Guest Author - Shirley McGillivray
The bond we form with animals can be deep and so the loss of a pet can have a huge impact on, sometimes even greater than the loss of a family member. As with human bonds, the greater the love you feel for an animal, the greater the grief you will experience.
After your animal has died, it is normal to feel sad. Just as with human loss, the way and time frame in which we grieve will be different for everyone. The stages of grief will be the same and by understanding this, you will be better prepared to handle the loss and to help others to do the same.
Sometimes friends and family will not realise just how important your animal was to you, or just how deeply you are affected by the loss. Some may make what seems like unkind and even cruel comments even though they were probably not meant that way. Most people don't understand how someone can grieve so heavily over a lost pet. Society as a whole is just not comfortable with death and grief and often dismissing your pain is a way of not having to deal with something they find hard to understand.
The best thing to do is ‘forgive them’ as they truly do not understand the joy and companionship you received from your animal and have probably never suffered the pain of losing a beloved pet.
Let insensitive remarks go and don’t let anyone let you feel like you don’t have the right to grieve or that you are a little odd for doing so. Avoid spending too much time with these people if possible and rather try talking to people who understand your feelings.
Stages of Grief
It is important to understand that all grief goes through stages. These stages are the same whether it is a human or animal death. Everyone travels through these stages at different speeds and in different ways, but generally the path is the same.
These are the stages of grief as described by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book ‘On Death and Dying’.
- Denial: "This can’t be happening to me!"
- Anger: "Why did this happen to me?”
- Bargaining: "Just let me live until my kids grow up, and I'll do anything"
- Depression: "Everything is just too hard"
- Acceptance: "I'm at peace with what happens".
Should I Get Another Pet?
Some people feel they would never want to get another pet and perhaps go through the same grief again. These feelings may pass in time but it is important to do what feels right for you. For some people getting a new animal can help them recover from their loss more quickly and so the decision when, or if, the time is right to bring a new animal into your household is a very personal one.
Family members need to discuss the timing of getting a new pet as some members of the family will be ready before others and it is something that needs to be balanced between everyone involved.
Never buy a new animal for someone who has lost a beloved pet in the hope that it will help them ‘get over’ their loss. This is a decision that should be made by the person themselves when the time is right.
Although you can never replace the animal you have lost, you can, in time, find another one to share your life.