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5 Lessons I Am Learning As I Grieve The Loss of A Pet

Grief is something that we all go through. It is personal. It is heartbreaking. It changes you in a multitude of ways. This is not the first time I have written about grief, but this time feels different as I grieve the loss of a pet.

5 Lessons I Am Learning As I Grieve The Loss of A Pet

As I write this, it has been more than a month since my family and I put our dog down, the first pet we have had as a family. 

I have lost loved ones before, but this loss hit me hard. Perhaps it is because I had been begging for a dog for 12 years before I finally convinced my family that a 4-legged addition to our family from the local shelter was a good idea.

Or maybe it is because I didn’t realize until she was gone just how much I depended on her. It’s hard to pinpoint.

1. It’s Okay To Grieve For As Long As You Need To

Having watched a family member lose her pet in the past, I had (foolishly) half expected to deal with the grief of this loss the same way I had dealt with it then. Needless to say, I was wrong.

72 hours after my dog’s death, I was having screaming matches in my head, telling myself to get up and get on with my to-do list. I had things I needed to do; I had to be able to function. Let’s just say that I have high standards for myself. 

Nothing prepares you for loss of any kind. Grief comes and goes. You have good hours and bad hours.

You loved this animal; he or she was a part of your family, and by extension, a part of you. That loss hurts like hell. 

As a friend of mine so wisely reminded me, grief has no timeline. Grief is a healthy process, and you have the right to take as much time to grieve as you need.

2. Everyone Deals With Grief Differently

Watching my family grieve the loss of my dog and observing how I have grieved has been a lesson in the variety of ways others choose to deal with a loss. 

One member of my family chose to immerse themselves in work. Another chose to post pictures of her on social media a few hours after she passed and lean on the words of support that followed. 

I waited until I was ready to disclose that my dog had passed. I was selective about who I chose to share that information with. 

Everyone will grieve the loss of a pet in different ways; what helps one person process grief and move forward may be a step backward for someone else. Respecting your own process and the processes of those around you by giving them space and prioritizing yourself will help you get through this difficult time.

 3. Little Things Will Trigger You

I had hoped that not seeing my pet’s things would allow me to move forward faster; I was wrong. In the days immediately following her death, little things triggered a flood of memories: the times she would show up at my door expecting to go on her daily walks, the bowls she used to use, the scraps of food we would usually give her, even the sound of the door opening.

 I had a really hard time dealing with the silence that filled the house and the empty spaces that she had once occupied in the days immediately after her passing. It still bothers me occasionally.

Little things will trigger floods of memories every now and again. The things that trigger a pet owner will be different for everyone.

As a part of my grief process, I am currently reading Resilient Grieving by Lucy Hone, Ph.D. She specifically warns against what she calls the “grief ‘ambush’” the floods of memories that can be triggered by little things.

Over time, I have found that the pain associated with these little things has gradually become less acute, but it’s still there.

4. They Will Always Be A Part of You

This one was the hardest one for me to wrap my head around. My parents had moved or thrown out her things 24 hours after she passed and contacted a cremation service, which meant that for the first 2 weeks after her passing, there were hardly any reminders of her in the house, which I found really difficult to deal with.

Now that her cremated remains have been returned to us, I feel a certain degree of peace knowing that she is home with the rest of her family. Over the 4+ weeks that have passed since she left us, I have found solace in the knowledge that she was (and still is) a huge part of all of us even if she isn’t physically here. 

Your pet was a part of your family, and a part of your life even if they are no longer physically here with you. 

5. You Lose More Than Just Your Pet

When you lose your pet, you lose more than just a four-legged friend running through your house. You also lose whatever your pet provided for you. You will grieve the loss of your pet and all that they did for you and your family.

In my case, I lost the emotional support she provided me in times of stress; I also lost the routine and structure she had provided.

I have taken my time building up a new routine that fills the void of the daily morning walks that I used to have; this is a process that I deliberately chose to take my time with. There was a lot of trial and error involved as I tried to figure out what worked best for me.

Over a month since losing her, I have found a new morning routine, but I have also learned not to punish myself if I choose not to stick to it.

When you lose something that has been a fixture in your life, whether that is a job or a pet, you lose more than that one thing; you lose everything associated with it, including the life you knew. 

Mourning that life is also a part of the grieving process.

Grief is, unfortunately, a part of life; losing a pet is not something anyone wants to experience, but I am learning that it is possible to move on.

Moving on doesn’t mean that your pet didn’t exist or wasn’t a part of your life; far from it. It just means that you choose to channel the love they gave you into different avenues of your life and live the way they would have wanted you to.

About the Author

Alisa Tanaka

Alisa Tanaka graduated with a Communications degree from Lewis & Clark College in 2012. She hopes to develop a career that allows her to make a measurable impact on the world while doing something that she loves. Her interests include psychology, linguistics, and mental health. She can also be found reading, watching documentaries, and writing her blog.