Hannah Hopper, LPC

Losing a pet is devastating and heart-wrenching, and some pet owners find it an even more difficult loss than the loss of another person. Your pet is the one you leave in the morning, and come home to in the evening; they are a constant companion. But people who don’t have pets or have never experienced this constant companionship may have trouble empathizing with someone who’s lost a pet, and invalidate just how deep of a loss it is. We have funerals for humans that we love but this isn’t as true for pets. There isn’t an option to take leave from work after the death of a pet. And rarely is there the same kind of support when you lose a pet. Usually, there won’t be anyone to make you a meal, call you up to check-in, and the space to talk about everything you’re feeling with the loss. Often the most empathy will come from others who have experienced this unique kind of love with a pet, and who can understand the depth of this bond. Because there can be such a lack of support when a pet passes, losing a pet presents some unique challenges to fully grieving and feeling the loss. Below are several things to consider as you navigate this loss. 

Your Grief Matters

Your grief is valid, and so are all of the feelings that come along with it. Spending time with other people who have also lost a pet can provide unique support and connection in your time of loss. Knowing that there are other people who are struggling in the same way as you can also lessen the feeling of judgment from others. The rainbow bridge (www.rainbowbridge.com) is a free online community of people who are grieving the loss of a pet. 

Prepare a Memorial 

Whether you decide to have a funeral for your pet that you welcome friends and family to, or if you choose to grieve alone, consider creating a memorial to honor your pet and the impact they had on you. Don’t rush yourself to get rid of your pet’s items, and allow yourself to feel the emotions when you see a place in your home where they loved to sit. Tags and collars can also be a special way to hold on to the memory of your pet. 

Let Out Your Feelings

Give yourself permission to let out your feelings. Reach out to others in your life who can be a listening ear and empathize with what you’re going through. Set aside specific time to look through pictures of fun times with your pet, and relive all of the special memories you have.  Write about your feelings in a journal, a story, or a poem. 

Find an Outlet for Your Love 

You have so much love to give, and your pet thrived because of this love. If you feel like it would be helpful to pour this love into another animal, consider volunteering at your local shelter, or becoming a foster pet parent to have another pet for a shorter period of time. Whether or not you decide to get another pet in the future is a very personal decision, and if you choose to get another it’s not a betrayal of your other pet. 

Loss is always difficult, and especially so if it’s losing a pet you’ve had close companionship with for many years. If you’d like to have a space to process your grief and get support for the loss of a pet, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our Chicago therapists at Symmetry Counseling.