The full impact of pet loss is often not appreciated.
Too long people have had to grieve the loss of their pet in silence – keeping a stiff upper lip.
The reality is that often people are affected more greatly by the loss of their pet than they are when losing a parent.
There are a number of reasons that the grief for a pet can be more acute than for a person. Pets for example, are able to love unconditionally. They place few demands on the relationship (food and companionship usually the extent of their demands).
It is often therefore easier to develop a bond with a pet that is greater than that which we experience with other humans in our lives.
Unfortunately the support that we receive in times of pet loss often does not reflect the significance of this bond. Reactions range from “it was just an animal” to “its no big deal – get another one.”
We cannot go to our boss and ask for time off work to grieve without being subjected to humiliation. It is not normal for people to send flowers, or cards. We do not hold public funerals.
This general response of ignoring the tragedy by society at large only increases the sense of loss and helplessness that a pet owner faces.
The death of a pet can also trigger other grief that compounds the feeling of loss. For example it may die in a manner similar to that of a parent, or it may have been the favorite pet of a recently deceased spouse. These kinds of memories and emotions trigger overwhelming responses that an outsider will not understand or appreciate.
Two groups often affected the most are children and elderly.
To a child a pet is often a surrogate parent – left with much of the baby sitting duties by two busy parents. They become a companion that is often with them they have their greatest personal triumphs. Losing the pet they have spent much of their short lives with is often their first experience with death and is often misunderstood.
Elderly, like children, often find that most of their time is spent with a pet. Many times caring for their pet will become their sole purpose for living. The pet is also often the only link to their past, especially if they have lost their spouse and have moved into a care facility.
Dealing with the loss of a pet is different for everyone.
Some of the common ways to assist a family member or friend to cope with their loved pet include: recognizing the significance of the pet in their lives; being open to talking about their pet if that is what they want; creating a memorial that will help give closure and an ability to express the grief they feel, as well creating something that will allow their memories to live on.
One thing that you must not do, especially with children is lie. Do not say the animal is sleeping or has gone away. This will often create a fear in a child that sleep is permanent or that when a family member goes away they may not come back.
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