7 Ways to Cope With The Death of A Pet
By Dr. Bethany Hsia, Co-founder of CodaPet, which recently launched in Kansas City, MO; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Columbus, OH: and Phoenix, AZ
Losing a pet can be one of the most difficult experiences anyone can go through. Pets are not just animals, they are faithful companions, humorous housemates, trustworthy confidants; they are family. They bring joy, comfort, and love into our lives, and when they pass away, it can be devastating. Coping with the death of a pet is a natural part of life but it is not easy. However, we have some tips to make the process a little more bearable. Here are seven strategies to help cope with the death of your pet.
1. Allow room to grieve
The first step in coping with the death of your pet is to allow yourself to grieve. It is essential to acknowledge your feelings. Whether sadness, anger, guilt, or a host of other emotions, it is okay to not be okay. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and to experience waves of emotion. Try not to suppress them or pretend they don’t exist. Give yourself time and permission to identify, categorize and move through your feelings. Then give yourself more time when fresh waves wash over you.
2. Create a memorial
No doubt, you have cherished memories with your pet. Creating a memento or memorial can be a therapeutic way to honor them and process through your loss. Some simple but meaningful memorials include a physical or digital scrapbook, a shadow box with photos, nametags, fur clippings, growing a flowering plant in a favorite sunny window or a tree in the yard. Other popular ideas are commissioning art pieces such as painted portraits, blown glass orbs that incorporate your pet’s ashes, or a stuffed animal in your pet’s likeness. Another beautiful way to honor your pet is to donate to a favorite animal rescue or charity in their name.
3. Seek out support
None of us are an island. Community and relationships are important pieces of a healthy life. Talking about your experience with grief to friends and family can be helpful in coping with the loss of your pet. Additionally, there are numerous resources both online and in person for pet loss support groups and professional grief counselors. If at first you don’t find the community or listening ear that fits, keep trying. It is well worth the effort.
4. Stay active
This tip must be done in moderation. It is possible to bury yourself in work or hobbies to avoid dealing with grief; that is not the goal. Rather, keeping the momentum of daily activity can help by providing small respites of distraction from grief. It can also help ward off a cycle of depression that may come with extended periods of inactivity. Accomplishing tasks, even when small, can provide a sense of productivity and some pain relief thanks to little bumps in dopamine.
5. Take care of yourself
It may sound like tired old advice, but there’s a reason it’s often repeated. Self care is important. This means caring for yourself both physically and emotionally. More tired but true pointers: make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking enough water, and exercising regularly. How you feel physically will absolutely affect how you feel mentally and how you process. Taking care of yourself will help you cope with your grief more effectively.
6. Hold onto the memories
Right now memories may be a source of pain as they highlight what has been lost. However, it can be helpful to think of the beauty and richness that first existed there. Focusing on the love and joy your pet added to your life can help reframe the pain of their absence. And in time, your pet’s memory can become a source of tempered joy as you recall their finest moments and perhaps a few antics that didn’t seem so funny at the time.
7. Consider opening your heart to another pet
It may be too soon to think about adopting another pet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show love to other animals. Many pet rescue groups and shelters rely on volunteers to help socialize pets or to provide foster homes. Consider reaching out to see how you can volunteer. Or reach out to a friend and arrange a playdate with their pet for some endorphin releasing snuggles. And someday when you are ready for it, you can open your home to a new pet who will provide love and companionship.
Losing a pet is devastating, but we can learn to cope with the hole they leave in our lives. Remember, healing takes time, and it’s okay to feel a mix of emotions along the way. By honoring the love and joy our pets brought into our hearts, we can find solace and continue to embrace the positive changes they have made in our lives. While the pain may never fully disappear, the memories and beauty we have shared with our beloved pets will forever be a part of us like paw prints on our hearts.