The death of an animal companion is often an extremely difficult loss. There are no words to describe the relationship we have with them; they are our child, companion, adventure partner, therapist and family member. It is no wonder we have such a hard time when they leave our sides on this earth. In this article, I will provide you with grief support insight when navigating the loss of a beloved animal companion.

Grief is like a Wound

I don’t think we ever fully overcome the grief of losing a pet. Grief can be described as a wound. In the beginning, it is open and raw. It hurts all the time. You feel it intensely. You have to nurse it to get it to heal over. As you take care of this wound, it turns into a scar. Some days it is tender. Sometimes you bump it and it hurts. You see it and remember what it is from and the story behind it.

elderly pets

Taking Care of Yourself

To turn the wound of grief into the scar, you need to care for it. Part of this care is allowing yourself time for rest and recovery; time just to yourself to breathe. Drink water, take naps, take hot baths or showers. Make sure to get food in your stomach like broth, soup or crackers (a bit of comfort food can help too). Treat yourself the way you would if you were nursing a cold or the flu.

Make Space to Grieve

Also, allow yourself time to grieve. Allow yourself opportunities to talk about what happened and how you feel. This is especially important if you must return to work or “normal” life quickly after the death. Look at pictures. Make a photo album or order a memorial item online. Plan a garden or plant something to honor your animal. Journal, paint, go for hikes…whatever helps you process your grief in healthy ways. Reach out for support if you need someone to talk to.

elderly pets

Just Breathe

If all else fails…breathe.

Just breathe.

Sit up straight on a chair with your feet on the floor.

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath and breathe out slowly.

Take another one.

Open your eyes and say “I am still here”.

Grief takes time. You don’t just automatically stop loving someone when they die. You have the right to grieve as hard for as long as you need. Give yourself some grace….and love.

Written by: Mandi Browning, Grief Support Specialist

When my cat Goku was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my world was shattered. He was 19 and it was difficult to remember life before him. I literally felt as though my child was dying. Not many people understood that.

I had friends and family that were supportive and understood what a big part of my life Goku was. I also had some that could not fathom why I was so upset about “just a cat”. Some people do not have the supportive circle to help them. I would like to be that for them. I would like to help them feel normal when no one understands why they are still sad. I would like to help them heal the wound of grief into a scar of survival. I would like to let them tell their story and validate their emotions.

Mandi Browning

Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice

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