THE EXPERIENCE OF PET LOSS
What the caterpillar perceives is the end,
To the butterfly is just the beginning
For many people, the death of a pet means losing a cherished family member who has been a constant companion and source of love in its most innocent and purest form. The animals with which we share our lives and our hearts are frequently the one source of support that remains stable and consistent through the many life changes we experience. We walk with our pets, we talk with them, we eat with them, exercise and sleep with them. Why then are we so often surprised by the intensity of emotions we feel when they die? We fall in love with our pets and whether they walk, crawl, or fly, or have fins, fur, or feathers, the loss of such a companion can be heart breaking. If your pet has died, you have a right to be sad, hurt, angry, confused, or to feel overwhelmed. In fact, any emotions that we feel when a person we love dies are very likely to occur when a pet dies.
What You Might Experience
Your loss is significant and it makes sense that you will be sad when you think about your pet. Allow yourself to experience the pain of your loss. Many people attempt to hold in their tears because they feel that if they start crying they will not be able to stop, but they do stop. Crying stimulates the release of endorphins which are our body’s natural healing agents. Hiding our emotions or keeping the tears inside can deplete us of energy which, during the grieving process, we cannot afford to lose.
Feelings Of Aloneness
You may find yourself thinking that no-one you know understands what you are going through, and the fact is that no-one other than yourself knows exactly what feelings you have for your pet. Friends or coworkers may say things like “he was only a dog” or “you can get another cat.” These comments usually are expressed out of concern but often those who speak these words have not had the wonderful experience of being closely bonded with an animal. Many people are familiar with the human-animal bond that can form between animals such as cats, dogs, and horses and the people who love them, but perhaps you had a pet such as a bird, iguana, rabbit, or other less common pet and you are finding that others just don’t understand how much the loss hurts. Some people just do not know what to say to someone who has experienced a significant loss, and not knowing how hurtful clichés can be, say anything to fill the silence. Although your bond with your pet is unique and special, there are many other people who also love their animals very deeply, and have lost those companions. If possible, seek out these people and share your experience with them. If you do not know of anyone who is supportive, look for a support group. Call your local Humane Society or Hospice for information on where to find emotional support. If you have access to the internet, go to pet loss web sites. If you feel you would like to talk to a professional about your pain, there are several therapists and counselors who specialize in grief. However, when making an appointment, be certain to ask if the counselor or therapist has experience working with people who are grieving the loss of a pet.
Feeling As Though Your Departed Pet is Present
After a companion animal dies, it is not uncommon to have instances of seeing, hearing, or smelling your pet, or feeling as though the spirit of your pet is present. Many people report these experiences regardless of the type of pet or animal companion they have lost or their own religious or spiritual beliefs. You also may catch yourself reaching out to touch your pet, thinking about feeding, watering, or walking your pet, and then realize that your pet is no longer with you.