If you are reading this, you are likely dealing with some of the most difficult emotions you’ve ever experienced. When a beloved pet dies, many people are surprised by the intensity of their grief. Although normal and necessary, intense grief makes us all feel uncomfortable and we worry that something is going “wrong” with us. In reality, grief is a necessary, unavoidable process that occurs after the death of a loved one. Crying, intense sadness, and even anger are normal, healthy parts of the grief process. In fact, one scientific study revealed that the tears produced from an eye irritant are chemically different than the tears shed from grief (the grief tears contained different chemicals such as serotonin). This shows that as human beings, we are biologically disposed to cry when dealing with grief. While normal, these emotions are very difficult to bear and can even be embarrassing to describe to others. This is especially true when describing your grief to people who do not have pets in their lives, and it may be difficult for them to understand the intensity of your grief. Pets offer us a type of unconditional love that is difficult to find in our human relationships. Many people describe this type of love as pure and constant. Pets don’t care about how much money we make or our appearance, and accept us despite our faults. They simply love and accept us for who we are. Given this profound type of relationship, it is perfectly normal to grieve over the loss of a beloved pet. Your level of attachment and closeness to the loved one is the key. Whether it is a person or an animal, it is the kind of relationship you shared with the loved one that will determine how intensely you grieve.
Healing From the Loss of Your Beloved Companion
If you are like me, your precious companion was part of the family, and when a beloved family member dies the grief can feel unbearable. As a psychotherapist of 30 years (my darling cocoa worked in my office with me for 15 of those years) I can tell you with confidence it won’t always feel this sad, this lonely or this devastating. But telling you that, doesn’t lessen the pain you are in now.
Most people with either give you “coping” mechanisms or tell you to just get over it. I don’t want you to “cope” I want you to heal. And the truth is nothing heals like love. So below are some healing strategies that are loving to YOU now. It may take a little bit of time, but honestly, as much as you loved your precious companion that loss will not heal overnight. However, these healing processes will work if you work them. And you do deserve to heal, to love and to laugh again, you do!
- Rituals are in our lives for a reason. A funeral or memorial service tells our brain our loss is real. It is a way we acknowledge those we love who have passed. You and your companion deserve this. You can’t do it wrong if it is done in a way that makes you feel you are honoring yourself and your loved one.
- There is no time limit on grief. So even if it has been months since your loss, talk about your loving companion as much as you like. If others have a problem with that, then let them have their problem. You focus on you and being able to talk about the memories, the fears and the absence of your loved one, is you honoring the loss of your precious animal and what he or she meant to you! Grief takes its own time and the process needs to be honored as it unfolds.
- Online there are lots of communities on Loss of animal companions. Most are called “pet loss” and we know that our loved one was so much more than a pet, but ignore the name and go for the connections. Folks in the online communities really get all the roller coaster feelings you are experiencing right now. Reaching out to others who know this pain lets you know you are not alone. You very well might be able to go through this alone, but you don’t have to! Reach out.
- Create a legacy. This can be anything that memorializes your companion permanently. A photo album, planting a tree, a time capsule…anything that says, “Here is the place I hold the tangible memories of my adored one.”
- Nurture you well. Surprisingly this may mean crying. A lot. For a While. Again, this can be a way of honoring your loved one. You might not know this but there are healing hormones in emotional tears that are not present in cleansing tears. So crying is actually healing. We have tear ducts for a reason. Some additional ways of nurturing you might mean a warm bath, eating healthier, getting as much sleep as possible without sleeping your grief away, 7-9 hours is rational. Exercise is also good. It releases healing hormones too. And play! I know you might not feel like it but again, it will help. Trust me on this. Isolation has never healed anyone!
- I do believe if someone has not experienced this loss, they cannot really know the depth of this loss. So, lastly if anyone has the bad manners or just plain ignorance to say to you something like “C’mon, it was just a dog” take a breath, then take another one and say “I understand you have not experienced this bond and cannot understand my deep grief, but please don’t minimize my pain, this loss hurts more than I can possibly express to you.” Next, remind yourself that if these people do not understand they have missed out on a wonderful loving experience of having an animal companion. This is THEIR loss.
I deeply hope that this information has been helpful to you, as again, I do know how devastating this loss can be. If you think that it would be good for you to have a couple of professional healing sessions or simply want more healing strategies or healing processes or even just have more questions, then let’s get together. You can reach me 407-833-8868.
Much Warmth and Healing,
Marcie S. Cramer, LMHC Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist President Center For The Healing Arts, Inc.
Psychological Service Dogs, Inc 407-833-8868
Copyright Marcie S. Cramer
Pet Loss Support
The Pet Loss Support website provides comfort for those grieving the loss of a pet. The Pet Loss website has various tips and resources such as articles, books, videos, and more. In addition to their wonderful handouts and links, there is also a helpful directory of support groups listed by state. To learn more about the Pet Loss Support Page, please visit their website.
Center For the Healing Arts Counseling
Center For the Healing Arts Counseling is a diverse therapy practice located in the Greater Orlando area. They specialize in a variety of therapy services to help provide relief from grief and stress, including from pet loss, in a supportive and nurturing environment.
Center For the Healing Arts is directed by Marcie Cramer, M.A., L.M.H.C. and has been serving clients in Winter Park, Orlando, and throughout the Central Florida area for over 29 years.