Pet loss and grief

When my pet died I was devastated, finding pet counselling was a real support for me as pets are family members too. Losing a pet is so distressing but talking to friends incessantly felt self-absorbed. Lee gave me that safe space. Lee was sensitive, supportive and only a Zoom away.

Jenni B.

Lee really helped my husband and I after the death of our beloved and adored old Labrador.  We were both distraught and in a world of pain, but chatting with Lee made us both feel much better, and enabled us to start on the road to healing and recovery.  Thanks so much Lee.

Liz O.

No one looks forward to losing a pet, but the death of a much-loved family member is sadly inevitable. 

Many Aussies grew up with pets and continue that pattern well into old age. When we are young, pets are our adventure buddies, our best friends, our confidants. That relationship doesn’t change with the years –– retirees look to their animal companions to provide company, amusement, joy and love.

Did you know that here in Australia a higher proportion of Australians live in households with a dog and/or cat than a child? And that Australians spend more than $12 billion per year on pet products and services?

The Rev Barbara Allen, Spirituality and Creation Project Worker for the Victorian Synod of the Uniting Church of Australia, was formerly chaplain of Lort Smith Veterinary Hospital in Melbourne,  and she says people can feel very isolated after the loss or death of a pet.

“For some, their pets may be their only immediate family,’’ she says.

“We need to make sure they are supported and understand that it’s okay for them to feel the way they do. They just want to be listened to and have their grief validated.”

“The main problem is the hiddenness of the issue and the isolation that these people feel,” she says.

“As well as the absence of a dear animal companion, physical and mental health may be diminished by the loss of a pet. Someone’s animal companion may have been the reason they exercised, or the reason they got up out of bed each morning, or even the reason they took their prescribed medication. Animal companions love us unconditionally; they don’t ask about our line of work, our salary, comment on what we wear, where we live… they see our heart.”

Rev Allen says grieving for a pet may contain ‘different layers’ to grieving for a human but is no less important.

“There are many different types of grief. In the case of our pets, to grieve is normal, and it is an honouring of the human-animal bond,” she says.

“Grief is grief, regardless of whether the one we love, who has died, has two legs or four.”

According to Beyond Blue, grief is expressed in many ways and it can affect every part of your life: your emotions, thoughts and behaviour, beliefs, physical health, your sense of self and identity, and your relationships with others. Grief can leave you feeling sad, angry, anxious, shocked, regretful, relieved, overwhelmed, isolated, irritable or numb.

How to live with grief

Firstly, don’t try and fight grief. It is stronger than you at first and fighting it will only cause you more pain. Let your grief wash over you, if that’s what it wants to do.

Everybody’s experience of grief is different –– how one person experiences it will be different from the next person, even if they are from the same family. Let go of trying to stay in control and let your grief passage through your life. It will pass, trust me, even if sometimes you think it will last forever. 

Keep the memories of your departed pet alive –– keep a journal, write letters to your pet, plant a tree, write a song. Honour your pet’s memory and all they have meant to you. 

Be prepared for difficult days –– anniversaries, birthdays, reunions, all can trigger difficult thoughts and feelings. 

Take it one day at a time. Know that there will be setbacks but eventually the memories of your beloved pet won’t be so painful. 

If your grief persists, and you can’t shake the depression that often occurs with it, then perhaps you ought to seek out professional help. I can help you come to terms with your loss and with you find a way forward into a happier place. Call me on (08) 8120 0300 or email me at lee@leehopkins.com.au. Or use my contact form.

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