Coping with pet loss has many different facets depending on the circumstances on what actually happened.I am often asked ‘how can I assist my child (wife, girlfriend etc) with what they are feeling right now after losing a pet. I don’t understand what they are going through – or how can I assist them to cope?”
It is so true that grief hits us at different levels and what one member of the family may feel might be completely different to another member’s feelings. We know there are recognised stages of grief and it helps to know what these are:
Denial: I don’t believe this has happened.
Anger: Why has it happened – why me – who can I blame?
Bargaining: If you take this away I will do anything….
Depression: I don’t want to face the worl – I cannot be myself
Acceptance: I understand and have found calm again
Knowing the process will help you to understand what another person is going through. They have to go through each stage and deal with it and they may go in and out of those stages over time. During anger the person may lash out at the people closest to them and this is often hard to deal with. Take a teenager who has known a pet all its life – he or she will most likely feel more strongly than a smaller child who has known the pet for less time and has a different cocept of death and dying. The family member may want to scream or shout and this is a healthy response – try not to tell them to ‘pull themselves together’ or to ‘stop that noise’….these reactions will delay the healing process so try to understand their need to behave this way.
Sometimes I am asked ‘how long will this take. There is no way of telling – it takes as long as it takes but it can be managed better when the facts are known. A pet may have been a person’s only ‘family’ so of course this will more very difficult for them – in that situation a pet is often more like a child. Many people in many circumstances become extremely attached to their pets and I often call this loss ‘grief in spades’ because it is so painful.
So please don’t expect someone else to feel as you feel. This is an individual response and the kindest thing you can do for a friend or family member is be patient, listen to them and support them for as long as they need it.
Author of Journey Through Pet Loss