You don’t need anyone telling you that the life you shared with your pet was special and unique! You had moments of deep and enduring love that filled your heart on a daily basis. The memories that you value are what will keep you connected to your pet forever and help you feel that you are never alone with pet loss grief.
Yet, right now everything is unusual and new for you. Your pet is no longer physically with you, and you are noticing some very uncomfortable feelings that you are unsure of. Your emotions may be creating chaos in your life—you may be feeling extreme anxiety or even depression. You may be unsure of what to do next.
“Does my sadness over the loss of my pet ever go away?”
Many of my clients ask me, “Does my sadness over the loss of my pet ever go away?” I would like to answer yes, but to be perfectly frank, the answer is no. However, by understanding what grief is and respecting your unique journey, you are going to find that you are not alone. You will be able to navigate this tough journey with respect, forgiveness, and love—for both your pet and yourself.
If you are continuing your journey of grief or are just starting out with pet loss, I encourage you to consider this article as a trusted companion and support tool that will guide you and walk the journey of pet loss grief with you.
It will help you understand what normal grief is and how you can begin to cope and begin to not feel alone.
Normal and Healthy Grief
If you are feeling hopeless right now because you don’t know whom to talk to, how to get help, or whom to get help from—you are experiencing normal grief.
If you are experiencing anger that your furry companion died or if you are feeling guilty, depressed, numb, or even shock—you are experiencing normal pet loss grief.
Once you understand what normal grief is and what the expectations are for you, your journey will become different—and more manageable.
A Story with Annie and Lily
Annie was devastated that she had to euthanize her nine-year-old tabby named Lily. When she called me, it was 4 weeks since Lily had died. Annie was talking really fast, couldn’t sit down, and she hadn’t slept, eaten, or talked to anyone. She was beginning to isolate herself from her friends and family.
During our first few conversations, Annie was so distraught that she wasn’t even able to form complete sentences when explaining the situation to me. She was bouncing from episode to episode, all the while expressing bouts of anger, anxiety, and sadness. Then at times, she was completely silent because she didn’t know how she felt.
You might find this interesting—Annie was having a healthy reaction to her loss. No, Annie’s grief was not easy or comfortable, but it was necessary and healthy for her to experience.
I know that sounds strange, but this is how grief works:
The fact that Annie could outwardly express herself to someone, who was nonjudgmental and could listen to what she had to say without adding advice or suggestions, is what helped Annie understand and cope with her grief, which, in turn, made her grief experience less fear-and anxiety-ridden. She realized she was not alone and that she was safe.
Just to clarify further, even though Annie’s grief was normal, that didn’t mean it was easy or short-lived. Annie was feeling weird about her feelings and was not comfortable with what was going on in her mind, in her body, and with her spiritual beliefs. And this is part of the normal, but unpleasant, grief experience.
Annie also suffered from a huge amount of guilt after Lily died. She felt guilty about not doing more for Lily when she was alive. Lily loved chasing the laser, and Annie spent a lot of time on the computer. When Lily requested playtime, Annie often ignored these requests. Again, feeling such guilt is excruciating but also—normal.
During our conversation, Annie spoke about everything that she was feeling and going through—all the feelings that were driving her crazy and how she was going to begin to share this news with others.
Annie began to make sense of the myriad of feelings and physical sensations she was experiencing. She began to understand that what she was going through was very difficult but also—normal.
Plus, she learned that her original expectation—that she could avoid feeling grief—was not realistic. When this expectation changed and she realized that grief was healthy, she felt much better.
By understanding her feelings and accepting those crazy thoughts, sensations, and spiritual upheavals, she began to walk the journey of losing the physical Lily with respect for herself. This, in turn, gave her the direction and focus she needed to be present for the possibilities of a continued relationship with Lily on a spiritual level.
When our conversation for that day ended, Annie wasn’t free from feeling grief. Yet, she had more strength and grounding to move forward to contemplate her next moment in this special journey.
And the best part . . . she didn’t feel alone.
Important Elements So You Never feel Alone with Pet Loss Grief.
Element 1—Normal and Necessary
What Annie’s story demonstrates is that the first thing about grief over the death of your pet is to know that what you are feeling and thinking, though uncomfortable and difficult, is also normal and healthy. Grief is necessary, so it is critical that you let your feelings happen.
If you stuff grief down, so many detrimental things can happen to your health and well-being. Stuffing grief down will affect how you live—in a negative way—from the day your pet dies, to how you will mourn, and to how you begin to move forward.
In fact, if you stuff your feelings down, your normal grief feelings can become unhealthy and result in unhealthy actions. We will talk about unhealthy grief later.
Normal Grief Feelings—A List
Here are some normal feelings of pet grief that you may experience now or later in your journey.
Physical ~ crying, sobbing, wailing, numbness, dry mouth, nausea, tightness in the chest, restlessness, fatigue, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, dizziness, fainting, or shortness of breath
Intellectual ~ sense of unreality, inability to concentrate, feeling preoccupied with the loss, hallucinations concerning the loss, a sense that time is passing very slowly, or a desire to rationalize feelings about the loss
Emotional ~ anger, depression, guilt, anxiety, relief, irritability, desire to blame others for the loss, self-doubt, lowered self-esteem, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling out of control, hopeless, or helpless
Social ~ feelings of isolation or alienation, feeling rejected by others, or reluctance to ask for help, feeling alone
Spiritual ~ feeling angry at your deity after your pet died and blaming them for the loss, or even bargaining to try and get your pet back.
A Life of Its Own
As you can see, normal grief is varied and expansive. The thing about grief is that it has a life of its own. What this means is that you can be going through a quiet period of your journey when you are feeling relatively good. Then something happens, and it triggers intense, and perhaps unexpected, feelings of pet grief.
Please let yourself feel what you are going through. Let those feelings rage. Let your tears flow. It’s healthy and necessary.
Abnormal Grief Feelings
Yet, if you are ever feeling like you can no longer function with your life or if you become suicidal and any of the normal grief feelings become extreme, then that is considered unhealthy grief. This is the time to call your hospital, medical practitioner, psychologist, or a healthcare provider that is trained to help you. Do not isolate yourself if you are experiencing unhealthy grief. Get the professional help that you require.
Element 2—Reach Out
In addition to recognizing your normal grief feelings, a second essential component for navigating your pet grief journey is to reach out to someone else, as Annie did. Look for someone who will listen to every word of your conversation with respect and compassion, and share your grief experience with this person. In doing this, you will feel better about what you are going through, you will feel supported, and you will come to better understand your own grief.
Element 3—Spend Time with Your Memories
Spend time with your memories. Look at photos, write down special moments, and reflect on the intense love that you shared with your furry friend. By doing this, you can calm your raging emotions and begin to mourn your loss in a healthy way.
Element 4—Know Your Grief Feelings
Also, it is important to be familiar with your unique grief feelings. Everyone grieves differently, so get to know your own grief. Your feelings are going to be with you every single day. When I help my clients understand their grief, it becomes less of a burden or something to fear. You are going to be spending a lot of time with your feelings over the next few days, months, and even years, so it is important that you come to know those feelings and not fear them.
Spend some time responding to the three Contemplation Questions at the end of this article. These questions will help guide you to recognize your own unique feelings of normal pet grief that you are experiencing.
Losing your cherished pet is extremely difficult. Statistics show that humans will grieve longer and harder when a pet dies than a family member or friend. The reason? Your pet was your constant companion and they loved you unconditionally.
The first twenty-four hours is one of the most difficult transitions to experience.
Try to understand your unique feelings of grief and spend time just being in the moment by breathing and preparing yourself for the journey to come. Revisit the four elements I have given you in this article and begin to internalize and act upon them. Respond to the article’s Contemplation Questions to help you manage your normal, but uncomfortable, feelings of grief.
And please always remember . . . you are never alone with pet loss grief.
What feelings of grief do you have now?
How are you dealing with these feelings? Can you make a list of your feelings, arranging them from the most intense feelings first, down to the least charged?
Make a list of people you know who will listen to your story and journey. Do they provide a safe place for you to express your feelings?
If you have any abnormal feelings of grief, write down your healthcare practitioner’s contact information and have it readily available.
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Wendy Van de Poll, MS, CEOL is a certified pet loss grief coach, bestselling author, animal medium and communicator. Through her experience and working with others she teaches folks… grief needs attention so that it can teach the profound lessons of life. You can reach Wendy by clicking here. She also has many books on Amazon to help you on your journey. Her newest is Pet Loss Poems: To Heal Your Heart and Soul. If you would like to become a Pet Loss Specialist learn more here.