Having a pet can be one of the most rewarding human experiences. It doesn't matter what kind of animal you choose to welcome into your home.
There's something inherently special about that human-to-animal bond that most pet owners can't put into words.
It's an unspoken connection that goes beyond the physical differences between humans and animals.
While we can't understand them or always know what they're thinking, pet owners develop such a strong relationship with their pets that they can eventually read them like a book and vice versa. It's a beautiful thing!
But there's one harsh reality of being a pet owner that can hit you like a ton of bricks:
Death. Most people outlive their pets.
It's an unfair fact of life. These animals come into our lives for such a short period. But they leave a lasting impact that can stay with us for decades!
Unfortunately, dealing with the loss of a pet isn't easy. For many folks, it's one of the first significant losses they experience in their life.
Whether this is your first time losing a pet or not, it doesn't make things any easier.
If you're dealing with the death of a beloved pet, the key to finding peace and solace is to let yourself mourne.
Not everyone will understand the pain you're going through, and it's more important than ever to reflect and take your time.
Understanding the Pain of Pet Loss
People who have never experienced the joy of owning a pet can find the emotions after death a little puzzling. Anyone who mourns a beloved pet's death has likely heard this at some point:
"It was only an animal."
While that's true, and the death of a human loved one tends to hit harder, that doesn't make your loss any less valid. Pets are members of the family.
You spend years caring for them, and they become a massive part of your life.
Pet owners often fall into a routine that becomes second nature. When the reason behind that routine is suddenly gone, they leave behind a huge void.
Out of nowhere, those routine morning walks feel empty and sad.
Meanwhile, you might find yourself making a weekly trip to the pet store only to realize that you have no reason to be there.
Those small moments of realization keep the pain alive and make it tougher to move forward.
But of course, it's not just about the normalcy of having a pet.
After death, pets leave behind a gaping emotional hole that can take months of recovery to patch up.
Pets become your animal support system. Human friends and family are great, but they can't replace the unconditional love that pets provide.
Think of those moments when your pet greeted you after a long work day. Their presence was a sight for sore eyes, and they could instantly melt the day's stresses away. The same goes for moments of heartache or sadness.
Cats and dogs don't understand emotions as we do, but they have an uncanny ability to know when you're upset. Like guardian angels, they sweep in at the right time for cuddles and unbridled love.
Pets have no ulterior motives or conditions for their love. For that reason alone, losses hit hard. They pull at your heartstrings, and the loss can take time to overcome.
It's perfectly reasonable to feel pain after losing a pet and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
While some people don't understand the connection pet owners have with their animals, that doesn't mean you're not entitled to feel the empty void they leave behind.
The Human Grieving Process and Common Emotions You'll Encounter
The grieving process is complex, and people go through many emotions when they experience the loss of a pet.
There is no distinction between the standard grieving process and your feelings for pets. Your lost pet was just another family member, so many of the same emotions you'd feel towards a human loss apply here.
While everyone experiences pain differently, most people go through five distinct stages of grief. How long you spend in each one can vary dramatically from one person to the next.
Grieving isn't a cut-and-dry experience, but knowing what to expect can help you cope.
Immediately after losing a pet, many people will go through a stage of denial.
It's a strange phenomenon that can confuse the people around you. But despite all the worry, denial is perfectly normal.
Believe it or not, it's a defense mechanism. Your brain tries to tell you that the loss isn't happening to make things hurt less.
As mentioned earlier, losing a pet can create many sudden changes.
Your old routine suddenly doesn't apply, and you must relearn how to live without your old companion. It's a lot to handle, so it's no surprise that your mind tries to keep you on the old path.
Unfortunately, the reality will set in over time.
Experts typically recommend confronting the truth as soon as possible. Denying your loss makes it harder to overcome the emotional pain in the long run.
The next stage of grieving is an unfortunate one. Many people fall into a cycle of anger that can cause pain for everyone around them.
The pain doesn't necessarily stem from any key memory or fact. You might have some regrets and latch onto those memories.
Alternatively, some feel anger at themselves because they believe the loss could have been prevented.
Whatever the case might be, anger is a tricky stage to navigate.
You must do your best to stop yourself from lashing out at those around you.
Meanwhile, your loved ones must understand where that anger comes from and why you're feeling it.
Anger and aggression are simply an outlet for your emotions. The human brain goes into protection mode. It has already tried to mitigate the emotional suffering by forcing you to deny the loss.
Now that you've faced the truth, your mind wants you to feel anger to channel your overwhelming emotions.
Anger comes with less vulnerability, so it's easier to lash out than sit with your pain.
If you can't stop crying, there's a good chance you're in this stage. This phase of mourning is when feelings of sadness become overwhelming.
Many pet owners fall into a pit of depression, so monitoring your feelings and reaching out to professionals is crucial if you feel yourself sinking too deep to pull yourself out.
This stage is when you feel the pain the hardest. It can seem impossible to even get up in the morning because every little thing reminds you of your lost pet.
Some sights and sounds might trigger you, forcing you to go back and forth between anger and depression. However, you'll eventually move onto the next stage and be well on your way to recovery.
Contrary to what some might think, the bargaining stage isn't always more manageable than the previous depression. That's because bargaining often involves self-blame.
It's how you understand what happened and the events that led up to your pet's death. But instead of thinking reasonably, many pet owners will blame themselves.
For example, you might wish that you had brought them to the vet sooner or been proactive about their aging. If the death was sudden, those feelings of guilt can be debilitating.
Once again, this stage of grief can set you back rather than move you forward.
Many people will cycle through bargaining, anger, and depression until they're ready to move to the final stage.
Eventually, pet owners make it to the stage of acceptance. This phase is an often misunderstood part of the grieving process.
Many people assume that acceptance means happiness or no more pain. That's not the case. Reaching a level of acceptance doesn't mean that you're glad your pet is gone or that you forget about them entirely.
In fact, many folks continue to feel pain and sadness when they see a photo or something that reminds them of their lost pet.
However, acceptance means you're ready to move on with your life. You've come to the conclusion that there's nothing you can do about the loss.
You accept that they're gone and that you must move on without them in your life.
You'll still feel grief from time to time, but those feelings of pain should eventually turn into appreciation and positive memories.
As time goes on, you'll look back at your time with your pet with nothing but love and adoration. While you'll undoubtedly miss them, the anger and depression will subside.
How to Move On
It's never easy to cope with losing a loved one, and that precisely what your pet is.
No matter how much someone tries to comfort you, there's no rushing the grieving process! That said, there are some things you can do to grieve in a healthier way.
There's no way to erase the pain, but taking the following steps can help you move through the grieving process while understanding your emotions.
1. Feel Your Pain
The most valuable tip anyone can give you about handling the loss of a pet is to let yourself feel those emotions.
Don't be afraid to cry and let everything out! Earlier, we talked about denial and how the brain tries to trick you into thinking that the loss never happened.
That defense mechanism can prolong your suffering. The best way to combat it is to reflect on your pain and let yourself feel what you need to feel.
Don't be ashamed to mourn. No matter what anyone says, you're entitled to feel sad.
Hiding your emotions and burying your pain will only prolong the healing process and make it harder to reach a stage of acceptance.
If you can't express your feelings in words, or you're not the one to openly cry, consider starting a journal.
Write down how you feel to let it all out and get your pain out in the open.
2. Take Steps to Say Goodbye
Here's where many pet owners feel regret long after they lose their pet. When a human dies, we go to great lengths to say goodbye.
We hold funerals and ceremonies to honor the dead and keep their legacy alive. Unfortunately, that's not a ritual many pet owners apply to their pets.
But why not?
Your pet was another member of the family. Not only do they deserve a proper send-off, but you deserve the chance to say goodbye and start healing.
You can go as big or as small as you want. Throw a big funeral or have a small ceremony by yourself.
Consider writing a eulogy and speaking those words of love out loud.
Saying goodbye is the hardest part, but it's something that will help you move forward.
Related read: Signs a Dog is Dying
3. Communicate Your Feelings
One of the worst things you can do is bottle your emotions. It's not enough to allow yourself to feel pain. You need to talk things out, too.
Open the lines of communication, and don't be afraid to talk with people about what you're going through. As mentioned earlier, not everyone will understand.
For the most support, go to people who knew your pet or those who have pets of their own. They understand the unique pain of losing an animal companion, and they'll often communicate without judgment.
Talking with others offers many benefits. One, speaking aloud makes it easier to process and understand your emotions. You can work things out, go through the stages of grief openly, and make it to acceptance much faster.
More importantly, however, is that communicating ensures you're proactive about your mental health.
Bottling things up can make you go through the dreaded anger, depression, and bargaining stages on a seemingly endless loop. It would be best if you had support to get over the cycle.
If your mental health is on the rocks, please seek professional help. Therapists are more than willing to help you process your pain. You don't have to go through this alone.
4. Continue with Your Daily Routine
Many grief experts recommend continuing your daily routine as normal. That's a little tough when your schedule used to revolve around walks, feeding your pet, and other everyday activities.
That sudden change is hard to ignore. But, it would help if you did what you could to maintain everything else. That means going to work, focusing on your fitness, eating right, and more.
The world doesn't stop spinning after losing a pet. You can give yourself a little time to process, but most experts recommend getting back to the daily grind as soon as possible.
The longer you wait, the harder it is to grieve healthily.
5. Memorialize Your Lost Pet
One great way to finally accept the loss of your pet is to memorialize them.
There are many ways to do that! Gone are the days of simple burials or cremations. Now, you can keep your pet's ashes, invest in a tombstone, and more.
You can even turn your pet's ashes into a diamond, get it blown in glass, or seal it away in a beautiful piece of art.
The sky's the limit, and many artisans can help you develop creative ideas.
Of course, traditional memorial methods are available, too.
You can hang up photos, display their collar, and more. Setting up that spot to remember your lost pet is a great way to hold onto memories while moving on with your life.
Welcoming a New Pet Into Your Life
Here's another interesting response you'll hear from people who don't understand the pain of losing a pet:
"Why don't you just get another one?"
You know better than anyone that no animal can replace your lost pet. But when is it time to welcome another animal into your life?
There's no concrete answer to this puzzle! It all depends on how long you take to grieve. Our only recommendation is not to rush into getting a new pet.
Let yourself grieve the one you lost. Jumping into a new animal relationship can make things harder in the long run.
Sure, it'll distract you and help you not think about your lost pet.
But what happens when they don't live up to your previous companion? Suddenly, the loss becomes glaringly real!
You want to wait until you fully process the loss and can have a new pet without constantly comparing them to your last.
It's not fair to make a new puppy or kitten live in the shadow of your previous animal. Give yourself time to grieve so that you can appreciate a new companion when the time comes.
Letting Your Beloved Pet Cross the Rainbow Bridge
Losing a pet is tough. There's no getting around that, and we don't want to sugarcoat things and tell you it's not.
You're entitled to feel pain, and you should let yourself cry. No one can tell you how to grieve.
But one thing to remember is that you're not alone. Reach out to loved ones, talk about your loss, and take steps to memorialize your companion.
It hurts now, but you'll eventually look back at your pet with fondness and love.
Eventually, those old photos will bring a smile to your face as you think about all the beautiful moments together