Losing A Pet

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France

I’ve always been an animal lover from an early age. There was always something about animals that has continually drawn me in. I love looking into the eyes of an animal and knowing they see me too as my raw authentic self. Animals see us for who we are – truly human. They not only see us as our authentic selves, but they also harness a great capacity to love us just as purely as they see us. It’s a beautiful relationship that is unexplainable, intangible, and yet more real than many of our human relationships.

I was 23 when I got my first dog on my own. As soon as I saw her big brown eyes, I knew she was meant to be mine. Heidi was full of spunk and energy. She had a rough start to her life, and she was unsure of how to trust other humans and animals. I knew, under all that fear,  she had a big open heart and was yearning for the opportunity to be taught basic needs like love, safety, and companionship. We set out on our own adventure together, just her and I. Over the years we conquered many fears and had many laughs. She gained a few furry siblings and learned how to be a great big doggy sister. Her intelligence was unmatched as she learned commands, tricks, and even found her own way home after a Beyonce concert (That’s a story for a different post!)

Similarly to human relationships, our relationships with our furry companions also come to an end. The death of a pet is a very real, painful, and surreal experience, much like grieving a person, marriage, or job loss. The transition of losing a pet is incredibly challenging and often misunderstood. Unfortunately, I’ve had to walk this journey recently as Heidi has made her transition across the Rainbow Bridge. In my grief, I’ve noticed several things that were really crucial for me in my healing process. 

Self Care Is A Must

I can’t stress this enough – please take care of yourself in the same way you would if you were experiencing a loss of any other kind. Your body and soul will require comfort and nourishment during the time after the loss of your animal. You may find yourself feeling tired, tearful, sad, angry, confused…. All of which are normal and valid experiences of grief. Allow yourself time and space to operate at a lesser capacity than normal. Try to get an extra few hours of sleep, or have a satisfying comforting meal. Some other examples of self care for people include meditations, exercise, tending to a garden, reading a book, seeing a therapist, or journaling. Whatever your form of self care is, utilize it and allow extra time in your day for more than normal. Be kind to yourself in this tough time. 

Reach Out For Support

Grief is an incredibly isolating experience. Each person’s grief is solely their own, both in the way it is experienced and the way it is processed. However, there are people around to lean on during that time. Take advantage of your loved ones who are ready to support you in your own process. When Heidi passed, I knew there was nothing anyone could do or say to fix the pain I was feeling, but the outpouring of love and support was so helpful in those first few weeks. I had people reach out via text and snail mail to send their condolences and favorite memories of Heidi. Friends showed up with dinner at my home and sent cookie care packages to show they care. I definitely needed that love and support in that time, and I am so grateful I had people in my support system show up for me. I made sure to connect with friends and family who had also experienced the loss of a pet to feel understood and validated in my feelings, and I created boundaries around those who I felt may not have understood as well. It’s perfectly okay to limit time and energy with those who aren’t as supportive to protect your own well being and health. Set kind and firm boundaries with yourself and others around the support you need in your grief. 

Find Ways To Honor Their Memory

Just as we hope to have meaning with our own lives, it’s important to honor the meaning our pets’ lives have for us as well. Finding creative ways to honor your animal’s journey and the love you shared can be incredibly healing. Some great ideas include planting a memorial tree or garden, donating some money in their name to a local animal shelter, painting a rainbow and portrait on a canvas, or creating a digital scrapbook with pictures and videos of your life together. Create a tangible way to revisit all of your special memories with your beloved furry family member so you’ll always have a piece of them with you. 

Losing an animal is never easy. My heart goes out to those who are struggling with the loss of a pet. You deserve to be held in tenderness and compassion during your grief. Be sure to seek out counseling if you believe you could benefit from extra support and coping skills regarding the loss of your pet. There are some great resources available for those who are grieving over the death of an animal that I have found incredibly helpful during this time. 

Books: 

Always By My Side: Life Lessons from Millie and All the Dogs I’ve Loved – Edward Grinnan

Dog Heaven – Cynthia Rylant

The Loss Of A Pet – Wallace Sife

Podcasts:

The Pet Loss Podcast

Healing Pet Loss Podcast

Written by: Sara Balkanli, LPC-Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S