All Creatures Great & Small - The Heartache of Pet Loss
The loss of our animal companions can be so devastating - on equal par, if not even more painful for some, with the loss of a human.
And yet it can be SO challenging, on top of our pain, to be told that our loss doesn't matter.... I have heard some pretty insensitive things every single time I have lost one of my beloved furry friends.
Have you heard these comments?
- It's just a cat...it's not like it's a person.
- You can get another dog.
- What are you getting so upset about?
- I lost my child - who are you to be so upset over a dog??
Let's take these one by one. Yes, a cat is not a person. But the relationship we have with our animals is completely unique, unlike any other in our lives. They are in our homes and our families, day in and day out, sometimes for decades - asking very little in return and giving such love, companionship, fun, lightness of spirit. I have had cats who know when I am sick and when I am sad. I have seen dogs lift a human's spirit in mere moments. I have learned the deepest of life's lessons simply by watching my cat sleep in the sun - reminding me that this moment is precious.... They speak multitudes of emotions and needs with a look, a paw or a stare.They are members of the family.
"You can just get another one." Our beloved companions are not disposable, like used coffee cups. They are completely unique, never to be replaced. And you may indeed have another animal someday soon - but this comment is deeply insensitive to the pain we feel when someone so dear is gone from us.
That pain cannot be denied, dismissed or diminished by replacement - I know, I've tried. After we put Chalice (here on the left) to sleep in 2013, I cried for two days straight, and my husband was heartbroken. We did end up getting new felines fairly quickly, but not because we were "over" her loss - it was just too darn quiet and we missed the companionship too much! But there is no replacing anyone. We miss her spectacularly all the time...
And the person saying this to you may very well think they are making you feel better.... But the heartbreak and other emotions associated with pet loss must be processed the same as any other loss, and you deserve a space to do that where your pain will be honored and respected.
"How dare you grieve so much over your dog when I have lost my child?" There is no comparing the devastation of the loss of a child - to anything. There just isn't. However, that does not mean that pet loss is not painful to those experiencing it. It is not a contest to see whose loss is worse. They are ALL valid and need their own space for mourning and healing. But it is certainly a challenge for those who have lost an animal to seek support in a group of many kinds of grievers. I do suggest people seek out the company other pet grievers - it builds better community and understanding.
So what can YOU do when you have lost an animal companion (I don't really like the word "pet")?
Here are some basics:
Honor your emotions - you ARE allowed to go through the same journey as with a human. So cry, be angry, give yourself time to feel everything that is coming up.
Celebrate your friend's life - tell their stories, all the funny, touching and crazy ones.
Please ignore unkind things that people say, and spend time with fellow animal lovers instead.
Take your time in cleaning up their toys and personal items - maybe save some for a memorial.
Over the longer term, perhaps think of a creative project to remember them - make a collage of pictures, put a pet memorial online or have a memorial plaque made.
As you take active steps towards healing like these, and talk about your emotions and your beloved creature, the pain will ease. There is no need to feel shame over your feelings or guilty about sharing them - I would just suggest to do it with friendly ears and supportive community.
And if you have a loved one who is experiencing these types of losses, perhaps help them express themselves with a memorial and/or listen to their concerns and feelings. Just share time with them, and let them know you hear them, and that their pain matters.
My Ten Tall Tales of Grief & Loss™ apply to animal loss, as well as human - you can read those here.
You may also find my book Putting Out the Fire useful during this period, as well, for Truths about loss and empowering tools you can use for your healing journey - it's the only book of its kind.