by Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC
Sometimes, it’s hard to find anyone who understands. The people who are closest to you may say the most foolish things.
They try to put it in perspective when they say, “It was just a pet.” They try to be helpful when they say, “Get another one.” They don’t know that these are the unkindest things they could say, because remarks like these show that they do not understand the depth of your attachment to your friend.
For you, “just a pet” does not describe the relationship you had. Your animal companion may have accompanied you through many stages of life, and was often your best support.
Many people say that their pet was truly their best friend, and that they would actually have preferred to spend time with their pet than with most people they could name.
Often, pet lovers identify so strongly with their pets, they feel that they have lost some of their identity when their pet passes away.
As for “getting another one,” when your heart is broken, this is probably not what you want to hear. Someday, when you have healed, you will think about that, perhaps. But people who want to rush you into replacing your irreplaceable friend are not helping.
When they exclaim, “What? You’re still upset about that animal? It’s been (x amount of time)!” here is something you can tell them: “I have lost a member of my family. I don’t expect you to understand, but I do expect you to respect my feelings.”
Do not allow anyone to rush you through this grief, any more than you would be rushed through grief following the death of anyone else important in your life. Allow yourself to go through all the stages of reaction to death: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance.
If you feel that you are getting stuck in the depression stage, by all means, seek counseling with a professional counselor with an understanding of pet grief.
You have the right to grieve, and you have the need to grieve. You have had an important loss, and need time to work through it.
Helpful ways to mourn are to have some kind of ceremony to say good-bye, and to make a memorial for your pet. You may want to make a scrapbook, or put keepsakes such as tags, collar and favorite toy in a decorative box.
When you are feeling low, remember how your animal companion comforted you. What would he or she want you to feel now? Realize that you have your friend in your heart, internalized, for the rest of your life, and that love remains with you.