Grieving the Loss of your Pet
The Stages of Grief
Since most of us consider our pets to be part of our family, it's no surprise that the stages of grief for our pets are similar to the grief process for the people in our lives. The stages of grief are considered standard, but professionals agree that people go through the stages in their own time and their own way.
How Long Does it Take?
It can take anywhere from weeks to months or more to go through the process and find healing. Remember to that you may go through a stage and then circle back to it while going through another stage. For example, it's not unusual to move into anger or depression and still come back from time to time to deal with your guilt and pain all over again. It's important not to rush or avoid all of the feelings or stages of grief because it is through these feelings that you find healing. If you skip or avoid your feelings, you may actually find you are "stuck" and while on the surface you may say you are fine, you have not achieved healing. We see this often with men, who do not want to deal with emotions around their grief and therefore never get to a place where they can adopt another pet.
1. Denial and Isolation
Shock is the first thing we tend to feel along with denial that we have lost our pet. You can experience a sense of shock or be in denial even when you have made the decision to euthanize your pet. Veterinarians work to make the process as gentle and humane as they can, but for most people it is still difficult and emotional. You may find yourself needing to be alone and you may have difficulty going through normal routines or being around people.
Possible Responses: This is a time to listen to your feelings and take your time to be alone and deal with your grief. Do not feel guilty about taking time off from work or staying away from people for a few days. You need this time to process
everything. It's possible the house will feel "too quiet", especially if you had a high energy or very social pet. If you have other pets, try to rely on them for interaction and affection if you can. Do not rush into getting another pet while you are grieving!
2. Pain and guilt
When dealing with grief for our pets, we break out pain and guilt separately and focus on it because a significant difference with our pets is that most of us also carry with us the guilt and pain of having either caused their death through an accident or made the conscious decision to euthanize our pet due to a medical or possibly a behavioral issue.
Perhaps your pet escaped and was lost or killed, or you ran over it accidentally and your grief is complicated by the pain and guilt you feel. For many of us, we have had to make the painful decision of when to euthanize our pet and we are dealing with that guilt. No matter how soon or how late we make the decision, we think perhaps we should have done it sooner or later than we did. It's normal to imagine that if we had done something differently it would have been a different outcome for our pet.
Possible Responses: recognize that it is natural to feel as you do, but also recognize that you would not intentionally harm or keep your pet in pain. Accidents happen. We do the best we can, but we make mistakes. We try to take into account our pets needs and pain when they are ill, and we do the best we can to end their pain and suffering. Forgiveness for y our self is an important place to get to when you are experiencing guilt. If you need to, ask your pet for forgiveness, pray for your pet and pray for forgiveness and the grant yourself the forgiveness you need.
3. Anger and Bargaining
It is such an emotional and physical drain to go through the grief stages, we should expect that at some point we are exhausted and therefore susceptible to getting angry, and yet it often sneaks up on us and it can be something small that sets us off. We may not even realize that what we are angry about or who we are angry with, is ourselves. Perhaps you are also angry with other people involved in the incident, the decision to euthanize or whatever led to your pet's death, but underneath it all, we are probably angry with ourselves for letting or making it happen. You may even find yourself angry with God because he didn't stop you or help you. At this stage despite going through prior stages, you may find yourself trying to bargain with God to somehow "get a do-over".
First, recognize that your anger is really about your grief and all the feelings you are going through. Take time to examine those feelings to help alleviate your
This is a stage that if you allow it, can take over your life, especially if you have been prone to depression in the past. You may see signs like exhaustion, difficulty performing daily tasks, taking naps that last all day long, sudden bouts of crying and more.
Acceptance is a stage where you may recognize that you are there, but feelings come back from other stages and you have to work your way back to acceptance again, over and over.