Q: You may find this strange but my spouse and I are looking for some advice about getting over the death of our pet. Two months ago, one of our much loved dogs passed away and we miss him so much. People have told us we should be over it by now, and others say it’s OK that we’re not because our pooch was one of the family. Sometimes I feel embarrassed when I get emotional with friends. It just seems so hard to get used to him being gone, and with the summer it seems more difficult. We miss him even more because we do a lot of outside activities with our dogs that remind us over and over about pooch. Do you have any suggestions to help us with this?
A: When a loved one (person or pet) dies, or leaves our lives in some other way, grief happens for most people. Some people lack understanding of the bond that can grow between pet and owner, so they may not understand your pain.
Try not to let others influence your feelings. Remember that many other pet owners have gone through the same thing, and do appreciate what it is like to lose a cherished pet.
The bond with a pet can be significant. Pets provide consistent companionship, non-judgment, love and acceptance, and fun and enjoyment. There is much to miss when they die!
The death/loss marks the end of an important, meaningful relationship, which triggers a grief reaction in the mind/brain. Grief may involve many emotions, thoughts, and physical symptoms.
For example, at various times you may be sad, angry/regretful or feel guilty. It may be difficult to concentrate, sleep properly and/or be as physically active as usual. You may avoid situations and discussions that remind you about your loved pooch. You may think about your pet frequently throughout the day, and miss or yearn for him/her.
There is no one right way to grieve.
Everyone grieves in different ways and mourns their losses in different ways. This is influenced by the strength of the bond with a loved one, cultural values, and individual personalities and preferences, among other things.
The grief process takes time.
The specific timing is different for each person. During this time of transition it will be important to cultivate compassion for yourself and family members who are missing pooch. Reflect alone or as a family the significant meaning your pet held in your life.
Allow yourself to recognize what you miss and have lost. Honour the feelings that go along with the change in positive ways that bring comfort. Identify the gratitude/lessons learned/gifts that resulted through the relationship with your pet.
You may wish to acknowledge the loss of your loved pet in some way. Rituals and ceremonies that honour your pet’s life and the relationship you had with him/her can help bring closure to the relationship. Keepsakes, photos, memory books, cremations, burials, and other special activities may be right for you and your family. This is a personal/family choice.
You may have a strong urge to get another pet right away. This too is understandable, as the nature of the human mind is to shift out of distress as soon as possible, and regain a sense of contentment.
It is important to remind yourself of the truth — that pooch’s departure/death is permanent. No other dog or pet can change that. The grieving mind with all of its emotions and thoughts may create the urge to react, and bring home another furry family member too soon.
While it’s perfectly natural to want comfort, to want pooch, bringing a new pet into your life too soon may only prolong the grieving process.
Some changes may be noticed that signify grief is drawing to a close or diminishing: Sadness decreases and/or is less frequent and less distressing. More days pass without feeling overwhelmed. Reminders of the pet are more positive than negative, and may be less frequent.
Worry about forgetting your pet has diminished. Any feelings of guilt, for instance, about how you cared for your pet in his last days, decrease and disappear. It hurts less than it used to. You recognize that you will carry your loved pooch in your heart and memories, and moving on with your life does not mean loving your pet any less.
There will never be another pooch, or a replacement for pooch. Your new pet/family member will have his/her own character and relationship with you and your family. When you are ready, his/her arrival will mark a new chapter in your lives.
Grieving is a time for taking good care of yourself. Seek support for yourself from close friends or relatives, or, from a professional counsellor if you feel that you need help getting through the death/loss of your loved pet.
If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Karen Turner. It appears every second Friday.