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Consoling someone who tells you, “My pet died and I can't stop crying” isn’t easy. Their pet is like a person they share a close emotional bond with. The loss is devastating and not easy to explain to those who haven’t had the experience.
First, let me say I’m truly sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how you feel, especially if your animal companion “crossed the Rainbow Bridge” unexpectedly. I’ve lost a furry friend–a kitten. I blamed myself for her passing and felt sad for a long time.
Know that weeping and the mixture of emotions you feel are normal for grieving pet owners. While it’s necessary to take time to mourn, it’s also important to find a way to cope.
I’ll walk you through 12 effective coping steps you can follow to get you through this period of sorrow. Before getting there, I will explain why you feel torn apart, the stages of grief, and when to seek help.
Why Is Pet Loss So Hard to Cope With?
The reason the death of a pet hurts so much has to do with your special relationship with the animal. Others may not understand your sorrow and pain, which is okay. You are the one who shares a special bond with your dog or cat. You may already be aware that the intensity of your pain also has to do with these other factors.
They were not ‘just a pet’
We get closely attached to our pets as if they were a lifelong friend or family member. People might say “It’s just a pet. You can always get another one.” Not only is the statement insensitive, but also not true.
You just lost your best friend, and it feels like nothing or no one can ease the pain. While they may be trying to offer words of encouragement, they don’t make you feel good. The last thing you need is someone to tell you your beloved friend is replaceable.
They provided companionship
Pets are viewed as companions, particularly for those who live alone. If this is your case, accepting the loss may not be easy. Your pet played a significant role in their everyday life.
The connection you shared might have even spanned many years. Those factors may make coping harder, sometimes more than losing a relative or friend.
They provided emotional support
Some people have pets as emotional support companions. They provide a unique type of emotional support that human beings are almost unable to.
In fact, companion pets help you cope with medical ailments and mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression.
They offered unconditional love
Your dog, cat, fish, or bird was a living, breathing thing. They meant the world to you for accepting and loving you unconditionally. They listened to all your ramblings and didn’t judge you for your mistakes like humans do.
Pets trust you wholeheartedly to take care of them. They don’t argue with you or betray you. You also trust them to show up for you all the time. In short, your special relationship brought a unique source of happiness.
They made you feel special
Your beloved furry friend made you feel a certain special way no one else could. No wonder pet ownership in the US is so widespread. 86.9 million US households (66% of homes) own a pet. Dogs, cats, and freshwater fish are most common in that order.
Whatever your pet’s type, it’s unique and irreplaceable. That’s why it hurts so bad and why you struggle to accept they are truly gone.
Is Grieving a Pet the Same as Losing a Loved One?
Research shows that the death of a pet, no matter the type, can hurt similar to losing a human loved one. Sometimes the loss is even more devastating and the grief far more intense. Every situation is unique depending on the connection shared.
My neighbor confessed that he felt greater sadness over losing his Golden Retriever than his father. If you feel this way, there’s no need to feel guilty.
We all have blood relatives including parents we don’t have a close bond with. In some cases, they are completely absent from our lives. Your pet meant more to you because they were there with you and for you every day.
The simplicity of living with your pet companion may explain why you grieve for them more. Relationships with pets are simple and straightforward. Food, water a warm, cozy crash pad, and the occasional petting are enough to make them happy.
You also benefit from providing care. On the other hand, relationships with humans are stressful, complicated, conditional, and uncertain.
Stages of Grief When Your Pet Dies
Sorrow and grief are a natural part of the loss of a loved one, human or animal. It is normal to experience mixed emotions throughout the grief and loss process.
Typical feelings include anger, sadness, guilt, relief, and resentment. Those emotions relate to the five stages of grief model by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.
Shock is the first emotional reaction you experience before the stages of grief set in. It is a form of stress response to an unexpected or traumatic event, such as death. However, shock occurs whether or not you expected your pet to pass away.
Common symptoms of shock include wailing, confusion, or anxiety. Feeling numb, in a ‘daze’, detached, or searching for your pet is also normal. After that, things usually shift to the following stages of grief:
How Long Does Grief Last?
Psychologists pointed out that grief is unique to each individual. However, not everyone experiences all the stages or goes through them stage by stage. The grief duration and the types of emotions felt are also different for everyone.
While getting to the end of your grief is the goal, there’s no way to predict when it will be over. The average timeline seems to be 1-2 years. When it comes to companion pet loss, however, the person may grieve longer than for a human loved one.
12 Steps to Cope With Pet Loss and Grief
Finding healthy ways to cope can lessen the pain and help you come to terms with your loss. Below are important steps to assist you in working through the pain and begin healing.
The strategies work pretty much the same for pet loss by natural death or euthanasia.
#1. Process what happened
The shock of what happened can cause the brain to disconnect from reality. Denying the loss is your brain’s way of protecting you from all kinds of negative emotions. You should be able to process the loss once the initial shock wears off.
At this point, you can put your pet’s life in the context of then and now. You may find it easier to accept the loss just by beginning your healing journey here. You can always revisit this step later on to continue putting things in perspective.
#2. Identify your grief stage
Take a moment to figure out where you are in the process of grieving. Next, assess your feelings. Are you feeling numb, detached, angry, or depressed? Are you ruminating about ways you could have saved your pet from passing away?
This exercise helps you link your emotions to the stage. You’re also able to put your thoughts and feelings in context. For example, you’re likely at the denial stage if you continue to think your pet is hiding somewhere.
#3. Don’t blame yourself
Pets can die in the normal course of their daily lives. Despite this, some pet owners tend to think they’re at fault. Even though it is unhealthy to self-blame, it’s something many pet owners do to cope.
Certainly, overlooking a key safety or health detail can result in them dying. Even then, it’s not intentional. You’re also not responsible for situations you could not predict or were completely out of your control. I’m sure you did your best to care for your pet.
#4. Tune out from those who trivialize your loss
Well-meaning people can say things that do not support healing. They may say things that sound harsh or unkind in the circumstances. For example, “It’s just a dog, you’ll get over it,” or “You can always get another cat.”
Others may urge you to “stop crying” or assure you that your beloved companion is “better off now” that they’re dead. Stay away from their negativity to avoid hindering your healing journey.
#5. Set up a memorial
You may not feel like doing any activity depending on where you are in the grief process. If you can manage, schedule a day to remember your pet. Invite well-wishers and supportive loved ones to join in celebrating your pet’s life.
Memorializing them can be a major step in the direction of accepting the loss. The memorial gathering signifies the reality of what happened. Reflecting on the event in the following weeks or months can also provide a sense of closure.
#6. Allow yourself to grieve
Facing your feelings head-on helps you to actively process the loss versus burying or ignoring them. Repressed emotions will surface in the future and may be more difficult to cope with.
Give yourself permission to move through the grieving process as your brain decides.
Avoid those who try to tell you not to grieve, how to grieve, and when to stop grieving. Tell yourself, “[Pet name] was my pet, these are my feelings, and only I can decide my grief.”
#7. Practice patience
Grief isn’t something to rush. There’s also really no way to skip the stages. Your brain determines how you will feel and when. One day you may feel like you’re beginning to accept the loss.
The next day, you could find yourself very angry or denying your beloved companion is gone.
Practicing patience is a way to be kind to yourself throughout your healing journey. Accepting that it takes time can prevent frustration if you notice you’re going back and forth along the stages of grief
#8. Surround yourself with those who offer validation
Connect with friends or loved ones who show compassion and empathy for your situation. Those who love pets, are pet owners, or have experienced pet loss are usually able to relate to what you’re going through.
You’ll know you’re around people who validate your grief based on their statements. They’ll offer words of encouragement.
They’ll say things like, “I can only imagine how you feel,” I’m here to listen or help in any way I can,” or “I’m sorry for your loss. I saw how much joy Max brought to your life.”
#9. Show yourself compassion
Self-compassion is the opposite of self-blame which only makes you feel guilty and unhappy. Instead, talk to yourself kindly the same way you would to a friend who lost their furry friend.
Dr. Kristen Neff, Ph.D., Founder of selfcompassion.org said directing compassion toward yourself is a positive self-attitude. It protects you from judging yourself negatively, isolation, and depression from ruminating about the past.
Self-compassion is also a major part of self-care in regard to your mental health.
#10. Reflect on the happy moments with your pet
How you choose to remember your animal friend can make all the difference in your coping and healing journey.
Thinking back on the happy times you’ve shared can bring joy. Was it their excited eyes and wagging tail that made your day?
You could even make a list of your best moments. Creating a photo album of the happy times with my cat lessened my pain.
From now on, each time you feel yourself getting sad, counteract the feeling with a positive thought or memory about your pet. In fact, staying aware of your thoughts is a mindfulness practice that may help manage sadness.
#11. Prioritize self-care
Self-care is a way to combat stress and that persistent gloomy feeling that comes with grief. I found stress relief in planting a new flower garden in memory of my adorable kitten, Frisky. For you, it could be extra relaxation and sleep, meditation, eating healthier, or exercising.
Writing down your feelings in a journal is another way to process out negative emotions. Find someone you trust to talk to if you prefer to express your vent that way.
Staying connected to your social circle helps, in terms of preventing loneliness, helplessness, anxiety, or depression.
#12. Consider the benefits of talking to a grief counselor
According to grief experts, grief symptoms typically go away within weeks or a few months. Beyond a year may be a sign of complicated grief. You can seek help from a professional counselor if you’re stuck in grief or your daily life is affected.
A grief counselor can provide a safe, non-judgmental setting for you to talk about your feelings. They will also provide coping tools to help you deal with anxiety, depression symptoms, or insomnia.
Altogether, the steps for coping with pet loss can lessen the impact of death and shorten the grief timeline.
Final Thoughts on My Pet Died and I Can't Stop Crying
Grief is the thing that helps us come to terms with our loss, but it’s not meant to go on forever. Try to remain patient and kind to yourself in all ways. Keep in mind that grief comes in waves. Ride each one as it comes.
Avoid judging yourself if you’re progressing more slowly than you wish. Things will get better with time and acceptance. Remember accepting your pet is no longer here does not mean you have to forget about them. They will live on in your heart always.
Lastly, feel free to explore grief therapy if you’re stuck in grief after trying different coping methods. As a bonus, I handpicked 47 Uplifting Grief Quotes for Dealing with Loss and Pain, especially for you.
And if you're looking for more articles about grief, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 77 Grief Affirmations to Help You Deal With Loss
- 65 Words of Encouragement After a Loss for a Grieving Person
- 33 Comforting Bible Verses About Grief & Sadness
Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.