When We Lose an Animal Loved One

By Danielle B. Grossman, MFT

In Loving Memory of Tycho, 1999-2010.

Do not underestimate how deeply the loss of our animal loved ones can affect us. Our loved one is a part of our identity. We are everything to him. We are a part of each other — even when we are apart, we are connected.

Our loved one is interwoven with the details of our daily life. She is the witness and partner in our life story. She anchors us amid the confusion and complexity of life.

Our loved one offers us extreme acceptance and loyalty. He sees parts of us that others may not see. We feel safe with him, and allow him to see deeply into our soul.

When we lose our loved one, it can uproot our life from the core of our self to the tiny details of everyday life. We can feel lost, empty, and painfully alone. We might fall into despair about the fragile nature of life, the cruel unfairness of aging and death, and the slipping away of time. Everyday life can seem wrong, off, imbalanced. Our routine has been changed. Our companion is missing at each step of our day.

There is no right or wrong way to feel. It is normal to feel fine and even relieved one moment, and collapsed with sadness and disorientation the next.

There is no time frame for how long we are focused on the loss — it may be days and it may be months. Comparisons with other types of loss, or with how other people deal with losing an animal, are not helpful.

Our grief is what it is, and other people’s grief is what it is.

There is likely to be guilt and regret. We want another chance and more time with our loved one, and we can’t have it. We also might have had to be the one to decide to let our loved one pass on, or we might have lost him or her to a tragedy. We are prone to turn our anger about our lack of control of the situation against ourselves, and get caught in repeating thoughts about how we could have been better to our pal, and given more love and attention. We want our loved one back, and feel guilt because we imagine we could have changed the course of history.

Just as our loved one offered us love and acceptance, let us be kind and accepting with ourselves about our own unique grieving processes.

When we are grieving, it is the right time to reach out for support and ask for help, even though it may be difficult to do so. Grieving is not something to try to do alone. Sometimes friends and family know how to help with grief. Sometimes they don’t, and talking with a professional is the best choice.

Support for our grief gives us the strength to honestly face the depth of feelings we have for our loved one instead of running or hiding from that truth, or being permanently broken by it. We never ‘get over it’ when we have a major loss. With support, however, we can properly honor our loved one by carrying him or her with us, in our thoughts and spirit, as we move forward in our lives.

 

APA Reference
Grossman, D. (2010). When We Lose an Animal Loved One. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 3, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/when-we-lose-an-animal-loved-one/0005419
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.