The family pet is often seen as a cherished relative, especially if you’ve had your pet for years. Pets become part of fond memories and bring joy to the family. How to support your family who’ve lost a pet?
When a pet passes away, dealing with the loss can be difficult for family members, particularly children who may not be familiar with the concept of death. Here are some helpful tips your family can use for how to deal with the loss of a pet.
Acknowledge your grief
It’s important not to minimize the grief you feel about losing a pet. You also shouldn’t allow others to tell you that your pet’s death isn’t a big deal. You should acknowledge your grief and work through your feelings. Even small children will experience grief after a pet passes away and may act out their grief by being fussy, waking up several times at night, or exhibiting a change in appetite. It’s important to pay attention to the way everyone in the family is behaving, so you can give your children the space or comfort they need to process this loss. You also shouldn’t put expectations on yourself to behave a certain way. After all, you’re grieving as well and need to be patient with yourself.
It’s also common to go through ups and downs with your feelings of grief, and this may last for a while. One day, you may think you’re coping pretty well — until you pass the dog food aisle at the grocery store and have to fight back tears. This is totally normal. Brace yourself for emotional shifts and know that you’ll be able to better manage your feelings over time.
You’ll likely never forget your pet, but as time passes, you’ll be able to think about your furry friend without the deep sadness that often accompanies a recent loss.
Take time to grief
Don’t downplay the fact that you’re sad or even angry that your pet passed away. Whether you had a dog, cat, reptile, bird, or other exotic pet, losing a pet can be an unfortunate experience. You may need a few weeks to wrap your head around the fact that your dog won’t be there to greet you at the door when you get off work. You may need a month or two to remember that you don’t have to add cat food to your grocery list anymore. Don’t rush yourself.
Give your pet a memorial service
Gather your family for a memorial service honoring your pet’s memory and the role your furry friend played in your family. Allow each member of the family to share a few words or pictures of your pet. Remember the “service” doesn’t have to be formal; it can simply be you and your loved ones gathered in the living room to express your feelings and comfort each other. If you have your pets’ remains, you can find a special spot in the home to display the urn, or you can select a special burial spot. You can also dedicate a space in your home to a lasting memorial of your pet with pictures and/or some of your pet’s toys.
Talk about your feelings
Reach out to your friends, other family members, a support group, or clergy to talk about your feelings. Sometimes simply expressing your grief can make you feel a little better. There are even pet loss hotlines you can call to talk about the grief, sadness or anger you may be experiencing. Contact your veterinarian to see if he/she has a list of resources for grief management.
Practice a ritual
It’s common to have a funeral or memorial service to help you through the grieving process. While you’re planning the funeral, you may also want to create a ritual that will help you remember your pet after the service. You can light a candle at the memorial service and every year on the day you brought your pet home from the pet store. Or, you can bake a small cake on your pet’s birthday for the family to enjoy. The ritual can be as simple or elaborate as you choose and can help you healthily process your grief in the months and years to come.
Take a break
You don’t have to put yourself on a timetable when it comes to working through your grief. Take care of yourself by making sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercise, and food each day. Continue speaking with a counselor or loved ones about your loss. Pay attention to your feelings and be gentle with yourself as needed to bring the healing process along at a pace that works for you.