One of the most difficult aspects of being a pet owner is dealing with the loss of a beloved companion. Recently that hit home not just once, but twice. Greg and I lost our beloved Sage, our blind Springer Spaniel, just a few weeks ago. She had been part of our household for more than 11 years and because of this special dog, I am an author and many children and adults have learned valuable life lessons through her life story. Just the month previous, my parents’ cat, Milly, died from an unknown disease. Although Milly had only been with them about a year, her death rendered their hearts. Many people know that feeling.
How does one deal with the loss of a pet? Grief experts state that intense sadness is normal. During the years, even if the years are few in number, that pet became a significant and constant part of one’s life, and the absence is felt deeply. People experience different emotions, not just sorrow or pain; sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s guilt and sometimes it’s depression. Experts state that one should honestly acknowledge their feelings, not hide or deny them. Try to find a confidant with whom to share your feelings, perhaps another pet owner, a sympathetic family member or friend, someone who will provide comfort and understanding, not belittle your true emotions. What you feel is real; don’t mask it.
How do you talk with your children about a beloved pet’s death? Honesty is critical. If you say the pet was "put to sleep," be sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. It’s not wise to say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what s/he did to make it leave and wait anxiously for its return. When you talk with your children, make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain. Children are never too young or too old to grieve. Please don’t criticize your child for tears or for feeling sad. Be honest about your own sorrow and let them be honest about theirs. Discuss the loss as a family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief in their own time.
If you have other pets in the house, they may also appear to grieve when their companion is gone. Our Cocker Spaniel, Cody, paced the floor the night before Sage passed. He whined and was restless. Pets observe household changes, therefore, they are bound to notice the change in the family’s emotions as well as the absence of the pet that has passed. Pets can form strong attachments to each other and they recognize when their friend is gone. You may need to give your surviving pet lots of extra attention to help it through this period. We are do this with Cody. That extra attention is helpful for you as well; surviving pets can provide great healing to you and your family. Take time before bringing a new pet into the household as children and surviving pets may not accept a new addition for awhile.
Grieving is a very personal and individualized experience. Therefore, there is no “right way”. Simply being honest with yourself and your family is the key to dealing with the loss of a beloved pet. For me, it meant sobbing uncontrollably at first, taking a drive to some of the places Sage and I shared in this community, like the river walkway and a park. Being grateful for sharing life with her helped put a salve over my broken heart. Additionally, sharing my loss with others who understand and experiencing their love and comfort provides relief. Time heals a broken heart. And, healing does come when we allow it.