Grief after the loss of a pet

Grief after the loss of a pet man with a dog

Grief after the loss of a pet is perfectly natural and everyone will find that they react in a different way. How you feel is likely to depend on a number of things such as the age of your pet and the circumstances surrounding their death.

Loss of a loved pet leaves a huge void and it is perfectly normal and perfectly ok to mourn their loss as you would for anyone else you love. I believe we never get over the loss of a pet (we get over a cold!) but our lives eventually begin to grow around the grief and we are able to establish a new normal, which can be just as good but different to before.

Now there is no right or wrong way to cope with grief after the loss of a pet and again I can only share my thoughts and experience with you.

“Grief is just love with no place to go.”

This is a quote I feel is very relevant. We don’t grieve unless we love and the fact we feel so sad when a pet dies means that we have loved them greatly. Without love there would be no grief but would we swap all the love we have for our pets to spare us the grief afterwards? I know I wouldn’t.

I personally have found the best way to cope is to give my grief an outlet and to do things that honour the love I felt for Gillie. This website is just one thing I hope will be a lasting legacy of my relationship with him. Knowing I am helping other people in his memory makes me feel better.

Other things I am doing that you might like to think about:

Scattering ashes
I realise that this is a very personal and emotive thing to do. For me, getting Gillie’s ashes back was reassuring in that I knew I had taken care of him right until the very end. It also however felt like a very real and tangible reminder that he had died. For me keeping the ashes in the house would be a constant reminder of his death and I wanted to remember his life and the energy I loved so much.

We took his ashes to two of our favourite spots and scattered them on a gloriously sunny day when the bluebells were out. This is how I think of him now and we often walk past and say hello to him as we pass. I think the act of scattering the ashes felt almost like a bit of a release from the intense sadness I felt straight after he had been put to sleep.

You may like to consider keeping some token ashes or have some made in to a piece of jewellery or keepsake. Do think whether having all of the ashes in the house is going to help you process the death of your pet – it might be that it will and that is absolutely fine.

Making a memory book
Putting together a book of photographs of happy times with your pet gives you a lasting reminder of the years you spent together having fun. The process of finding the photos and designing the book can be quite cathartic and you will also have a lovely thing to look at when you feel down.

Be more dog!
By this I mean think about how your pet would be. I know Gillie used to hate me being sad and would try and comfort me but when I was happy, he was jolly too. Feeling sad because he is no longer with me feels like I am asking him to be sad with me, which is the last thing I want – wherever he is, if he can see me I want him to be happy!

Keep a token
I don’t know about you but we had boxfuls of toys, equipment and food left when Gillie died. It is tempting to hang on to it all for the memories but rather like the ashes I felt this would remind me of the loss rather than the good times. I have kept his favourite toy, donated his left over food to charity and toys to my parents’ puppy and the big equipment will be sold to pay some of the final bills. Doing this is not being disloyal if this is what you want to do, again if you want to keep everything, again this is fine. There is no right or wrong.

Talk to people
One of the most comforting things I have found since Gillie died is people sharing their memories of him. Nothing has made me smile like hearing the stories of the impression he made on so many people during his lifetime. I am sure most of us have had friends or family who have been in the situation we are in now and we tell them that they did the kindest thing, that their pet is out of pain and that they had the best life. It is now time to start believing this for ourselves.

If you find that you are experiencing grief that you are not able to manage alone, the Blue Cross have a free pet loss and bereavement service that offers support over the phone or by email. Find out more by following this link.

Expect setbacks
You may find that you are feeling better and then one day something hits you and you feel sad all over again. For me it is the small things; coming in from work and not seeing a waggy tail; not having someone to clean the plates after dinner; not finding so much black hair around the house!

These setbacks are quite normal and don’t mean anything more than you are normal. Accept them, let yourself be sad for a while and then ask yourself – what would your pet want you to do?