Feeling Lost Without Your Pet? Here’s How to Heal Your Heartache

The passing of a pet can elicit a feeling of sadness and emptiness as profound as that of losing a best friend or family member. For a great number of people, pets are not just animals — they are an integral part of lives, deeply loved and dear. They provide unconditional love, emotional support, and a sense of security and predictability. It may take time to get through the period of loss, and it is important not to rush the healing process.

What to expect when a pet dies

The loss of a pet may result in a feeling of intense grief, which studies indicate is similar to that of losing a family member. Emotional consequences of bereavement range widely from sadness, loneliness, or even guilt and may disrupt one’s ability to function in daily life and emotional well-being. Not everyone will be able to understand the depth of love people can have for their pets, so when that pet passes away, it can be difficult to express the pain and hurt, which can be very isolating.

The Kubler-Ross stages of grief can be applied to the mourning process of bereaved individuals after a pet has died. The following are the usual stages that a person will experience while undergoing the process of grieving.

  1. Denial. The first reaction most people will experience following a bereavement is denial. The sense that this can’t possibly be happening. It’s crucial to grasp that this is a natural response, and while the loss may not seem real at first, you will eventually be able to accept it.
  2. Anger. During this part of the grieving process, it’s normal to look for someone to blame, whether that is others or yourself. Emotions, such as frustration and helplessness, may turn into anger, which could be directed inward or at the situation that caused the pet's death. Be aware and open about how you are feeling, and try not to bottle your anger up, as this can slow the grieving process.
  3. Bargaining. This stage provides us with some temporary relief from grief and is a very important part of the healing process. You might be thinking of 'what if' scenarios, thinking of things you could have done to stop the pet from dying. Here, it is important to try and remind yourself that there is nothing that can be done to bring your beloved pet back.
  4. Depression. Depression is one of the most recognizable stages of the grieving process, and it usually occurs when the reality of the situation starts to really sink in. Sadness, low motivation, difficulty sleeping, and a loss of appetite are all common during depression.
  5. Acceptance. Once you begin to accept the reality of the loss, you may be starting to come to terms with the situation. Just because you have reached the acceptance stage does not mean you have forgotten your pet or that you are happy now. It simply means that you have accepted the situation and can begin to move on.

It is important to keep in mind that these stages are not always going in a straight, linear fashion. People can change feelings, go through the stages in a different order, or some stages can be experienced more than once. It's a personal journey, and each person will deal with grief as a unique experience without a strict schedule or prearranged plan.

What should you do after your pet dies?

The loss of a pet is a very sad and stressful time, whether they pass away naturally or are put to sleep at the vet. If your pet has died at home, it may be challenging to handle their remains. You may wish to call your vet or a professional service that can assist you with the process. They can organize the collection and subsequent burial or cremation. Cat or dog cremation can cost more than home burial, but it will give you a variety of options when it comes to memorializing your pet’s remains.

Crematoriums will return a pet’s ashes so that you can either store them or scatter them — whichever suits your needs. Many people will choose to keep their pet's ashes in an urn or another item, such as a piece of jewelry. If you choose to bury them at home, make sure their grave is no less than three feet deep so that their remains stay covered. It is also a nice idea to mark the burial site with a personalized memorial stone engraved with your pet's name and a message or symbol.

Sharing your pet loss with others

The conversations that you have with your loved ones and friends regarding the loss might be challenging but are necessary for your healthy recovery. This painful experience might lead to feeling like the world has stopped and that things are moving in slow motion. As hard as it might be, try letting the people who care for you talk and help. Allow your friends to come over and visit — it can be dangerous to isolate yourself, so spending time and sharing happy memories of your pet can be very helpful in the healing process.

Regarding bereavement leave, although not all workplaces have policies that recognize pet loss with the same seriousness as human loss, it is reasonable to request time off. Approach your boss and explain the stress you are under. Many employers appreciate the strong bond between pets and owners and may choose to offer services like flexible work arrangements or unanticipated breaks.

How to cope emotionally when a pet dies?

Dealing with the loss of a pet needs not only time to heal but also a strategic approach to processing the grief in a healthy way.

Here are some tips to help you get through this difficult period:

  • Your feelings are valid. Don't let anyone tell you how to feel, and don't be judgemental of your own feelings, either. Your grief is personal to you, and no one should be telling you when it's time to 'move on' or 'get over it.' Remember that it is okay to be angry or feel guilty — sit with those feelings and don't ignore or push them away.
  • Talk about your emotions. Talking to people who are understanding will help you express and process your pain. Pet support groups are an excellent way to help you avoid isolating yourself. Grief is best worked through in connection with others. Find a group where you won’t be judged or your relationship with your pet marginalized, and it will help you find the peace you deserve.
  • Create a memorial. You might want to spread your pet’s ashes in a special setting or reserve a place in your home for your pet’s ashes alongside a photo. It can also be nice to plant a small tree or flowering shrub in their memory. You can also create a memory box with your pet’s collar or favorite toys.
  • Artistic expression. Expressing your feelings through painting, music, or writing can transform your pain and hurt into something therapeutic. You don’t have to be talented at art — what you create will honor your pet regardless of the finished product.
  • Practice journaling. Write about your feelings or write a letter to your pet about how you are missing them or how you’d have liked to spend their last day with them. Even write an obituary and post it on social media with happy photos.
  • Rituals can help healing. A small, intimate funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Pay no attention to people who think it's not right to hold a funeral for a pet and do what feels right for you.
  • Practice self-care while you mourn. Grieving can take a toll on your physical as well as your mental health, so it is important to take care of yourself when you’re mourning. That includes eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet, getting quality sleep, and making time for exercise. Take up yoga, try mindfulness, or use mental health apps for support so that you come out of the grieving process with your overall health intact.
  • Get a new pet when you’re ready. Some people rush into it, others may take their time and wait, and others still will never be ready to replace their beloved pet. This is a highly personalized choice, as there is no perfect time. Keep in mind that it’s possible to love a new pet while you are still grieving — it won’t erase your grief or replace your lost pet, but it will bring new love into your life.
  • Seek professional help if needed. Dealing with the loss of a cherished pet can be very traumatic and leave you feeling lonely. There may come a time when you could benefit from speaking with a therapist who specializes in grief. If you find that you are not coping and feeling depressed and isolated, it is advisable to attend a professional.

How to tell your child

One of the most difficult parts of losing a family pet is breaking the bad news to your children. Try to do this in a one-on-one setting where they feel safe to express emotions. Just as you would with any emotional issue, base how much information they need to hear on their age, maturity level, and life experience. Be open and transparent about your own feelings. Children of any age will go through a range of emotions after the death, from sadness to loneliness and possibly even anger.

Allow them to express their hurt and pain by comforting them and validating their feelings. Ask them how they would like to memorialize their pet. Younger kids may find comfort in holding a memorial service. Encourage them to write a story about how much they have loved the pet and their memories. They can help you if you are planting a tree or plant in their honor, which will help with the grief process.

Everyone grieves their pet in their own way — it is a deeply personal experience, and the duration of the grief will vary from person to person. You might find it helps to keep busy and go to work, or you might need more time to just sit at home to cry in private. Let the tears flow when they come, as this is all part of the healing journey and is a healthy way to process the pain of losing your beloved pet. If it all becomes too much to handle, think about getting some therapy to help you healthily process the painful emotions.


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