“An emotional pressure cooker” is how Becky Murray describes the grieving process. When you are grieving you are building up stress and emotional pressure you didn’t have before the loss of your pet. Just like a pressure cooker you have to release some of that pressure from time to time. Finding a release is the best way to keep yourself moving forward during this difficult time. Talk therapy, support groups, books on pet loss and even writing are all healthy ways to release some of that pressure.
However you grieve, it is important that you don’t do it alone. Find someone you can talk to about your loss. Build your support group wisely. Be aware there are some people who may not understand your grief. Find friends, family, co-workers who have pets and who can understand the loss you feel. Murray advises you “build your support group wisely.” If your best friend just simply doesn’t understand why you are so upset about the loss of Fluffy it’s ok. Talk to someone else about the pain and the grief. You can always talk to the staff at your veterinarian’s office. Having worked at two vet’s offices myself I can tell you that everyone there loves your pet almost as much as you do and most are more than willing to talk about the loss you are feeling. They can also be helpful if you think it might be time to let your pet go. Talk to them, they can help you with the loss and the guilt you feel. They have been there, they absolutely understand. Your veterinarian’s office might have resources to help you come with the loss, such as information on local support groups.
As wonderful as it is to have a supportive network to help you get through this loss, there will be people who don’t understand what you are going through. Some people in your life haven’t experienced the loss of a pet. You might get “it’s just an animal” responses from family and co-workers. Be prepared for callus remarks from people who have not experienced that loss, says Murray. She suggests having “canned responses” to some of the callus questions you might get asked. Don’t be afraid to say you have experienced “a loss in the family” without elaborating. After all it’s true.
If you don’t have friends and family to support you, there are support groups that can help you talk through the pain. Something I didn’t think about, but Murray mentioned, is that support groups can be helpful for people with end of life concerns for their pet. They can help you prepare for what you face ahead and many pet owners will be able to share your concerns as you face end of life decisions you’re your cat or dog.
Just as everyone grieves differently, everyone processes that grief differently. Perhaps talking to someone isn’t what helps you. There are dozens of books on the loss of a pet, the grieving processes. One of those books might help. Veterinary Specialty Center, where Becky Murray works, has a list of books to help those grieving the loss of their pet. You can find it here Remember not every book works for every person. Perhaps books aren’t even the right option for you. There are a number of websites and articles (like this one) where you can read about other’s grief and what others have felt. When I was preparing for Muffin’s death it helped me immensely to know that there were other people who felt the same pain, confusion and guilt at losing their cat or dog.
Creative outlets such as writing, painting or drawing can be useful for mourning as well. When Muffin died I wrote her a letter. I wrote down everything I felt: the guilt, the sorrow, the fears. I apologized to her and told her I hoped she knew how much I loved it. It was one of the most cathartic things I did. I did not share that letter with anyone; it is still sitting on the hard drive of my computer. It is between Muffin and I. I encourage you to write your words down, draw that picture, make a ceramic figure of your cat, whatever it is that fuels your creativity and helps you mourn the loss of your furry friend.
There are so many different ways to grieve. The important thing is to remember the love you felt for your animal(s) and to take care of yourself. Please find someone to talk to, to share the memories of your loved one; to share the joy and the grief that goes with those memories. Below I do have a list of resources you may find beneficial if you are looking for more information or support resources in your area.
PetLossCanada.com some fabulous resources here, regardless of where you live
Petloss.net has some wonderful articles as well as a list of counseling services and support groups in each state!
CVMA Wings Pet Loss Support Group and Helpline: (630) 325-1600
ASPCA Pet Loss Support Program: 877-474-3310
Anti-Cruelty Society: call Tammie Bouschor at (312) 644-8338 ext. 344 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
And in case the grief hurts that much: National Suicide Prevention Life Line 800-273-8255