It’s been three weeks since my partner and I lost our adorable 14.5 year old dog, Keevi Taro. It is impossible to describe what Kevey meant to us, or to describe how his death affected us.
As I am still working through what life without a Kivi is like, there is perhaps no better time to study how grief affects those who have lost an animal. That’s also what New review From the scientific literature, published today, explores.
The review aims to give counselors a perspective on how to help people grieving the death of a pet. The authors highlight that the bond between a human and an animal can be very similar to that between two people, so the loss can be just as profound.
However, there is a tendency to society Undo this sadness. This can leave people isolated and feeling ashamed or unable to express their grief, which can intensify the grief and discourage resolution.
The authors’ advice for counselors is to step away from their own biases and acknowledge that the human-animal bond can be deep and complex. In fact, in some cases, animals have taken on roles of emotional and social support that are normally restricted to humans.
As we come to a better understanding of the grief associated with the loss of an animal, more specific guidance for counseling may occur. In the meantime, it’s important to realize that the loss of an animal can be just as painful as the loss of a human, and the grief we experience is similar.
Here I outline some ways to help you get over their death, and to help a grieving friend.
Losing a pet hurts
Anyone who loves an animal companion knows that losing a pet hurts. Every relationship we have with an animal is unique, and becomes tightly woven into our existence.
Losing such a friend isn’t just a sudden hiatus from where they used to be. There is a constant reminder of the time they spent together, the threads in the fabric of everyday life left tattered and loose.
Everywhere we go with our other two dogs brings up memories of Keefe. So, too, are the daily routines that often involve our dogs.
Sadness is an emotion associated with a sense of loss, a feeling of emptiness when something important to us is gone. It is considered normal to grieve the loss of a close human relative or friend. But as the review notes, there are many types of grief, some of which are particularly relevant to pet owners.
Keefe’s decline was slow and we witnessed it Mysterious loss And the anticipatory grief Where we had to write off one activity we once loved after another that he could no longer do with us as he got older.
We agonized about his quality of life and second guessed ourselves, because we knew the time was coming and feared making the decision too soon or too late. This process can lead many pet owners to experiment Grief responsibilityThey may feel guilty for not doing enough to extend the time they spend with their pet.
Deprived grief It is where a person experiences a great loss, but society does not recognize it as valid and deserving of social support. Pets may be viewed by society as “just an animal” and therefore not a decent or appropriate reason to be sad.
This can cause people to feel shame or guilt for the effect the loss of a companion animal has had on them, and seek to hide it or move on without resolving it.
How to get over the loss of your animal friend
Grief is a very personal journey and no one can tell you how you should or shouldn’t experience it. Here are some things to remember:
Embrace sadness. I found peace in accepting that I would be sad and allowing myself to be in that place
Grieving in any way comes naturally, as long as it’s right. Everyone grieves differently and it takes a long time, whether it be weeks or years
Ask for support from your social network. The review stresses the importance of social support. If friends or relatives don’t seem to get it, reach out to other animal lovers. Maybe find an animal bereavement group online
Find ways to honor your pet’s memory. The review suggests writing a letter to them and a letter from them back to you. Or you could create something that expresses your feelings for them, hold a memorial ceremony, or perform a ceremony or ritual
Take care of your other animals. some animals They hardly notice when their housemate goes missing while others may show signs of sadness themselves, such as eating less or becoming more fearful. Their distress is real too, and you should speak to your vet if it continues for more than a few days or is severe.
Our two younger dogs didn’t search for Kivi at all and we were glad we didn’t include them when we said goodbye to him. Our plight would have affected them more than Keefe’s departure
- Seek professional help if you are struggling. Professional psychiatrists and counselors are trained to help.
How to support someone who is grieving for their pet
If you have a friend or relative who has recently lost an animal, here are some tips for being a positive and helpful present:
Acknowledging their pain and grief and validating their sincerity. You don’t have to understand it to believe it
Sharing your own experiences of loss can show people you understand, but it can also make someone feel isolated because their experiences are different. Tread carefully and stay focused on her
Send a card, gift or message. I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to respond to all of the heartfelt messages I received when Keefe died, but I appreciate every single one of them. It meant so much to know that my sadness was recognized and that my social circle recognized that I was sad. I especially appreciate others sharing their memories of Keefe
Maintain your support without judgment. Some people take years to recover from this loss, and that’s okay. Society may have expectations about how long it should take to grieve for an animal, but the review points to research showing that the stronger the bond between a human and an animal, the more they grieve their loss.
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