Grieving the death of your pet can be unique in both its pain and suffering. When you’ve lost your pet, it may seem as if no one understands what you’re dealing with. You may think that others will ridicule you for having these feelings.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Stage 1: Shock
- Stage 2: Anger
- Stage 3: Denial
- Stage 4: Guilt
- Stage 5: Depression
- Stage 6: Resolution
Understandably, it's natural for you to want to hide your grief from your friends and family. However, seeking support to help you navigate your grief is one of the most effective things to do when faced with the death of your beloved pet.
You can look outside your circle for any support you may need. Look at the resources available to you in your community, and for tools to help you make sense of what you’re feeling. There are therapists you can consult to help you navigate your thoughts and feelings, books on grief you can read, and support groups you can join.
If the loss is recent, you may be experiencing feelings and emotions that are foreign to you - things you've never felt before. Consider the several stages of grief that you may or may not be currently experiencing.
These six stages: shock, anger, denial, guilt, depression, and resolution —don’t always manifest in every situation. The way we grieve is different for everyone, and these stages don't necessarily happen in any particular order.
One thing you may consider is allowing the natural grieving process to take place in any order that it may come. When you suppress your feelings and emotions, any unresolved grief may reappear weeks, months, or even years later. If you’re curious to know more or seeking more guidance on your grief, we’ve detailed some of the stages and subsequent feelings that may happen.
Stage 1: Shock
When your pet dies you may be shocked that they’re gone forever, or by how it happened. It doesn't matter if you expected it to happen, or if it was accidental and sudden.
You might be reeling, asking question after question to yourself what you could’ve done differently to save them. Questions like these are likely to pop up. "What if I hadn't told Pepper to fetch the newspaper?". (Then he wouldn't have been hit by the car.) What if I'd spent my savings to save Lucy from cancer? What if I didn't euthanize her?
All the "what if" questions and scenarios you can think of might be going through your head at this stage. Consider that this is just your mind trying to make sense of what happened.
You may be trying to find ways to blame yourself. Know that you don't have to and that things sometimes happen despite your best efforts. It may take days, weeks, or months after losing your pet for you to begin the grieving process. In time, the shock of their death will go away.
Stage 2: Anger
When your pet dies, you may be angry at yourself or at the world about how it happened. After the initial shock wears off, you might start feeling that all of this is unfair. That your pet was your faithful friend and companion, and you were always there for each other. You may be thinking, “Where did I go wrong to allow this to happen?”
You may even lash out at your family and friends for their insensitivity to your loss. They may say hurtful things like, “it was just a dog!” Or, “it’s not like you lost a child, you can just go get another one.”
Anger is a natural reaction to grieving. Although it’s normal to feel this way, remember the love that you had for your pet. You didn’t do anything to hurt them intentionally. This anger that you're feeling toward yourself is not fair to you, and it isn't based on reality. This too will pass as you begin to see a different perspective on how and why your pet died.
Stage 3: Denial
After the feeling of anger goes away, the denial stage takes over. You may not experience these emotions in such a clear-cut way, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you're in denial that your pet has died. It may mean that you're simply in denial of how you're feeling about it.
Sometimes it's hard to express how you're feeling. And, it may be hard allowing yourself to grieve.
When it comes to losing your pet, a lot of people don't understand how much it hurts you or how sad you feel about it. The natural reaction may be to either hide how you're feeling or to ignore your grief. Neither way is healthy. It helps when you open up about what you're feeling and allow yourself to mourn.
Stage 4: Guilt
Ah, guilt, who hasn’t felt guilty when one of our loved ones gets hurt? It’s easy to allow your mind to be filled with thoughts of what you could’ve done differently to prevent your pet’s death.
Guilt is tied directly to the decisions that we make concerning our pets. We allow this strong force to drive our thought process in making those decisions, and to blame ourselves when things go wrong.
Instead of finding fault, and feeling guilty over the loss of your pet, consider making a list of all the things you did right in their life so that you start seeing things from a different perspective. Your list can include anything that brings you fond memories of your pet.
Consider adding all the ways in which you loved and honored them daily. Did you feed them every day? Did you love them unconditionally? Did you take care of them when they were sick?
Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control, and when you feel guilty, it may be hard to process your grief and get you to the next level in your healing journey.
Stage 5: Depression
Depression may be one of the hardest stages of grief to overcome. When you're depressed, you start looking at things differently. It's as if a cloud of darkness and negativity has set in around you, and you feel like there's no way out from underneath it.
Depression may cause you to pull away from your relationships and your support group. When those around you fail to recognize that you're grieving, they may mistake your depression as a sign of you wanting your space. It’s hard for most people to consider the death of a pet as a source of grief and bereavement. They don’t even offer their condolences in most cases.
This is a good time as any to open up about your feelings so that others can understand what you're going through.
Stage 6: Resolution
The resolution phase of the grieving process is when you accept the death of your pet and move on from your grief. It doesn't mean that you forget about your pet, or that you move on to a new one. It means that you have effectively processed your grief. You have accepted that your pet has died. And, you have successfully moved forward through the stages of grief.
This can be a time for you to celebrate and honor your pet’s life through memorials, special tributes, and volunteer work. When you’re ready to say goodbye to your pet, you can commemorate their life with a special eulogy that brings back all the joyful memories that the two of you shared.
Being able to say goodbye to your pet is part of the healing process. There are many ways to honor your pet’s legacy. One of which is having a pet funeral. This doesn’t have to take place immediately after your pet has died. You may consider waiting until the grieving period has ended or is on its way to resolution.
Grief in its Many Forms is Normal After Losing a Pet
The stages of grief after losing a pet are only guidelines of what may happen after your pet dies. Not everyone will go through these stages. It is important to note that you don’t need to feel like there's something wrong with you if you don't experience any of these feelings or emotions after your pet has died.
Sometimes when you lose a pet, you may even feel relief that they have died. You still may feel saddened by their death, but you also understand that there was nothing else you could do to alleviate their suffering. Sometimes your pet will let you know when it's time for them to go.
They have served and honored you throughout their lifetime, they have been a faithful companion, and they have given you their unfailing devotion. Putting them to rest when the time has come, and honoring them in return will fill your heart with joy. Throw away the guilt and remind yourself of all the things that you did right to give your pet a good life.