A Different Grief: Coping with Pet Loss (including Guidelines for Helping Children)
Lesson 1 - Pet Loss: An Introduction
By Marty Tousley
Moment of Reflection
As you begin this first lesson, take a moment to ponder the quotation below:
"I have held the hands of friends as they died, baptized stillborn infants, helped families decide when to disconnect life-support systems and worked with parents whose children were murdered. Each of those experiences was painful. Nevertheless, at the moment my cat died, her loss was the very worst kind of grief for me in the whole world . . .Never apologize for grieving. Remind yourself as often as needed that the very worst kind of loss is always yours. Learn to acknowledge that your loss is worthy of grief . . ."
- Bob Deits, Life After Loss
Dear Animal Lover,
Is this your child(ren)'s first experience with death?
- Are you comfortable guiding your child(ren) through this experience?
- Are you surprised at your child(ren)'s reaction, or even overwhelmed at the depth of your own grief?
- Do you feel isolated from others because they tell you "it's just a pet" and they don't understand how you feel?
- Do you feel guilty because the grief you feel at the thought of losing your pet matches or even exceeds the sorrow you felt when one of your close friends or relatives died?
- Is this normal and healthy?
If your family is mourning or anticipating the loss of a cherished companion animal, you already know that you are in need of information, compassion and support. You deserve to feel comforted, understood and acknowledged as a person in grief, and reassurance that you are normal and healthy in loving your animal so deeply.
The lessons in this course are designed both to help you and your family understand and cope with the grief of losing your pet, and to guide you and your children along the way toward meaningful growth, healing and inspiration.
Why I did I write this course?
Although I've loved and lost a variety of pets over the years, it's only been in my adult years that I've come to realize and appreciate the enormous joy my companion animals have brought me, and it was the death of my very special little dog Muffin in 1986 that set me on my present course. I was astounded to find that I was totally unprepared for the whole experience - not only for my dog's sudden and unexpected death and what to do with his remains afterward, but also for the intensity of my reaction.
It wasn't that I was unfamiliar with grief - by that time in my life I had already lost to death a newborn infant, my father, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and several close friends. In my practice as a therapist I had been studying death and dying and specializing in bereavement counseling for many years.
But it was the devastating death of this particular little creature - to whom I'd become so strongly attached - that made me realize how profound the loss of a beloved animal friend can be.
Understanding the Level of Attachment
Trying to sort through my feelings and better understand my own reaction, I began to investigate the nature of people's attachment to their animals, reading all I could find on the human-animal bond and learning all I could about other people's reactions to the loss of their companion animals.
I soon came to realize how important it is to understand and respect the person's level of attachment to a terminally ill or deceased pet, the role the animal played in the person's life, and the significance of the loss from the person's point of view.
Over time I began to understand and accept my own profound loss and was able to find meaning in the midst of my grief. Today my work with bereaved animal lovers combines my background and training in counseling with my respect for the bond people have with their animals, and with my own experiences of healing from the loss of both human and animal loved ones.
Why do I refer to pet loss as A Different Grief?
When you lose a cherished pet, you may feel embarrassed or uneasy about expressing your grief. You may even be left with the feeling that you don't have a legitimate right to grieve.
Our culture simply isn't comfortable with the subject of death, and few of us know how to cope with the pain of loss and grief in general, much less with that of losing a beloved pet. In our society, grieving over a pet is not generally accepted behavior. There isn't much support offered to grieving animal lovers, and you may feel very isolated and alone.
However well meaning their intent, some people may not recognize the closeness of your relationship with your pet or the significance of your loss, telling you that "it was just an animal" or "you can always get another."
When a pet dies, there are no formal and public rituals where sorrow and tears can be expressed and shared. Unlike what usually happens when a person dies, in this instance there is little opportunity either to talk about your loss or to receive empathy and support from others.
Even your religious beliefs may lead you to conclude that such pain over a dead pet is exaggerated or unjustified.
Because of your own discomfort with the subject, you may be tempted to provide your children with incomplete or distorted information about the nature and circumstances of your pet's death - and coping with children's direct questions and emotional expressions of grief can be difficult, especially if you were equally attached to the pet. Everyone may end up grieving alone, afraid to reveal your true feelings and not relying on one another for support.
If you've had little or no experience with the grief that accompanies the loss of a beloved pet, you may be caught off-guard and feel totally unprepared to deal it when it happens to you and your family.
Consider these questions:
What are the most important things you can do to help your child(ren) deal with this grief appropriately?
Are you wondering whether your own and your family's reactions are normal?
Is your family prepared for what lies ahead as you journey through this loss?
Do you need additional guidance, support or information?
Click link(s) below to order, access, or learn more about resource.
This week's suggested Web site: www.petloss.com
Consider posting a message in the "Loss of a Pet" Forum at our Grief Healing Discussion Groups site. See
Few of us are prepared to face the excruciating pain associated with the
death of a beloved pet. We think we cannot bear it, that to feel such sorrow
is abnormal, as if we're going mad. We think there's something wrong with
us, or something unnatural about our feelings.
Yet pain over the loss of an
animal friend is as natural as the pain we'd feel over the loss of any
significant relationship. Our pets offer us a kind of loyalty, devotion and
unconditional love that cannot be found in the more complicated relationships
we have with relatives, friends and neighbors. Is it any wonder that we feel
so devastated when all of that is gone?
When you and your family are armed with some knowledge and understanding of the grief that
accompanies the loss of a cherished companion animal, and know what reactions
you can normally expect and how to manage them, you'll be able to face the
weeks and months ahead more readily. This course is designed to help you do
In Our Next Lesson
We declare your rights as a grieving animal lover.
Your Friends at Self-Healing Expressions
Course Number 6; Lesson Number 1
Course Length: 24 lessons
Recommended Course Pace: weekly receipt of lessons