"They say memories are golden, well maybe that is true. I never wanted memories, I only wanted you. A million times I needed you, a million times I cried. If love alone could have saved you, you never would have died. In life I loved you dearly. In death I love you still. In my heart you hold a place no one could ever fill. If tears could build a stairway and heartache make a lane, I'd walk the path to heaven and bring you back again. Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same. But as God calls us one by one, the chain will link again" shared with me by a client. This had been part of his mother's funeral. It captures everything.
Dealing with the loss of a pet is a very personal and individual process. Each person deals with pet loss differently, and people deal with the loss of their different pets differently. Some excellent resources for dealing with all of the emotions are below. What I have to add to that reflects the uniqueness of the human animal bond, and is based on my personal experiences with my own pets and from observing the reaction of hundreds of individuals and families to the loss of their pets.
Why is it so hard? Losing someone you have shared your life with and loved deeply is very painful. The more you have loved and shared, the worse it hurts. Also, it is more painful to lose a pet for whom you have provided extensive care for an illness or injury because of the emotional investment you make by providing that care. Another factor is what life experiences you have been through with your pet. If they have been with you through some really hard times, their loss brings back all of those emotions, making it doubly painful.
No matter how you look at it or what you do, it is just going to hurt. That is normal and expected. But how you deal with that hurt will determine how well you heal. Nobody may understand the unique bond you had with your pet, but that does not mean they cannot help you in your healing process. Use your friends and family for support. Access the books, websites and hotlines listed below. Do what you need to do, whether it is journaling, getting away from home, or inviting another pet into your home to love. Most of all remember to take care of yourself: your pet would want you to do that because he or she loved you deeply.
The fact that you are grieving shows that you had a special relationship of love and friendship with your pet. The process of owning a pet and sharing their lives changes us forever. In a really good way. It makes us stronger, develops parts of ourselves that would otherwise not be developed, brings out weaknesses so we can overcome them, and provides strength during difficult times. The death of that pet also makes us stronger better people because after their death we realize who we were before they came into our lives: and how they changed us. The emptiness serves to reveal the special role they played in making us who we are. So through all of the pain, reflect on these things, think of how they made us better, stronger, more kind or loving, more vulnerable and capable of deeper relationships with others, any of those things they have brought us, and feel the gift they have given us.
UC Davis pet loss support hotline: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ccab/petloss.html
Pet Loss: A Thoughtful Guide for Adults and Children, Herbert A. Nieburg, PhD & Arlene Fischer; Harper Perennial; 1996
Legacies of Love: A Gentle Guide to Healing from the Loss of Your Animal Loved One audiobook, Teresa Wagner, Upper Access Books
Coping with the Loss of a Pet: A Gentle Guide for All Who Love a Pet, Christina M. Lemieux, PhD; Wallace R. Clark & Co.; 1988
All information below is from the AVMA's pet loss support website
"Understanding your feelings of loss when your pet dies:
The bond that we form with our pets can be very deep and fulfilling, and the loss of a beloved pet can have an impact on us that is as great, or even greater, than the loss of a family member or friend. This bond is what makes our interactions with our pets rich and rewarding, but also what makes the grief process so complicated. The greater the love you feel for a person or animal, the deeper the sense of loss when they are gone. Also if you have given your pet extensive care for an illness or injury, you are more emotionally invested and the pain is worse when you lose that pet.
After your pet has died it is natural and normal to feel grief and sorrow. The amount of time a person grieves for the loss of their pet may be very different for different people. Although grief is an internal and private response, there are certain stages of grief that most people experience. By understanding the process, you can be better prepared to accept and handle your grief and to help other family members and friends who share your sense of loss. It's hard to think of it this way because the process can be so painful, but mourning is actually an act of love.
Stages of Grief:
There are many stages of grief, but not everyone experiences them all or in the same order. The stages include denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance, and resolution. the grief can seem to come in waves, may be brought on more intensely by a sight or sound that sparks your memory, and may seem overwhelming at times.
Your first reaction may be denial- an unwillingness to accept the fact that the pet has died or that death is unavoidable. Denial may begin when you first learn the seriousness of your pet's illness or injuries. Often, the more sudden the death, the more difficult the loss is to accept and the stronger the denial.
Anger and guilt often follow denial. Your anger may be directed toward people you normally love and respect, including your family, friends or your veterinarian. People coping with death will often say things that they do not really mean, unintentionally hurting those whom they do not mean to hurt. You hay feel guilty or blame others for not recognizing the illness earlier, for not doing something sooner, for not being able to afford other types of further treatment, or for being careless and allowing the pet to be injured.
Depression is a common experience after the death of a special pet. The tears flow, there are knots in your stomach, and you feel drained of all your energy. Day-to-day tasks can seem impossible to perform and you may feel isolated and alone. Many depressed people will avoid the company of friends and family. It might be hard to get out of bed in the morning, especially if your morning routine involved caring for your pet's needs. Sometimes you may even wonder if you can go on without your pet. The answer is yes, but there are times when special assistance may be helpful in dealing with your loss. If you are suffering from profound depression, seek professional assistance.
Eventually, you will come to terms with your feelings. You can begin to accept your pet's death. Resolution has occurred when you can remember your pet and your time with them without feeling the intense grief and emotional pain you previously felt. .Acceptance and resolution do not mean that you no longer feel a sense of loss, just that you have come to terms with the fact that your pet has passed away.
Even when you have reached resolution and acceptance, feelings of anger, denial, guilt and depression may reappear. If this does happen, these feeling will usually be less intense, and with time they will be replaced with fond memories.
Although everyone experiences the stages of grief, grieving is always a very personal process. Some people take longer than others to come to terms with denial, anger, guilt, and depression, and each loss is different. If you understand that these are normal reactions you will be better prepared to coping with your feelings and to help others face theirs. Family and friends should be reassured that sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death.
They may not understand:
Sometimes well-meaning family and friends may not realize now important your pet was to you or the intensity of your grief. Comments they make may seem cruel and uncaring although they were not meant to be taken that way. Be honest with yourself and others about how you feel. If despair mounts, talk to someone who will listen to your feelings about the loss of your pet. Talk about your sorrow, but also about the fun times you and your pet spent together, the activities you enjoyed, and the memories that are meaningful to you.
The hurt is so deep:
If you or a family member are having great difficulty in accepting your pet's death and cannot resolve feelings of grief and sorrow, you may want to discuss these feelings with a person who is trained to understand the grieving process and can support and help you and your family mourn for your loss.. Support groups and hot-lines are there to help.
Should I get another pet?
The death of a beloved pet can upset you emotionally, especially when euthanasia is involved. Some people may feel they would never want another pet. For some, the thought of having- and eventually losing- another pet may seem unbearable. These feelings may pass with time. For others, a new pet may help them recover from their loss more quicky. Just as grief is a personal experience, the decision of when, if ever, to bring a new pet into your life is a personal one. If a family m member is having difficulty accepting the pet's death, getting a new pet before that person has resolved his or her grief may make them feel that you think the life of the deceased pet was unworthy of the grief that is still being felt. Family members should agree on the appropriate time to bring a new pet in to their lives. Although you can never replace the pet you lost, you can find another to share your life.
Remembering your pet:
The period from birth to old age is much shorter for most domestic animals than for people, and death is a normal part of the life cycle. It cannot be avoided, but understanding and compassion can help you, your family and your friends manage the grief associated with it.
For some people, a memorial service or ritual (such as releasing balloons or spreading cremated remains) can be therapeutic. You may choose to keep and display reminders of your beloved pet, such as photos or mementos or anything that help s you recall and treasure the good times you spent with your beloved pet.. You my also wish to make a memorial contribution to a charity in honor of your pet and the deep bond you shared. Just as the grieving process varies form person to person, so does the method of remembering the pet that shared your life."