Losing a pet is one of the most difficult things to go through. I’ve been through it a number of times and most recently only 4 months ago. The sadness doesn’t have to drag you perpetually into a negative place in life. You can turn your pain into passion. There are 4 positive steps that I have learned to take to bring myself into a place of healing.
An Important Note About Grieving
Some of the following steps may not be appropriate in the very early stages of grieving the loss of a pet. It is very important that you allow yourself an opportunity to cry. The healing process starts with tears. Also, find support to help you through the process of grieving. Friends and family members are great, but local pet grief support groups can be helpful too.
You can find pet grief support groups by searching for them on the internet, talking to people at your local ASPCA or Humane Society groups, or inquiring with your veterinarian. Many groups are free of charge. After Cinco passed away, the ASPCA gave me the phone number to a free Pet Grief Hotline, 877-474-3310. Sometimes it feels good to talk to someone who isn’t a part of your normal social circle.
Step 1: Keep Loving After Losing a Pet
Heartbreak is inevitable when you lose a beloved pet. The pain can be so bad that you want to swear off ever loving anyone or anything ever again. Why set yourself up to have your heart broken again?
In my experience, getting out there any loving someone again is a catalyst to healing a broken heart. It seems counter-intuitive, but it works. There are many ways to keep loving. If you are ready and able, adopting a new pet can give your heart new life. This new pet will never replace the pet you’ve lost, but he/she can help to fill the emptiness. If you aren’t ready for a new pet, how about sharing some love with the pets at the local shelter? There is a lot less commitment when the pets aren’t yours solely to care for. Kindling a relationship with a human friend or family member can help you to work through grief too.
Step 2: Act in Honor of Your Beloved Pet
I have seen a meme going around in my social media feeds that says, “I want to be the person my cat/dog thinks I am.” Why can’t you be that person? Honor your beloved pet’s memory by doing the things that made your great in his/her eyes.
- Sponsor a pet at a local rescue or shelter.
- Sponsor a deserving person’s pet adoption.
- Give to organizations that help pets live happier, healthier lives. For example, my Cinco passed away from cancer. I can honor him by donating to groups that help cats with cancer or that are searching for a cure.
- Be an advocate for legal issues regarding the welfare of pets. Correspond with local representatives to let them know what you think of the current laws in your area.
- Help elderly and disabled people to care for their pets.
- Donate unused pet items to rescues or pet owners in need.
- Mend some bridges with other people. There is no time in life to be petty. Your pet thought you were the most amazing, loving person in the world. Prove that he/she was right.
- Be generous with what you have. Monetary donations may not be possible, but you have time, talents, and connections. What can you do for someone else that will enrich their life?
Step 3: Create Something Beautiful
Many people use various forms of art to process the pain of grieving for a pet. However, the temptation is always to create something dark, something that represents death and loss, something that expresses the gaping hole that loss has left in them. Expressing this is important, but there is also a time to remember the beauty that existed in the time you had with your pet.
This story is very difficult to tell. On Cinco’s last day, while the veterinarian was preparing to help end his suffering. My husband started taking some last photos of Cinco on his cell phone. He asked me if I wanted to take some. I said no.
As much as I wanted to cling to those last moments with my precious kitty, those were also the moments I wanted to remember least. Plenty of that day is burned into my memory without photographic evidence. I want to remember Cinco’s life, not his death. I want to remember the beauty of his chapter in my life.
Will I create art in Cinco’s memory? Undoubtedly, in time. It will be beautiful and show a living and vibrant kitty. That is the way he was in my life and I believe that is the way he is in Heaven now. I won’t let the 1% or his life that is ugly overtake the 99% that was beautiful.
Create something beautiful in memory of your pet. Skip the things you don’t want to remember. Use bright colors. Add in your pet’s favorite things. Write about love. Sing in a major key. Speed up the tempo. Add some humor.
Step 4: Clean up and Reorganize
Sometimes you know that your pet’s days on earth are limited. You can end up spending so much time caring for that pet and worrying that you neglect yourself and your home. Honestly, this can happen just in the course of life when you aren’t aware that your pet is ill too. Clutter has a way of making it into everyone’s home.
I have a bit of a “ritual” when I experience a loss. Very soon after, I clean my home from top to bottom and tend to self-care things like getting a haircut. It isn’t that I’m trying to get rid of the pet that has left me. Actually, it is because I know that I feel mentally and physically better when my home is clean. Getting rid of the dirt and pathogens that may have been around a while is helpful and so is the exercise I get while cleaning. I also want to get rid of anything that could cause disease in a new pet when I decide to bring one home.