Pet Loss: Grief Support & Pet Remembrance

by Mary Haight on October 5, 2015

hidbannerad_250x250This post is sponsored by Heart-In-Diamonds.com. All thoughts are my own. While I have received compensation for this post, I don’t write about or suggest products I wouldn’t use myself.

Loving another species, sharing your home and life with them is a special gift. It is, if we are properly tuned in, a many years long lesson in what it means to be human. Pets have a way of showing us our strengths and weaknesses.

From the time we bring pets home to their senior years, we teach them to make safer choices (chew, scratch, nibble this, not that), play nice with their friends and ours, find activities that make them happy and confident (without destroying anything), enjoy the good days and hope for few of the bad.

While there are always moments of chaos and more than a few examples of heart failure they nearly caused, without doubt we love our pets. They become so much more than that sweet bundle of furry kisses we first encounter. Pets are silent witnesses to our daily lives, the keepers of our secrets, and are wonderful listeners, ready to share a toy or a snuggle to cheer you up.

It’s the memory of those crazy moments of upheaval – the chicken stolen from the counter and the not-so-merry chase around the kitchen island – that make you laugh the loudest when as seniors they’ve lost the agility needed to get away with it, and then make you cry the most when they’re gone.

Grief Support

Memorial websites and virtual pet loss support groups are easy to find. Fee-based bereavement counselors are likely available in your hometown, and your vet may be able to recommend someone.

Free hot-line grief counseling is available from trusted sources, such as Universities with veterinary programs, and the ASPCA if you find it too much to bear alone. There’s also an Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement online.

While this may be one of the first deaths we experience as children, it does not mean it gets easier because you’re an adult.

“In his grief over the loss of a dog, a little boy stands for the first time on tiptoe, peering into the rueful morrow of manhood. After this most inconsolable of sorrows there is nothing life can do to him that he will not be able somehow to bear.” – James Thurber

If you need grief support, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone. Denying or keeping it secret only leads to problems and a prolonged grieving process. No one should feel shame at grieving their pet. Pets have been “family” for a long time now. Those friends and colleagues who have no pets need not understand, but simply respect your feelings.

Remembering Your Pet

How you’ll remember your little angel is up to you. Keeping them alive in memory is part of the healing process.

You need not be content with albums of photographs online or off. There are other interesting choices:

  • Paintings, drawings, and statues are commissioned
  • miniature ceramic pieces are made using pet’s hair
  • stuffed toys in the likeness of your pet designed to securely hold a container of ashes
  • beautiful memorial diamonds and other precious stone jewelry created from hair or ash are available, a wearable daily reminder.

As pet lovers all experience the pain of pet loss, if there’s something that’s lightened the load for you, please mention it in the comments?

34 comments
CarleenPruessCoulter
CarleenPruessCoulter

I've been thinking ahead on this topic with my dog with cancer. I plan to have some paw prints made of him and I am making a memory book.

ThePlayfulKitty
ThePlayfulKitty

Grief is so difficult. The last time I lost a pet, it felt like the world had ended. I was a mess. Being an adult doesn't help at all. I'm glad to see that there are grief counselors available for free for people. I have been able to use a lot of that pain in different forms of art, including writing. 

-Purrs from your friends at www.PlayfulKitty.net

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@ThePlayfulKitty I hate that part of being a pet parent, and I understand what you're saying. I fell apart as a teenager when my cats died, and when my first dog died, I was 32 and it was devastating. This whole idea of hotline grief counselors free of charge is such an excellent one -- often family is not as sympathetic as you might have hoped and talking to someone is important to healing. Thanks for sharing that, Robin =)

OlfaTurki
OlfaTurki

We love our pets like our own kids. It's too hard when we lose one. It's great to know that there are support groups to help us recover from the loss.

christycaplan
christycaplan

The grief hotline is a wonderful suggestion as I attended face to face counseling at a local emergency hospital and found it quite helpful. 

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@christycaplan I wonder if the local emergency hospitals have signage for pet loss counseling? I never noticed any, but it's been a very long time (thank dog!). Yes, I love the convenience factor of a hotline, especially for people that are house-bound, transport challenged, or want to take a step by step approach. Thanks for stopping by =)

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CathyArmato
CathyArmato

Its true, it really never gets easier no matter your age. Each pet carves out a special place in our hearts that only they could fill.

Love & biscuits,

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@CathyArmato It's so devastating for so many, and I think it's an excellent idea to talk to someone, if not a hotline then a friend or sympathetic family member. Having a keepsake, whatever your choice, is also helpful to the healing process. You're so right, there's that place in our hearts that belongs only to them. Thanks for sharing!

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Sweet Purrfections
Sweet Purrfections

I couldn't have made it through losing Sweet Praline 4 years ago if it hadn't been for my cat blogging friends.  I also went through psychotherapy sessions with a psychiatrist because I was so devastated.  

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@Sweet Purrfections Hats off to you for knowing yourself enough to get professional help. That's exactly what it's for and unfortunately so many think they can "tough it out" -- not advisable. Psychologists and Psychiatrist's can help give you the tools you need to manage your perspectives on loss. Often we sweep all our losses into the present loss, compounding emotions and so fall down the rabbit hole of depression. Having something tangible that represents our companions, who die always too soon, can help us heal and eventually smile at all the wonderful memories we have. Thank you for sharing =)

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KimberlyMarieFreeman
KimberlyMarieFreeman

To lose a pet is the same pain as to lose a relative.

When I lost my heart dog, it hurt for years.

I bought an angel wings necklace in memory of him 

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@KimberlyMarieFreeman I know, how could we not feel that way when in effect we have been catering to our pet's every need, pets that are like having a two year old around, all day everyday for 10 - 16+ years? The necklace sounds perfect. Thank you for sharing, Kimberly Marie =)

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thedogtraininglady
thedogtraininglady

It's so important to memorialize your pet.  I had many over the years and wish I had done something more special then just pictures.

It's also nice to know that there are grief counselors, many people when this is their only companion, the grief can be devastating.  Thank you so much for sharing.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@thedogtraininglady I really appreciate this idea. Photos disappear into albums, on or off-line, and I agree don't seem enough of a tribute, nor do they feel like a summation of our lives together. I would choose something I could carry with me or wear rather than a photo collage...of course, both would be even better! Thanks for adding to the conversation!

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tenaciouslittleterrier
tenaciouslittleterrier

Mr. N is our first dog so I haven't had to deal with it yet... The animal ER here offers pet loss support groups and art therapy, I think. 

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@tenaciouslittleterrier That is good information to have. It's something none of us want to think of, but should have available in memory when the time comes. I wasn't able to have a dog until I was an adult, my dad was afraid of them. Oddly, it was my Lhasa that my dad fell in love with! What a godawful mess I was, and if there were things like that available, they were not well-known in the 80s. We're lucky to have so many options now. Thanks for stopping by =)

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VegasRockDog
VegasRockDog

This is such a helpful post wit lovely remembrance ideas.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@VegasRockDog Thanks, Sam! I saw your wonderful plaster/notplaster work of paw in hand -- wonderful work and heartfelt keepsake! Thanks for stopping by =)

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PetGuideTweets
PetGuideTweets

I really like the idea of a gemstone as a remembrance 

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@PetGuideTweets Someone mentioned it's something you can take with you everyday -- yes, that ever-present idea is really an attractive one =) Thanks for stopping by!

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mattiedog
mattiedog

We had never heard of da gemstones approach until we read your post! We lub dis option as a forever keepsake. Thank you for sharing!

petsarefound
petsarefound

Thanks for highlighting the gemstones option - I have seen urns, garden stones etc, but not something so small that we can discretely keep it with us wherever we go, which appeals to me.

Hopefully I won't need to use the link for a very long time however.

Annette x

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@petsarefound I like that idea, of carrying something of your pet with you, Annette. I am grateful for every day Tashi stays with me -- at 16 it's a little breathtaking! Thanks for adding to the discussion =)

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ChroniclesCardi
ChroniclesCardi

My parents are going through a tremendous heartbreak over the loss of their 8yo Sheltie to throat cancer. I mean bad. :( Thanks to being immersed in pet blogging, and learning from others in the community who've experienced devastating pet losses, I've felt more equipped to talk to them about it. That said, I can't take the pain away. I sent them a few things from Dog Mountain in VT (including books) that have seemed to help some. Didn't know there are pet bereavement hotlines - might have to look up those numbers for them. 

dancingdogblog
dancingdogblog

First, I am so so sorry about your parents and the loss of their Sheltie. If you hit the ASPCA link, there's a hotline number at the bottom of the page. Thank you for sharing, illustrating how hard this is on people.

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annstaub
annstaub

I love this post and your suggestions for getting help and remembering your pets. As someone who has had to help many, many pets make their sad journey to the other side it's still always a challenge. I never was good at comforting the pet parents of animals that had just passed. I just tried to be as nice and accommodating as possible. 

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@annstaub Sorry to be late responding - unfortunately, I'm discovering I can't trust mobile. Thank you for saying that, Ann, and what a difficult thing it is to be a vet tech and deal with that reality -- emotionally taxing to put it mildly. (On a side note, I hope veterinary practices are clamoring to get compassion fatigue training.) I think pet parents are often overcome at that point and the best you can do for them is to be "nice and accommodating". There is so much that goes into good veterinary work, and I deeply appreciate and marvel at the resilience shown in the face of what must feel overwhelming day after day.Thanks for sharing  =)

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DaisyFrenchie
DaisyFrenchie

It is so very difficult to lose a pet.  We lost two pets within two months of each other - one due to old age and the other due to an unexpected and rapid illness.  Our entire family felt lost.  Besides talking and crying, and laughing and remembering, time has been the only thing that has helped us learn to live without our fur-babies.  

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@DaisyFrenchie  That is awful and yes, so incredibly hard to lose them both in succession. My mom was bereft when that happened to her two Shih Tzus, so I understand just how heartbreaking that can be. It is such a relief to have a family to help process feelings and memories, and to understand when you're feeling low. Many people do not have that lifeline. Talking to someone who will sit an listen helps the healing process. I'm so glad there are hotlines for people who need them, and that they are cost-free. Thanks for sharing your story =)

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JaneaKelley
JaneaKelley

For me, ritual has helped. After my Siouxsie Mew died, my best friend and I went to the ocean to release her ashes to the sea. We lit incense, shared some memories of Siouxsie, had a good cry, and then recited the Buddhist Heart Sutra, which ends with the phrase "Gaté, gaté, paragate, parasamgate -- Bodhi soha!" (Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone far beyond -- what beautiful Enlightenment!).

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@JaneaKelley Rituals play an important role in honoring those who have died. We need to say goodbye in a way that makes it real, especially in the case of the unexpected event, and go through those motions, even though letting go happens over time. It sounds like a lovely ceremony, Janea, thanks for sharing that =)

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