The loss of a pet is a heartbreaking time and one that is difficult, if not impossible to prepare for.
If you are lucky enough to have many years with your pet and see them aging, taking plenty of photos or even arranging professional pet photography shoot. Check out the recent article by Debbie of DK Photography for some tips and tricks to capturing your pet.
Not only does every person react differently to the loss of a pet, but depending what else is happening in life and the unique connections they share means no two pet losses will be experienced in the same way.
Grief is not something that occurs only when another human dies. It can occur when we lose anything meaningful from your life....I've even experienced it from the huge lifestyle change that comes with entering parenthood. So the loss of any life (human or animal) can absolutely result in grief.
The non-linear 7 stages of grief (first established by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) are just as relevant to the loss of a pet as they are to the loss of any human life.
Guilt can also be a natural part of grief, where you can question your actions or inaction (eg. what if I had have gone to the vet sooner, given supplements).
What can I do to ease my own pain of losing a pet?
Self-care and being gentle with yourself are important as you adjust to life again after the loss of a pet.
Surrounding yourself with people who see your grief as valid and are understanding is also important. If you know someone in your life is going to minimise your pain, avoid discussing the loss or spending time with them until you feel you are able to cope with their view.
Grieving is a gradual process, so try not to rush yourself or any other family members or other pets through it. They will all heal in their own way and their own time.
How can I help a friend who has just lost a pet?
This will depend greatly on the relationship you have with your friend and knowing where they are at with their grief.
There are a number of practical ways you can help your friend, which may just give them the extra time and space they need to start healing. Cooking them some meals or offering to pick up groceries on your way to see them are just a couple of examples to ensure your friend is looked after while their thoughts are elsewhere or so they can spend more time on self-care and healing.
If you prefer to express your love through giving, there are so many thoughtful and meaningful pet sympathy gifts available. Again, the gift you choose will depend on your friend's personality and the relationship you share. ie are they more likely to want to laugh/cry with you over a quirky gift like custom cushion in the shape of their pet. Or would they prefer a voucher to have a piece of jewellery crafted to encapsulate some fur or ashes when they are ready.
A personalized pet memorial keepsake box is also a lovely gesture, because not only is it a beautiful item for display, but a practical way for your friend to store keepsake items of their choosing.
How can I help my child/ children with the loss of a pet?
The most important thing you can do to support children after the loss of a pet is to show empathy and never dismiss their feelings. Try to understand that the loss may feel even greater to a child, as they may not have ever known life without that pet being part of it. How you support their grief will help to form how they deal with death and losses of all kinds over the course of their lifetime.
I've had feedback from many mums over the years that having photos or other keepsake items on display at home helps to continue conversations and share memories about a pet with their family, which in turn helps with the grieving process. A few families have also ordered several matching keyrings, so everyone can take their pet with them even after growing their wings.
Some of the items that are wonderful for a family to appreciate together are fridge magnets, photo frames, pet statues or multiple keyrings. Printing and displaying some favourite photos of the pet is also helpful.
If your child wishes to discuss their feelings about losing a pet with someone other than friends or family, the Kids Helpline (1800551800) may be helpful.
The little dog who used to lay
Her gentle head upon my knee
And shared her silent thoughts with me.
She’ll come no longer to my call
Retrieve no more her favourite ball
A voice far greater than my own
Has called her to his golden throne.
Although my eyes are filled with tears
I thank him for the happy years
He let her spend down here with me
And for her love and loyalty.
When it is time for me to go
And join her there, this much I know
I shall not fear the transient dark
For she will greet me with a bark.