When our pet dies, they leave a hole in our heart that is difficult to explain to others.
“It’s just a dog” or can’t you get another one” are insensitive, unnecessary, and thoughtless comments often heard in unfortunate times. They may even add to the pain a person is already suffering.
Having discussed this topic with others and with a view to writing useful pieces dealing with bereavement at any level, I have concluded that being informed of the reality of grieving a pet can only be positive and helpful.
While I teased out the whys and wherefores with others, they all told me a story regarding themselves or someone they knew and their connection to their pet, and the effect of the loss of that pet.
Everyone spoke casually until their emotional connection surfaced and often their own reaction was “Oh, wow, I had forgotten about that,” or “I have no idea where that came from, I haven’t thought about that for years.”
One spoke about being so moved by an older man who came to collect an older dog because he missed his previous dog so much. She was in a clinical setting and on her monitor in another room, noticed the man taking a comb from his pocket and combing his hair before the new dog was introduced to him.
Others had observed older people walking their dogs and the pace of both is in perfect rhythm with each other, but if someone younger was walking it the dog would be quicker to move.
We see this compatibility with pets and owners when they become in tune with each other’s needs.
When we become aware of the interactions between people and their pets, we become more sensitive to how that relationship is affected when one or the other dies.
I am talking a lot about dogs as my experience is purely dog-related, but you and I know other pets have the same value and bring the same joy to families.
Often the death of a pet is the first experience a child will have of the grieving process.
It is important to remember the connection a child has with a pet, through a sense of knowing without words what each need from the other.
The child returns home to the warmest of welcomes and both love each other unconditionally.
The pet provides solace, happiness, and peace and the bond between the two can grow extraordinarily strong. The pet may live many good years but could also die while the child is still quite young.
This is therefore a perfect opportunity to allow a child to express their sadness at the loss, help them prepare and conduct their own form of ritual for the pet and support them in a child-friendly way as they go through all of it.
It will be a valuable and informative moment for the child. I see it as a rehearsal for what they may experience in their life with family losses.
Allowing the child to make a memory book, or box, sitting listening, and sharing good memories of their pet is important and gives everyone the space to be valued and validated in their journey through grief.
I say through the journey of grief because in human terms or pet terms there is no other way but through it.