Grieving the Loss of a Furry Friend
Dogs are considered man’s best friend for a reason. As human beings we make incredible connections with our furry friends, not just dogs but cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, the list is endless. These creatures become part of our family, they bring companionship, love and energy to the family dynamic.
I have a friend; she will know who she is, who will honestly tell you her dog is right up there with her children on the love scale. Mind you he is an absolutely gorgeous dog! And unlike the children demands nothing but love in return for his affection, well and the odd walk and a bowl of food a day. But at its most basic animals offer their companionship with no strings attached, an incredible love that is almost completely unconditional.
So, when we lose our pets, it is only natural that the grief we feel is equal to that of losing a family member, after all that is exactly what they are, a family member. Last year we lost our family dog Milly. We had to have her put down after she became very ill, she was only six years old. It was absolutely devastating, the children cried, we cried, even my Mum, who is not really an animal lover, cried. For the weeks and months that followed I watched us all grieve for Milly just like we would for a relative or friend.
She was not ‘just a dog’ she was our dog and she was very loved and very special. Her loss left a hole in our hearts and our lives, especially my Dad's.
I think when we hear a friend has lost their pet it is easy to brush over the loss after all it’s ‘just an animal’ but losing your pet can be just as difficult for some of us as losing a human family member or friend.
The grieving process is certainly the same, with days that are harder than others, and grief that comes in waves. Others will experience the same stages of grief that we see when you lose a loved one, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. But unlike losing a family member or friend you may find that the support you need from others is not there and you face this grieving process alone with others unable to understand the depth of the loss that you are feeling.
Everyone copes with grief and loss differently, there is no ‘normal’. We heal in our own time and in our own way. Grieving the loss of your pet is as normal as grieving the loss of anyone. Do not ignore your pain or be embarrassed of it, your feelings do not make you weak, you are mourning the loss of your pet that you loved and cared for, sometimes for many years. Their loss is as real to you as any loss is to anyone.
When we lose someone special in our lives, we perform rituals such as funerals or memorials to face our grief, and to celebrate the life of the one who has been lost to us. This is no different for our furry friends and can help you cope with the loss of your beloved pet. Whether that is setting up a memorial for your pet, such as a tree in the garden, or a plaque on a bench, a stone inscribed with their name in your local crematorium, or scattering their ashes somewhere special, there are many ways to honour the memory of your pet.
Others will find comfort in holding a funeral or memorial for their pet. A simple service where a blessing is giving and a poem read with a chance for family members, especially children to say goodbye. There is nothing new or strange about the idea of pet funerals. I remember as a small child flushing my goldfish down the toilet with my Mum by my side reciting a poem as we said our goodbyes. At the time she told me it was how goldfish got to heaven!
As adults I think we worry too much about what others may think of us if we have a ceremony for our pets. My advice would be, do what is right for you and do what will help you to cope with the loss of your pet and grieve in the way you need to.
You might find that others are not able to understand how you are feeling. Try not to let others devalue your feelings and instead reach out to others who have lost pets and speak with them. In the same way do not be frightened to seek professional help if you are struggling to cope with your loss. For some, pets are the only companionship they have in their lives and the loss is very real and very painful.
If you decide to hold a memorial or funeral for your pet and don’t know where to start please feel free to contact us, we can offer advice and help.
If you have lost your pet we suggest a first port of call be one of the many funeral companies that deal with pet loss. If you are in in Brisbane, Gold Coast and northern New South Wales, we suggest Newhaven funerals, they have dedicated pet service called Pet Haven.
I know after losing our dog last year it made me look at the whole subject of grief we feel for our animals differently. We make tremendous bonds with our furry friends and they really are an important part of our families.
It is an emotionally devastating experience to lose your pet. Yet I think as a society, we do often understand just how painful pet loss can be and how much it can effect our health both emotionally and physically. We do not ask for time off work, friends don't bring over casseroles, you don't get cards or flowers of condolence, we don't hold formal goodbyes like a funeral, we just try to cope alone and it can be an incredibly lonely time.
Scientific studies have found social support during the grieving process is crucial in the recovery process of any type of grief. Sadly when we lose a pet this invaluable support system is often missing. Pet owners often feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the grief they feel and keep their feelings locked away, hesitant to disclose how they are feeling to loved ones. These feelings further complicate the grieving process making it even more difficult to deal with.
Please don’t suffer your grief in silence, remember you have a right to grieve your pet in whatever you want to, it is perfectly normal and natural reaction. They were your companion, friend and family member and they deserve the same respect and dignity that we give to our fellow human beings.
If we can support you in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch.