Recently, on Animal Diaries we have aired an episode about the way we manage our grief when a beloved dog crosses over the rainbow bridge. For most of us, this is one of the most painful experiences – the loss of our pet. When people who have never had a dog see their dog-owning friends mourn the loss of their dog, they might think that the person is over-reacting, because it is just a dog. But that dog is not just a dog to the person who is mourning, that dog is an important member of the family, and for many a most trusted companion.
Research has concluded that the loss of a dog is in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one. One major reason why our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our human relationships is that dogs provide us with such unconditional and positive love. (As the old saying goes, “May I become the kind of person that my dog thinks I already am.”)
Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural society that helps us cope with this loss—no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no service to help us get through the loss of a pet. Helping those who remain behind is important and here are a few tips to help us cope with this loss.
Give Yourself Time to Grieve
In general, we do not like to cry in public or share how much we’re hurting. But it’s extremely important to remind ourselves that love is love and that loving a pet is no different from loving a person . Our feelings are not wrong and we need time to work through our grief. People grief in different ways and going through the process is important to give us closure.
Take Care of Yourself
Losing someone we love can be difficult, both emotionally and physically. It is important that we also take care of ourselves during this process by ensuring we are getting enough sleep, food and exercise. Talking to a doctor or a therapist can also help us deal with our emotions until our life gradually returns to normal.
Seek Out Support
If our family or friends love pets, they’ll understand what we’re going through. Working through our grief with another person is one of the best ways to put our emotions in perspective and find ways to handle them. Find someone you can talk to about how much your dog meant to you and remember the fun times you had with your beloved companion.
Have a Memorial
Having a memorial for your pet can help cope with the physical loss. There are many choices in memorials, from the simple and private to the most elaborate. Planting a tree to commemorate our pet or making a memorial donation to an animal charity are other options- it’s all about what we feel comfortable doing. Cremation is now available in Malta and allows us to handle our pet’s remains in a variety of ways: bury them, scatter them in a favorite location, place them in a columbarium, or even keep them with you in a decorative urn.
Telling our children
Being honest with our children about our pet’s loss, may help us address some fears and misperceptions our children may have about death. Never assume a child is too young or too old to grieve. Never criticise a child for tears, or tell them to “be strong” or not to feel sad. Be honest about your own sorrow; and discuss the issue with the entire family, giving everyone a chance to work through their grief at their own pace.
Helping our surviving pets
Pets observe every change in a household, and often form strong attachments to one another. The survivor of such a pair may seem to grieve for its companion. Cats grieve for dogs, and dogs for cats. You may need to give your surviving pets a lot of extra attention and love to help them through this period. Meanwhile, the love of your surviving pets can be wonderfully healing for your own grief.
Getting another pet
Generally, the answer is no. One needs time to work through grief and loss before attempting to build a relationship with a new pet. If our emotions are still in turmoil, we may resent a new pet for trying to “take the place” of the old-for what you really want is your old pet back. Children in particular may feel that loving a new pet is “disloyal” to the previous pet.
A new pet should be brought into the family because you are ready to move forward and build a new relationship-rather than looking backward and mourning your loss. When you are ready, select an animal with whom you can build another long, loving relationship-because this is what having a pet is all about!
In loving memory of Nina, who has given so much unconditional love and we will always remember her in our hearts.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die…