by Sue London, Hospice Pet Doula & Animal Communicator
Grieving the death of our pets can be just as painful, if not more than, grieving the loss of a family member or friend. Just after losing a pet, you can feel numb and lost. There are helpful steps to take immediately after your pet’s passing, and important self-care strategies that can help someone process through their grief experience.
Here are seven self-care tips to help you after the loss of your pet.
Everyone grieves differently. The process in which you might experience the pain of losing your pet might look quite different from even a direct family member living in the same house. Our grief is an expression of the love we have felt, the pain of loss and the process of having to reintegrate our life into what it will look like with the “absence” of our pet. I place “absence” in quotes because it is only a physical loss, as our pets will always remain in our hearts and their influence upon our lives will last forever. This list below is in no particular order of importance, and everyone must process within their own time frame. Be gentle on yourself.
1. Reflect upon the life you and your pet shared
Reflection can be hard, even without experience in the pain of grief. Take time to reflect either through writing, storytelling, or whatever form of expression brings you comfort. I have had clients write poems about their special pet, produce written articles and books in tribute to their pets, others have created beautiful paintings. I encourage my clients to write a list of all the amazing gifts your pet brought you. It can be easy to want to write down the pain of grief, especially in the beginning. When you focus on what your pet brought to your life this process will help you move from pain into gratitude for the time spent together. Make sure to not use this method to avoid experiencing pain, we must experience both with the grief process.
2. Set aside time to grieve in your own way and release your emotions
We live in a remarkably busy time, where there are always many things on the “to-do” list and the ability to only get a few things done in a day. It’s a time of constant distraction and people moving very quickly. People experiencing grief can feel angry that life hasn’t slowed down on the outside, due to the painful feelings on the inside. You need time to grieve and to experience your emotions fully. Give yourself the time to feel, experience, and let the emotions you are experiencing release at regular intervals along your journey through grief and daily in the beginning. Otherwise, you might find yourself stuffing your emotions which can cause more pain down the road.
3. Make sure you continue to meet your basic needs
One of the most frequent complaints in the immediate phase of grief is the complete loss of appetite. Sleep is also commonly disturbed due to our mind rapidly attempting to process through the experience. Guilt plays a role in this as well. Try, as best as you can, to continue eating and drinking lots of water. To help you sleep, I recommend a great FREE app called INSIGHT TIMER. This app has thousands of meditations to help you with sleep.
4. Choose a calming practice and do it daily
It can be incredibly frustrating and painful that the outside world doesn’t slow down. People are not generally allowed days off from work to grieve the death of our pet. Choosing a calming practice such as meditation, active focus on breathing, mindful eating, or releasing body tension is beneficial. If you are having challenges meditating, consider burning a candle and staring at the flame. Focus on the shape and how the color changes. Set a timer for 5 minutes and each day add a couple more minutes. Another option for meditating is to turn on the INSIGHT TIME app and choose your favorite meditation, close your eyes, and relax. To release body tension, go for a walk out in nature or go by your waterfront. Both are very healing and calming for you.
5. Maintain routines with your living pets as best you can
Pets thrive on routines and structure. While you are grieving, your living pets are also experiencing the loss and absence of your pet and their companion. Dogs experience grief and can search for their pack member. Cats may hide or spend more time alone, changing behavior while they process alongside you. Horses may run the fence line for some time and whinny, trying to receive a return call from their mate or friend. Try to maintain walking routines and feeding schedules as not to disrupt their process or your own. Routines allow us a sense of structure and familiarity, although the first few times can be painful. Don’t be hard on yourself. Take one day at a time!
6. Memorialize the memory and love of your pet
Memorializing the memory of your beloved pet can be a good way of ascertaining some form of closure. Some people choose to write a letter, some have funerals and services, some people create shadow boxes with their dog or cat tags and collars or imprint of their paw. Others decide that they will find a favorite space to create a memorial garden, plant a tree, and / or add a special statue and spend some time there. Some wear a piece of jewelry in memory of their pet’s life. There is never a wrong way to memorialize the beautiful experiences and of the life that was shared.
7. Seek support from understanding friends
It is important to recognize when you need support during your grieving process. Such support could look like calling an understanding pet lover friend and going on your first walk together after the death of your pet. It is important to take note that non animal lovers may not understand your grief. I have created an online community through Facebook called Sue London’s Healing Community For Pet Families. This community allows a safe space to express your grief, seek peer support, and share in the memory of your beloved pet.
About Sue London, Hospice Pet Doula & Animal Communicator
Having survived two near death experiences that gave Sue London direct witness to the “other side,” Sue London, Hospice Pet Doula & Animal Communicator has served as a bridge between the two worlds which help bring peace and even healing. Schedule an appointment with Sue London at https://asksuelondon.ca/services/