Are you grappling with the loss of a pet? At times, the experience of grief after this loss can feel difficult to manage. It is important to express and acknowledge emotions instead of bottling them up, which can increase stress levels and actually prolong and complicate the healing process.
The purpose of healthy grieving is to integrate the experience of a pet’s death into your life in a meaningful way. There are many strategies that can be helpful when coping with the loss a beloved pet. Some people find comfort in calling a pet loss support hotline, joining a pet loss support group, reading books about coping with a pet’s death, or talking with a counselor. Here are some helpful tips:
- Try to remember the happy, fun, loving moments with your pet, instead of focusing only on your sorrow and grief
- Share stories of your pet with loved ones and friends; talk to them about your loss
- Celebrate your pet’s life by:
- Journaling about your pet’s story (how you met, their personality, nicknames, what you love the most, and what you will miss the most about them)
- Writing a poem, song, or obituary for your pet
- Good-bye ceremony: have a funeral or memorial service
- If you chose cremation, you can keep the ashes in an urn or scatter them in a place that was special to your pet
- Create a scrapbook or photo album of our pet
- Keep your pet’s tag on a key chain
- Ask your vet to make clay paw-prints of your pet
- Keep a lock of fur in a locket or holiday ornament
- Plant flowers that bloom every year for your pet
- Light a candle in your pet’s memory
- Donate time, money, or talent in your pet’s honor to a local rescue group (WORL, Lucky Dog, DCHS), Humane Society, or SPCA
When should I seek professional help?
For some of us, coping with the loss of a pet, or helping children through their own grief can feel overwhelming. If your feelings of sorrow or guilt have not lessened after several weeks, or if they get in the way of your ability to engage in family, social, work, or other activities, you may wish to seek professional support. Reaching out to a counselor for one-on-one, group, or family grief counseling sessions can be helpful in getting through this very tough time in a healthy way.
People seek counseling after losing their pet for a variety of reasons including:
- Not having a strong support network of people to turn to
- Not feeling comfortable speaking to friends and family about this loss
- Experiencing grief for a prolonged period of time
- Feeling unable to manage the emotions associated with grief in a healthy way
- Feelings of grief that are getting in the way of performance at school or work
- Feelings of grief that are negatively impacting relationships
- Persistent flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories about a pet’s death
- Continued yearning for the lost pet
- “Feeling stuck” in the grief
At times, people can experience more serious difficulties after the loss of a pet. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described below, you should seek professional help as soon as possible:
- Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
- Thinking about hurting or killing another person
- Using drugs or alcohol to help you cope with your grief
- Symptoms of depression such as difficulty with basic daily activities like getting out of bed, eating, bathing, or going to work, isolating yourself from friends or family, feelings of hopelessness
Where can I turn for help?
At Georgetown Psychology Associates, we know just how difficult the experience of losing a pet can be. We offer a range of services to help you and your family heal in a meaningful way. To learn more, click here.
Join us next week as we discuss how to support your family through the grieving process following the loss of your pet.