How To Cope With The Loss Of A Pet

How To Cope With The Loss Of A Pet

“Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.” – John Galsworthy

A Commonly Uncommon Connection

The loss of a pet is as painful as any other loss we experience. We have unique relationships with our pets that deserve the time and care to be mourned as we would for any other family member. This article is about coping with that loss.

When my little Chiquita, as we affectionately called her, came into my life over 12 years ago, it was an unexpected but very exciting beginning to a new chapter in my life. My little Chiquita quickly became my little buddy, more like my little shadow, following me everywhere I went. Every morning I would leave and it would break my heart but also made it burst with a most elaborate welcome home at the end of every day.

Of course, we went for lots of long walks by the beach, in the woods, up mountains, she was a fearless little Maltese and as they say, what she lacked in stature she made up in spirit. I took her with me everywhere I could (benefits of a small dog), the office when possible, running errands, visiting friends, anywhere and everywhere, we were kinda inseparable.   

Related: 10 Important Lessons I Learned From My Dog

It was just her and I for a few years, with lots of people coming and going in our lives, she was my constant, and although I had many other positive relationships in my life, her’s was different, as they say with human relationships, you never love two people the same, I would say the same is true with our beloved pets, our relationship was unique and special.   

Needless to say, losing her this past August has been as difficult as I always knew it would be. It’s one of the heartbreaking realities for pet lovers, that our pets have a short life and we will be faced with having to say goodbye long before we are ready. As is the case when any family member passes, they leave a void with their absence.  

However, unlike when a human family member passes, where there is social recognition and understanding, that does not typically extend to the loss of a pet and for this reason, it can make the loss that much more difficult to deal with. Pet owners, can feel the need to move on and shame even that they are having difficulty with the loss. The grief process can feel rushed and forced, which prohibits us from giving the grief the room that it needs to heal.   

loss of a pet
How To Cope With The Loss Of A Pet

Grief And Loss Is Grief And Loss!

The pain and loss we feel are real, regardless of the form that they come in. I speak about loss issues with my clients very often, and typically it is not around death, but loss in general. The loss of a relationship, a job or health, are all losses and merit time and a process to come to terms with the changes this creates in one’s life. And, the loss of a pet is the same in that it needs to be taken seriously as the effects are the same and can lead to depression and prolonged grief if not processed appropriately.  

Elisabeth Kubler Ross made the grief cycle famous years ago, I remember learning about it in my “Death and Dying” social work class in the 1990s and it was dated then, however it remains as a helpful framework to guide us through our grief process. The grief stages are viewed with more flexibility today, acknowledging that many people don’t experience all of the stages and may go in and out of several of the stages at different times depending on the circumstances surrounding the loss.  

However, these are still some of the hallmark stages that one can expect to experience. The graphic below highlights the ups and downs we go through with each of the stages.  

the loss of a pet
How To Cope With The Loss Of A Pet
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Meredith Flanagan, LICSW

Meredith Flanagan is a Mental Health Professional (LICSW) with more than 20 years of experience as a social worker, educator, therapist, and community organizer. She has worked in a variety of fields such as domestic violence and crisis intervention, developmental disabilities, healthcare, and public education. Among her proudest achievements is being an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer), serving in Ecuador and Honduras. She has been in clinical practice for over 10 years and works primarily with clients who battle depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and Adjustment Disorder. Meredith has been working in the field of public education for the past 7 years and currently holds a position as a Special Education Administrator. Her passion is turning life’s challenges and roadblocks into opportunities and strengths that drive us forward creating new and exciting possibilities.View Author posts