If you have a beloved pet, chances are you will suffer the grief of losing them someday. While it’s hard to think about, it’s important to know that studies have shown the grief from pet loss is much like our grief after human death, but the support systems that help us get through it aren’t always there. It’s crucial to our mental health to grieve pet loss properly.
Grieving the loss of unconditional love
We often have and receive feelings of unconditional love from our pets, and that’s something that’s very rare in the human world (and perhaps it should be since it’s important for people to have boundaries). It helps explain why losing a pet is so devastating and why a pet that has passed on is so irreplaceable.
It’s normal to feel guilt over just about every part of the process, and a lost pet that never returns means pet owners don’t even get the closure the rest of us do.
No matter how you lose your pet, the enormous grief you may feel is common and shouldn’t be treated as silly or inappropriate. Studies show that when we bury our grief, it can have effects on our mental and physical health. People have even been diagnosed with “broken heart syndrome” (which mimics the symptoms of a heart attack) after losing a pet.
Support is crucial to grief after pet loss
According to Scientific American (cited below), a support system can be a crucial part of healing, especially when a person feels otherwise alone in their grief. Feeling alone may be common even if many family members were part of a pet’s life because each individual person has their own relationship with an animal.
Without support, “we are not only robbed of invaluable support systems when our pet dies, but our own perceptions of our emotional responses are likely to add an extra layer of distress. We may feel embarrassed and even ashamed about the severity of the heartbreak we feel and, consequently, hesitate to disclose our feelings to our loved ones. That additional shame complicates the process of recovery by making it more lengthy and complex than it should be.”
Losing a pet disrupts the rhythms of our daily lives, makes our homes feel quiet and lonely and robs us of the healing effects of interacting with an animal. Requests for us to replace our pet too early feel cruel and don’t do any favors to a new “replacement” animal either (since there’s no way they can act exactly like our old pet).
The truth is, we have to feel and process our grief in order to get better, and to do that we need to feel some sense of support around us. That’s why there are now in-person and online support groups for people experiencing pet loss. — WTF fun facts