Starting the New Year with an article about grieving might seem gloomy and perhaps, even, downright inappropriate. I feel, however, this is one of those topics, which we are obliged to consider as we step into the New Year filled with dreams of happiness and hopes of prosperity. Busy planning many ambitious projects, we leave absolutely no room for those very normal, but oh-so-unwelcomed moments when we have to face loss and sadness.
Generally, speaking when people are confronted with a loss of a loved one, it is utterly devastating. And no matter how prepared one thinks s/he is – it almost always feels unexpected. The world becomes so dark that it seems the shadow of death falls upon every aspect of our lives. Losing my grandmother in 2017 was so unbearably shattering that I even contemplated my own life.
What makes things easier for those of us who lost our family member is the outpouring of support from the community. Our loving family, friends, co-workers offer consistent empathy, sympathy, emotional support and loving comfort. And time is not a factor – we are allowed to feel and express our grief as long as we need to heal. Sharing it openly and without fear of public judgment helps us heal not only because of the passing of time, but also due to the very support and encouragement of others around us. I am certainly grateful to all who have understood, recognised, validated and embraced my devastation and helped me to somehow see that life without my grandmother on Earth is still worth living.
Yet, when we lose our pets – who undeniably become our soul companions, best friends, and often the only confidants, the support of the community can be rather selective. Things can get very awkward. No doubt, many will offer general sympathy and kind words, but things do become uncomfortable when we cross those “limits of grief” socially allocated for pets. People feel almost embarrassed with witnessing what they feel is “overwhelming” grief for the loss of our pets. I have witnessed many times in our own clinic that those who lose their pets, stricken with shock and sorrow, try to hide their devastation as if it was a shame or some inappropriate emotion to have. I have heard partners and friends of grieving pet parents quietly whisper to me with an little eye roll “she/he has gone a bit foolish with grief – it’s a dog – time to get over it”.
I assure you that losing your animal companion is no different than losing your human family member. It is now the common consensus among psychologists and sociologists globally. The emotions of loss, darkness, grief, sadness, and even depression is real, normal and should never be dismissed as inappropriate. Anyone who tells you otherwise has either never had, lost or been loved by an animal.
Here are few guidelines and helpful hints for you to remember when and if you have to deal with the loss of your furry family member this year:
Seek companionship and empathy from those who share your passion for animals.
It is likely that people who love and have/had pets will be your best emotional support. They will understand your pain and also, your struggle to appear “normal” while expressing your grief socially. They will likely to be the best source of useful advice, proactive empathy and validation of your feelings. Personally, I think there is nothing more valuable than being allowed to mourn and being validated in moment of mourning; to finally exhale and allow yourself not to feel “crazy” because for you it was not “just a cat”.
Write about your feelings and prepare a memorial for your dearly departed pet.
Personally I found that writing about my feelings on social media – Facebook and Instagram – gives me an opportunity to indirectly reach out to my community of friends. I wrote extensively about how I experienced the losses I faced this year and many friends offered public comments and private advice that has helped me a great deal. It does not take away the pain; but it does make you feel less alienated, less lonely and more embraced by others. Preparing photo and video memorials helped me to almost travel back in time and relive the happy memories, which made the losses less painful.
Choose a burial that is right for you.
Here, again, there are no rules you should be forced to follow.
You may and in fact, must do as you feel most restorative for you. When your pet passes, you may choose your local pagoda to cremate your pet; alternatively, you may bury the body in the land; you may decide to scatter the aches over the Great River or commit it to the earth in a small ceremony. You may want to keep the ashes in an urn or maybe, plant a tree over the grave in their honour. And there are some of you who may want not to witness your pet after their death and that is completely OK too (as long as you ensure that the body is properly cared for in whatever way that is most appropriate by your trusted friends, vets or animal welfare organisation). In short, do not allow public opinion to influence your way of saying goodbye to your best friend.
Other things to consider when a furry member dies is how it affects other family members, especially if you have other pets, elderly people or kids in the family. Everyone will be affected by the departure.
With other pets, they may lose appetite, whimper and even become depressed and clingy. Monitor them and give them a lot of extra love and care during the first few weeks of your loss – it is good for them and for you.
For the elderly, Humane Society of Canada says that “coping with the loss of a pet can be particularly hard for seniors. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. A pet’s death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind caregivers of their own mortality. What’s more, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the caregiver and that the decision to get another pet hinges on the person’s physical and financial ability to care for a new pet. For all these reasons, it’s critical that senior pet owners take immediate steps to cope with their loss and regain a sense of purpose.”
Finally, the kids will most benefit from honest conversation about death of your pet. Psychologists suggest that shielding your child from the truth, lying that the pet ran away or “went to live on the farm” maybe damaging in the future and the child will feel betrayed when they do find out the truth. Showing and sharing your own grief will also be validating the child’s feelings of loss and thus, will help them go through the process.
Finally, I suggest not rushing to get a new pet in an attempt to close the void left by the one you lost. Take your time, allow yourself to grief and let go of the darkness. Immerse yourself in the beautiful memories and be grateful that you have been lucky enough to be loved by your animal: after all, being loved by an animal is a privilege only some of us deserve and can truly appreciate.
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311