of inconsolable grief with both and experienced a great range of emotions before any amount of time began to heal the heartache of each.

Whether it involves the loss of a human or a pet, grief can be unbearable. We search for ways to deal and ways to heal.

Because pets love us unconditionally and are dependent on us much like a child, the loss of one can spur the strongest of emotions. You can and will experience stages of grief with a pet, the same as you do with a human.

Depending on each person who is attempting to cope with loss, there are many ways in which to try and come to terms with the great void our loved one has left behind.

One thing experts agree on is to not try to bury your grief. Finding ways to express your grief is important and vary from person to person. There are emotional responses, such as talking to someone who understands your loss, and behavioral responses, like making a scrapbook in memory of your pet.

In addition to making sure you’re eating right and exercising, I like the idea of connecting with others who understand pet loss. It lessens isolation and negative judgment.

Join a support group such as Rainbow Bridge online to connect with others who have recently experienced pet loss or are still coping.

Don’t try to compare your grief with others. Everyone copes in his or her own way. Also, realizing the guilt you may feel is irrational especially after losing a pet to an illness or accident is a normal part of the bereavement process.

Perhaps memorializing your fur baby will best offer a way to cope. Whether through cremation or burial, there are pet cemeteries where you can visit your best friend long after they have passed. I have always had my pets cremated and had their ashes returned to me in a decorative box that I could keep close by. Again, every approach is personal and unique to each person.

Write and submit an obituary to your local paper or create a photo album or book in memory of your pet. Some people have jewelry made to memorialize their pet while others use a bit of the pet’s ashes in a piece of jewelry. These keepsakes help keep your memories close to your heart.

Take brief journeys to some of your pet’s favorite spots or volunteer at a local rescue or shelter. Doing something for others is often some of the best therapeutic medicine.

Once it took me months to consider adopting again. Another time, I adopted almost immediately after my loss. Each pet is special and his or her loss causes you to behave differently.

Adopting another pet is not being disloyal to your pet. There are so many homeless pets looking for a forever home, that you can be sure your fur baby would be pleased you were able to open your heart to help another pet in need. All in time.

Don’t be hesitant to seek out professional counseling if you’re not making any headway on your own in due time. There is no time frame when it comes to grief. Everyone has his or her own clock. But, if you just can’t seem to dig your way out of the doldrums, perhaps it’s time to call on a professional for some guidance.

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than 10,000 tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” — Washington Irving

Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode is the author of “Have Dog Will Blog,” editor of the Central PA Pets magazine and director of the Central PA Pet Expo. She can be contacted at ahanna

@altoonamirror.com or by mail: Paws and Reflect, c/o Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode, Altoona Mirror, 301 Cayuga Ave., Altoona, PA 16602.

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