Most pet owners accept their new pet into their home as an addition to the family. When you brought Fido into the house for the first time as a puppy, you welcomed him into your heart and family. This created a special bond between your pet and the entire family, reinforced by all the playtime and long walks that you took together.
Unfortunately, when a family pet does pass away, we feel the full force of that loss. Most of us grow up with pets as part of the family, and so having them leave our lives can impact us greatly. These feelings of grief can sometimes feel amplified for teens; it’s possible that the loss of a pet was your first real experience with death. For many people, this is a shocking and emotionally difficult experience.
When we experience death at any stage of our lives, we go through a set of powerful emotions that we can’t speed past or avoid. Although we can’t fix the pain of losing a loved family member, understanding your grief can help you sort through your emotions. If you’re currently working through the death of a beloved pet, hold onto the hope that it will get better.
Why do I feel so upset by my pet’s death?
Understanding why you are upset and what emotions you are feeling is an important part of dealing with grief. Most upset often comes from the finality of death—the thought of not being able to see that loved one again is quite painful to think about and deal with. We often form emotional bonds and attachments with pets that are just so powerful; they become family members, loved ones, even friends. This is especially true if you grew up with or spent a lot of your life with your pet. Even if you didn’t seem especially attached to your pet, the shock and rawness can get to you, too. When you’re used to something or someone being in your life, it can be a jolt to the system when it’s suddenly taken away.
The effects of grieving
Shock and numbness
Grief isn’t just about being sad and upset. Feeling numb or shocked is also a fairly common reaction to the death of a pet. There is nothing wrong with feeling numb, or not as emotional as others, as everyone experiences grief in different ways. Don’t feel like you are broken or abnormal for processing grief differently than those around you.
Sometimes, pets can become sick suddenly or without warning, which makes processing the loss extremely difficult—this is down to your brain not having adequate time to fully accept the reality of the situation. Once you have come to terms with the news, you will then start to go through the other emotions of grief.
Just because you aren’t grieving for a human doesn’t necessarily mean the feelings are any less intense. Our pets are our family. It’s normal and expected for you to feel anguish when they leave your life. When going through a bereavement, everyone will feel some range of sadness. It’s important to feel through your emotion at this time and let it all out. When you don’t give yourself permission to grieve, you could end up feeling worse and prolong your grief.
When experiencing the death of a loved pet, you can start to internalize and blame yourself, even if the death had nothing to do with you. Not catching an illness sooner or not being there at the end is usually the first kind of guilt a grieving person experiences. In extreme cases of guilt, you can find yourself stuck replaying past events and feeling guilty that you weren’t as kind or as loving as you could have been—try not to wallow, as this type of thinking isn’t useful and has no benefits.
If you do bottle up your feelings or avoid them altogether, it can result in anger. This anger can be aimed at anyone and everyone and is usually a mask that appears when you’re feeling upset. In some cases, anger can lead to verbal or physical outbursts, and these are never okay. Not only is anger bad for your mental health, but it’s damaging for the people around you, too.
Anger isn’t always aimed at other people—your anger can be aimed at yourself. Subjecting yourself to your own anger is very emotionally damaging and can be the result of unaddressed pain and sadness.
How to move forward
Take time to grieve
To truly move past the death of a pet, you need to acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it. Feeling those emotions and letting it all out is the only way you can come to terms with the loss and begin to heal from the pain. Be conscious that you aren’t bottling up your emotions, blaming yourself, or pointing fingers at others—toxic and negative behavior won’t solve your problems. Unfortunately, the grieving process can’t be rushed, so take as much time as you need.
Have a memorial
When someone dies, we hold memorials to celebrate their life. This goes for pets, too. Memorials let you remember the good times you shared with your pet who has crossed the rainbow bridge. They can often give you a place to go to feel close to them again—these can be burial sites, places where ashes were scattered, special places your pet enjoyed, or even a dedicated spot like a plant or bench. Writing a eulogy, tribute, or personal letter can help to ease any emotional blockages you might be experiencing. These emotional expressions don’t need to be public, either; if you don’t feel comfortable reading them at the memorial, you can take some time to read them over in private.
If you can’t seem to get past your loss, you need to seek out some help. Finding a fellow friend that has gone through a similar experience as you can help you feel less alone and learn what to expect on your road to emotional recovery.
If you don’t know anyone that could lend a sympathetic ear, you can try an online support group or therapist. It’s important to understand that grief can sometimes be too much for a person to take on by themselves, and in these cases, getting professional help or support is the best route. There are lots of resources online that can help you through your emotions when you feel that your loss is unbearable.
Focus on the future
It may seem hard to do at first, but thinking ahead will stop you from dwelling on the painful past. It can take quite a lot of work adjusting to life without your beloved pet, so take it one day at a time. Try not to rush into new things like getting another pet, as these impulse decisions can be poor attempts at trying to fill the void in your life that your deceased pet has left. Remember, time will heal but it will never replace—this is something you have to make peace with.