Understanding Pet Loss Grief

What You Need to Know to Help Heal Your Broken Heart

Let us tell you first how very sad we are for your loss. The relationships we have with our pets are different than those we have with the humans in our lives. Unlike most of those conditional relationships (where expectations and disappointments are everywhere–the connection you shared with your pet is based on unconditional love.

No wonder it feels like our heart is breaking when a pet dies. We’ve lost something rare and precious and the hurt can almost be unbearable.

When a beloved animal companion dies, there are just two choices open to us. We can hide from the pain and leave our grief unresolved, or we can move forward with the tasks ahead.


The Work Ahead

In the opinion of many grief counselors, a useful model for effective grieving comes from William Worden. It describes 4 tasks of mourning:

#1: To accept the reality of the loss.

Your pet brought noise into your life. Now, all is quiet. Add empty food and water bowls, neglected toys…and you’ve got the foundation for acceptance. Your pet is gone, but not forgotten.

#2: To work through the pain and grief.

Start by giving yourself permission to grieve. In fact, you set aside time every day to actively grieve. It’s not fun; but you need to experience and express all the hurt and sorrow in your heart.

#3: To adjust to a new environment without your pet.

You just lost a very big part of yourself; it’s natural there’d be adjustments to be made. Some will be obvious: you’ll no longer have to schedule time for morning and afternoon walks, or schedule bi-annual veterinary check-ups for your pet. Other adjustments can be more subtle. Note: It’s recommended that you don’t adjust to the death of a pet by immediately bringing another pet into the home. Most grief counselors believe the time to fall in love with a new pet is when you have worked through the tasks of mourning well enough to be confident that you can look forward to new pet relationships, rather than backward at your loss.

#4: To find and enduring connection with your deceased pet while moving forward with life.

Basically, this task comes down to two things: creating a lasting heart-connection with your pet and, at the same time, being courageous enough to build a new life for yourself. Many find that creating a small shrine in honor of their pet–with photographs or memorabilia–is a helpful way of creating that enduring connection.

If your pet was cremated, you may want to search for the perfect cremation urn for your pet’s ashes. The urn could be used as the focal point for your pet’s shrine. Don’t forget about cremation jewelry, which allows you to keep a small portion of your pet’s ashes as a treasured–and comforting–keepsake.

Acknowledging the anniversary of your pet’s death–or celebrating his or her birthday each year–can also help to forge that enduring connection you’re looking for.


Tools You Can Use in Your Pet Loss Grief Journey

With Worden’s model, grief involves actively pursuing goals.  It may be easier to think of grieving in this model as “multitasking”: in reality, you’re jumping between tasks, sometimes working on more than one at a time. You may benefit by:

  • Journaling: It can really help to write things down. Don’t like writing? Use a digital recorder, or get an app for your smartphone.
  • Creative endeavors: art, music, poetry. You’ll find resources on a grief counseling practice called ‘creative grieving’.


Remember You’re Not Alone!

Almost 85 million families in this country ‘own’ pets; all those people completely understand how the grief you’re experiencing right now actually feels. Many of those folks are looking for people just like you to share in their pet loss grief experience. You don’t have to look far: just contact us. We’ll do our best to connect you with the pet loss grief resources–online and offline–for your particular needs.