When a much-loved pet leaves us ... whether by illness or accident ... it often feels like it's more than we can bear. While society in general is beginning to understand the fact that grief over the loss of a pet can be every bit as traumatic as grief over the loss of a human family member, all too often the people surrounding the bereaved simply do not understand. To them, it's "just an animal." We're expected to just forget and move on.
But it's not possible to just forget a beloved animal friend. Our pets are not just animals. They are friends, confidants, our children, our siblings. They have given us unconditional love their entire lives. They have always been there, sharing our secrets, our hurts, our deepest thoughts and dreams. They have given us comfort. They have shared our lives. And that final goodbye can be the ultimate in pain. We cannot just pack up or throw away their things, and push them out of our minds. The grief can last for many months, or many years.
I have found that there are some things that can help.
The best thing is to talk about the pet. If you have a sympathetic friend who understands how you feel and will listen, share your memories. Share the precious times with the pet. Tell stories about things the pet did ... the delightful things, the fun things, even the frustrating things. Share the pain of the illness, and the pain of the pet's death. Share your feelings as you have gone through the grief cycle. Talk it out.
Write about your pet. Sit at your computer, or start a journal, and just write what you feel each day. Write about your pain. Set down your memories. Write a letter to your pet, and tell him how much you still love him. Write about times you had together, and things you did.
Set aside a little time each day ... perhaps a time when you and your pet shared quality time together. Sit in a quiet place, perhaps a place that the two of you used frequently. Hold an item that belonged to your pet ... a collar, a favorite toy ... and just think about your pet. Cry if you need to ... let out all the emotions. Cry at the unfairness of your loss.
Then sit again in your quiet place. Close your eyes and picture your pet, and where she is now. See her in your mind. Reach out and touch her. Open your mind and heart to her, and let her speak to you - she will. Let her tell you that she is all right, that she loves you. Let her ease your heart.
Create a memorial for your pet. On a small table set up an altar, with pictures of your pet and a candle, and perform a candle lighting ceremony once a week, or even each evening, and think about your pet. Talk to him. Make a photo album of your pet, or create a web page.
Join a pet loss support group, or find a good pet loss counselor. More and more, these services are becoming available as society realizes the importance of companion animals in our lives.
You may be able to think of some other things that will comfort you. The important thing is to remember ... your pet is no longer with you physically, but her spirit is very much alive and is never far from you. Pets do have souls ... and your pet is now in a beautiful place, free from pain and suffering, whole and strong again. And she will be waiting there to greet you in eternity.
(Note: I am not a grief therapist; the above thoughts are ideas that have helped me, that were given to me by counselors.)