It’s a myth that “time heals all wounds.” Nothing will erase your grief, but these ideas will help you cope with the death of a beloved pet. Here, you’ll find comfort and hope in two unusual pet loss stories, plus help coping with your grief in healthy ways.
Coping with your pet’s death is different – and some say more difficult – than coping with the death of a human loved one. Why? Because as George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” Your beloved pet was always there for you, unconditionally loving, listening, and passing no judgment on anything you said or did. And when you touch, pat, snuggle, or groom your dog or cat, you are flooded with positive hormones, such as oxytocin and endorphins.
That’s why it’s so difficult to cope with the death of your beloved pet: you are emotionally and physically attached to your dog or cat in ways you don’t experience with human loved ones. So, your pet’s death is uniquely painful and difficult. I’m sorry for your loss, and I wish I could make your grief go away. While I can’t do that, I can share a few ideas for coping with death and moving forward in acceptance, healing, and peace.
“Grieving the loss of a pet encompasses all the same elements as grieving the loss of anything else,” writes Dr Lisa Lembeck Roberts in The Anatomy of Grief: Processing the Loss of a Pet. “There may be different intensity levels, but the process is similar. It’s important to remember that each individual’s way of processing grief is as personal as the individual herself – so not matter what you are feeling, rest assured it is normal to be feeling it.”
Help Coping With the Death of a Beloved Pet
Before we explore the tips for processing pet loss, I want to share two stories about the deaths of unusual pets. When we think of “pet loss”, we typically think of dogs and cats, maybe bunny rabbits, ferrets, or even fish.
But we don’t often think of pets as being horses or parrots, do we? I don’t, at least! And yet, the death of any beloved animal has a huge and painful impact on our lives – whether the pet was a dog, cat, bird, or horse.
The animals are different, but the grief is the same. These two pet loss stories reveal how two animal lovers said good-bye to their unusual critters; their stories may give you ideas on how to cope with your own pet’s death.
Saying good-bye to a pet parrot with an online tribute
Dorry Bless is a celebrant, animal lover, certified pet loss bereavement counselor through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. She shares her home with two dogs: 6 ½ year old Labradoodle, DJ; and ½ year old English Springer Spaniel, Patsy. Just deceased (3 weeks ago) is her 18 year old Quaker parrot, Willie.
“Three weeks ago, our beloved parrot of 18 years died,” says Dorry. “I sent out a brief email tribute to some friends and was very touched by all the support I received back. I talked about it with people and found that comfort came from people I didn’t expect – in the form of cards and gestures. I even had a mystical experience where hundreds of birds landed on the trees right near Willie’s grave in my yard (living here for 14 years I’ve never seen that big a flock before), and sat there for a few minutes and then took off in another direction after circling his grave three times. I felt he had been given the equivalent of a bird military salute. It was very poignant and meaningful to me.
My husband put up an online tribute on his blog to our beloved pet parrot, and I will be writing one for Tribute Tails. We had our personal ceremony for Willie, graveside, in our backyard. It was a tearful and fitting tribute to a dear winged friend. All of it helped me greatly.”
If you’re considering a tribute to help you cope with your pet’s death, read Comforting Prayers for the Loss of a Beloved Dog or Cat. You’ll find meaningful ways to say good-bye to your pet’s life here on earth.
Coping with a horse’s death by remembering the positive impact
Chastity Weese, owner of Heartfelt Horse Rescue, shares how her pet’s death affected her – and how she’s coping with the loss and grief.
“My mare Skippy -“Skips Satin Moon” – gave me the best five years of her life and taught my children to ride. She was the best trail horse and the barrel horse anyone could ever ask for. My oldest daughter had her in 4-H for two years to place in barrels and poles.
This mare taught me what kindness is, and she also showed me love in return. Skippy became ill with a stroke, cancer, and EPM (a protozoa that enters their spinal cord and does irreversible damage to their nervous system). She became deadly ill a few months later. Skippy and I fought until I knew she no longer could do it and was laid to rest.
I think of Skippy every day of my life. My fields seem so empty now, and I miss her more than anything. She not only taught me patience, love, and how to have fun, she taught me how to trust. I am still not over the pain of losing my beloved horse, but it helps me cope to think of all the positive impact she has done in my life and my family. I am blessed to have known Skippy for as long as I did. Our pets are not ours and do not belong to us…they belong to the Lord above us.”
If your grieving process involves resolving guilt for your pet’s death, read How to Deal With Guilt After the Loss of Your Beloved Dog.
Learn the difference between “passive grieving” and “active grieving”
When you passively grieve your pet’s death, you:
- Ignore the pain and hope it goes away
- Suppress or push away feelings of grief, pain, anger, and loneliness
- Focus on the loss of your dog or cat
- Allow your sad emotions to dictate your thoughts and actions
- Replay the images of your dog or cat’s last day or hours
- Refuse to work through tips on how to cope with your pet’s death
Passively grieving the death of your dog or cat seems easier and safer, because it means you don’t have to face the painful emotions! But, it also leads to worse – and prolonged – pain.
Also, avoiding your grief doesn’t help you heal your heart and make room for a new dog or cat in your life. It shuts you down and stops you from coping with your pet’s death in healthy ways.
Actively grieving your pet’s death, on the other hand, involves:
- Allowing your painful emotions to rise up, even though it feels unbearable
- Expressing your sadness, bitterness, pain, and loneliness
- Exploring different ways to memorialize or honor your dog or cat
- Talking to other pet lovers who coped with the death of their own beloved pets
- Trying different tips for coping with pet death, and identifying which are most helpful
Coping with your pet’s death in active ways is more difficult in the short run…but much healthier in the long run! And, active grieving will help you get ready to invite another dog or cat into your life. Just below, I share a few resources for coping with pet death. I encourage you to read through at least one or two books about pet loss, because they’ll help you see that you’re not alone in your grief. And, they’ll help you grieve in active, healing ways.
Did your dog die – and are you considering bringing a puppy or dog into your home? Read Signs You’re Ready to Adopt a Dog.
If your cat died and you don’t know if getting another kitten or cat is a good idea, read Should You Adopt a Cat After Your Cat Dies?
Help Coping With Your Pet’s Death
In How to Heal Your Heart After Losing a Pet: 75 Ways to Cope With Grief and Guilt When Your Dog or Cat Dies, I share many ways to cope after the death of a pet.
Grief is especially painful when faced in big chunks; my tips are short and easy to digest, so you don’t have to sit and read through a huge amount of information.
To write this ebook, I interviewed veterinarians, grief counselors, and pet experts for the best tips for coping with a pet’s death. I also included stories from the owners of dogs and cats – some who coped with guilt and grief in sometimes surprising ways.
“You think our pets won’t be in Heaven? I tell you, they’ll be there long before any of us.” – Robert Louis Stevenson.
In I Will See You in Heaven, Friar Jack Wintz describes how God has always taken care of His beloved animals – from the Garden of Eden to Noah and the Ark! In this book, you’ll find wisdom, comfort, and the reassuring hope that we will see our cats and dogs and other animals in heaven.
Friar Jack has been pondering animals and pets in Heaven for years, and he is convinced that God’s loving relationship with creation includes the afterlife. “Our God is a God of overflowing love, goodness, and beauty who is ready to give over everything to those he loves,” says Friar Jack. “Surely the Creator would not suddenly stop loving and caring for the creatures he had put into existence with so much care!”
How are you feeling about these tips on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet? Feel free to share your thoughts and stories below. Writing is one of the best ways to work through painful emotions, so I invite you to share your memories and stories of your pet’s life and death.
May you find hope and healing, comfort and support as you journey through this valley of grief. May you accept your pet’s death, and know that your dog or cat is resting in peace. Your souls and spirits will be forever intertwined, and you will meet again one day.