Is it OK to grieve... for a pet?
The grieving process is indeed, one of the most difficult and painful things, we will ever experience as human beings. Grief usually involves an ending that we have not asked for or wanted and it is a natural response to the loss we are experiencing.
We can experience grief, not only in connection to a physical death but over a variety of issues such as:
- the ending of a relationship/marriage
- losing our friends
- loss of health or youth
- losing a child to adulthood/leaving home.
It takes time and patience, for those connected to the grieving person but more especially, for the one experiencing it. We need to learn to be gentle with ourselves, whilst we are feeling so vulnerable. In that vulnerability, we can feel an array of emotions ranging from complete and utter sadness to intense anger around the loss we are dealing with.
Many people seek support and therapy, as they go through the grieving process. The hope is that by sharing their feelings and thoughts and by exploring the stages of grief, the pain can be alleviated to some degree. A place of understanding can be found and hopefully, some peace and acceptance can be reached.
However, what if you are grieving for the loss of a pet? A dog, cat or even a goldfish. Is that OK? Are you allowed to show your feelings of loss and sadness to others around you? Will they understand? Is it OK to seek support for something like this or will you be turned away; perhaps even laughed at. Will you be thought of as a bit odd or silly, to be feeling such strong emotions of grief over an animal?
For some people, losing a pet, can be as devastating as losing a human companion. When we experience loss and an ending of any kind, such as in the list mentioned above, we go through a process and losing a pet is no different. In some ways, losing a pet can be made more difficult because of others’ reactions. ‘It was only a dog’. ‘It was a cat for goodness sake; there are worse things to lose in life’. It can feel as if there are few, if any, words of sympathy, support or understanding. Friends and family may feel they are being supportive, by trying to 'hurry' the person along with ‘why don’t you get another dog/cat’. For a person experiencing grief over the loss of a beloved pet, this can be incredibly difficult to hear.
I recently listened to a Radio 4 programme with someone talking about the unexpected loss of their dog. This particular person described it as ‘it felt like there was a power cut in the house’. When we are grieving, it can feel as if the lights have been switched off and there is an empty space where once before, there was a comfort, love, a connection to another living thing.
With a loss such as this, it may be that a hug, some supportive words and a listening ear from a good friend or family member, will do. However, it is important to understand, that for others, they can feel as if their life has been turned upside down. The loss is almost unbearable but there can be that little voice inside reminding us ‘it is silly to feel so attached to an animal’.
If you feel you are not coping with the loss of a pet and you are finding it difficult explaining how you feel to your family and friends, please know that a counsellor will understand and will not judge how you are feeling.
It really is OK to grieve... for your pet.
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About Jayne Phillips
Jayne is a fully qualified, professional Therapeutic Counsellor. A registered member of the BACP, working in private practice, in the city of Bath.