Coping with the loss of a pet

Kate BucklandBlog

Pets can be a wonderful and much loved addition to any family, however many people find coping with the loss of a pet almost as hard as dealing with the loss of a human. While Childers Woodgate Funeral Services does not offer services around pet death, burial and cremation, we understand how difficult this time can be.

In this article, we’ll talk about things you can do to help cope with the loss of a pet, and different things you can do to memorialise your lost furry friend.

When we lose a person that we love, other people accept our grief and are generally very understanding. Unfortunately, when we lose a pet we are not always met with the same level of understanding and kindness. Animals can be very central in our lives – they are our companions, our guides and sometimes our very best friends – however sometimes this cannot be understood by other people who can’t see why you are grieving over ‘just a pet’. As pet owners ourselves, if you’re grieving the loss of a pet, we see you and we understand. Many humans forge powerful bonds with their pets – they love you unconditionally and can make even your worst days seem better, so it makes perfect sense to grieve when they die.

The Stages of Grief

The stages of grief are just the same, no matter whether you’re grieving a human, an animal or a situation. Initially, you may experience denial and a feeling of numbness. This is a normal defence mechanism that protects you from the flood of emotions that come with loss. This may turn into anger – this is when reality starts to sink in, and start to feel the emotion of your loss. You might feel frustrated, helpless or cheated, and this may turn into anger directed at yourself, someone or something else or even the animal that has passed away. With time, anger may give way to bargaining. You might start to think “what if I did something differently” or “If only I had done…”. You might even find yourself trying to make a deal with a higher power, and again, this is a normal response to grief. Sadness may set in as you begin to understand the impact of your loss on your life. You might feel tearful and cry, struggle with poor appetite, experience sleep issues and feel sad, lonely and regretful. After a period of time, which is totally individual to the person who is going through the grief process, you will come to acceptance. This doesn’t mean that you are not sad, but you have accepted your loss and that you can and will move on with your life.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and no correct amount of time to grieve. Some people will grieve the loss of their pets for days, others weeks or even years.

Tips for coping

  • Reach out to someone who you know will lend a supportive ear
  • Give yourself time to experience the full range of emotions that you need to
  • Journaling, or writing down your feelings, can be a useful way to begin to process things
  • Join an online support forum for dealing with the loss of pets. There are many groups on social media platforms such as Facebook, or stand alone forums such as Griefline can be found via a Google Search.
  • Contact your vet or local animal charities to find out if they offer a pet loss support group
  • Create a memorial for your pet

Creating a Memorial for Your Pet

Making a memorial for your pet can be a wonderful way to remember them after they are gone and to pay tribute to the wonderful contribution they made to your life. There are many ways to memorialise a pet, and it can be as simple or as complicated and as cheap or expensive as you like. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Commission an artist to paint your pet from your favourite photo of him/her.
  • Buy a photo display box and put your favourite photo of your pet into it. Place some special treasures inside the box, such as your dog’s collar, a lock of hair and his or her favourite toy.
  • Place a memorial stone in your garden, even if you have not buried your pet at home.
  • Hold a memorial service or funeral for your pet. Just because this isn’t commonly done, doesn’t mean you can’t do it! Some pet cremation services even offer pre-cremation services, so if this is something that interests you, be sure to ask.
  • Create a picture memorial – collage photo frames can be purchased easily and relatively cheaply. Fill one with photos of your favourite memories from your pet’s life.
  • Place a special seat or bench in your pet’s favourite part of the house or garden. If you feel drawn to do so, you can have a special memorial plate engraved which can then be attached.
  • Create a scrapbook about your pet and your life with them.
  • Volunteer at a local animal rescue in your pet’s honour.
  • If you bury your pet at home, why not have a grave marker made to place over him/her?
  • Get a tattoo of your pet.
  • Create a nose print or footprint – you can easily purchase kits for this online.

How to help a Child Cope With the Death of a Pet

Very often, the loss of a pet is a child’s first experience of death. Indeed, many of a child’s first memories will include an animal if there was a pet in the family. It’s never easy to say goodbye, but there are some things that you can do to support your child through their grief over the loss of their beloved pet. While as a parent your instinct might be to try to protect them from these feelings, death is an unavoidable part of life. We suggest helping your child to work through their feelings with kindness, honestly and gentleness.

Tip #1 – Be as honest as possible without giving all the details

Your child does need to know that their pet has died, but they don’t need to know exactly why or how, particularly if it has been sudden, unexpected and painful. For example, if your puppy has been hit by a car, you might choose to tell your child this and that the vet did all they could, but puppy has died rather than the puppy was hit by a car and crushed to death.

Tip #2 – Be clear in your choice of words

Sometimes, it’s easy to confuse children without meaning to when it comes to explanations around death. It’s important to avoid creating hope that their pet might come back or making the child feel somehow responsible. Be gentle, but direct. Died is not a dirty word. It is better to tell them their pet died rather than they have gone away, for example, which can create hope that the pet might come back. We would also advise telling your children your pet has gone to a better place as this could inadvedently lead to feelings of guilt such as “if I was kinder to (pet’s name) maybe they would have stayed.

Tip #3 – Share your grief

Losing a pet is hard for everyone. It’s okay to show your emotions and cry with your child. This will show your child that it’s okay to show their emotions, it’s normal to feel upset and that they are not alone in their grief.

Tip #4 – Allow questions

It’s natural for children to have questions about death, and it’s important that you allow your child to ask any questions he or she might have, and to answer them as honestly as possible while still remaining sensitive (refer back to tip #1).

Tip #5 – If the death is expected, prepare your child

Sometimes, we know that it’s almost time for our beloved pet to cross over the Rainbow Bridge. If you find yourself in this situation, it is better to prepare your child for the fact that the animal will soon die rather than having it to come as a shock. Allow your child to say goodbye.

#Tip 6 – Allow your child to say goodbye in their own way

Once your pet has passed away, offer your child choices about how and if he or she would like to say goodbye and remember the fur member of your family that has passed away. Include them in decisions around memorials. They might even like to write a goodbye letter to your pet or have a small burial service. Help your child to remember the happy memories, too. A fun way to do this can be making picture collages or scrapbooks.

Final Thoughts

While it can be easy to leap back into pet ownership as a way to help with the grief, it is generally recommended to wait a while and let yourself experience the full range of emotions before buying a new pet. Give yourself time – when the time is truly right, you’ll know.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve for a pet, and there is no shame for reaching out for help for you or your child if it is needed. If you feel like some extra support may be needed during your time of grief, the following organisations can help:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Pets and People 24 hour pet loss support line: 1300 431 450