From the first time we bring them home, our little furry bundles of joy start stealing our hearts a little more each day. That’s why losing a pet can be heartbreaking, almost in the literal sense, and it can knock the wind right out of you when it happens. For pet people, losing a dog or losing a cat is just as devastating as losing any other member of the family. Sometimes the feeling is so intense that people who don’t own pets seem to not understand. But your fellow pet lovers do, and you can be comforted knowing that there are counselors and other professionals out there who understand, too. “Many people consider their pets to be part of the family, so it’s natural that many people grieve the loss of their pets just as they would grieve the loss of a family member,” says Ben Rutt, Ph.D., licensed psychologist in Baltimore, MD. Jennifer Blough, LPC, licensed professional counselor, certified pet loss grief specialist, and certified compassion fatigue therapist, agrees that “People are often surprised by the depth of grief felt when they lose a beloved companion animal. In fact, they can expect to experience the same emotional roller coaster or stages of grief that are common to human loss.” After losing a pet, the grieving process can be a rocky road, and it’s different for everyone. Here are some tips from the experts on how to get through it.
The Healing Process
Plan a memorial service. According to Donna Henes, a spiritual counselor, ritualist, and certified funeral celebrant, “A sensitive, personalized ceremony will help with feelings of grief and guilt. It will honor the love and attachment that is shared between people and animals.” She goes on to explain that the ceremony can establish closure and offer comfort. A memorial ceremony can also be good for children, but only if they want to participate. It can be held whenever the family is ready, and you don’t need to feel bad if your family decides not to have a funeral. Henes suggests putting farewell messages or charms into the casket or box, or wrapping the pet in a cherished blanket. You can also find or make a grave marker or plant a tree on the grave. Children can be involved in each of these activities, but again, only if that’s what they want to do.
No one is ready for the day their sweet, cuddly creatures have to cross the rainbow bridge. And no matter how much we want to believe our pets will live forever, the day will come to say goodbye. As Blough says, “there is no way around grief, only through it.” Although it can feel like your heart is breaking, in time, you’ll be able to look back and smile when you remember that first time they licked your face or curled up next to you and purred for hours.
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