Accepting the death of a pet is never easy. Here are suggestions for working through this difficult time as a pet owner.
by Martha Stewart
Many people have trouble admitting that they’re grieving a pet. They’re often embarrassed or ashamed, especially when outsiders comment that it’s only a pet or that they can get another dog or cat. “There’s a stigma in society about losing a companion animal. It’s more accepted to mourn the loss of a person than a pet,” says Diane Pomerance, author and grief-recovery specialist. She asks people to remind themselves that they are in fact “mourning the loss of a family member.”
Getting through this difficult period starts by giving yourself permission to grieve. “Designate time every day to do this,” says Claire Chew Gillenson, a life-transition coach and petloss educator. Keep a journal. Talk to a counselor or friend who understands your loss.
If you had to put your animal to sleep, try not to fixate on your pet’s last moments. “If guilt surfaces, forgive yourself and remember that you did everything you could,” Gillenson says. Try to remember the good times: long games of fetch or evenings cozied up on the sofa.
If you have kids, especially if this is their first experience with death, talk openly with them. “Children are generally curious and want to know what’s happening,” says Mac Hafen, a clinical marriage and family therapist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State, adding that it’s best to use terms such as death and dying rather than going to sleep, which could make children scared of going to bed at night. If they’re not asking questions, find out how they’re feeling. Try engaging them in play or artwork.
Taking time to honor your pet will also bring comfort and peace to you and your family. After Katie died, I sent a note to friends and family announcing her death and sharing stories from her therapy work. One of the hospitals where we volunteered held a memorial service for her, and I spent weeks creating a scrapbook of Katie’s life. All of these activities helped me say goodbye, but there are many ways — such as planting a tree, donating money, or holding a remembrance party — to memorialize your pet. The key is doing what feels right for you.
Images of your pet around your house allows for the grieving process to feel natural, you will feel less separation and can always look into your dogs eyes.