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Pet Loss - An All Too Often Disenfranchised Grief

Remy Bibaud | 16 October, 2017

            Pet Loss - An All Too Often Disenfranchised Grief

Pet Loss Gifts Celebrate the Life of a Beloved Pet with Pet Perennials

I’d like to begin this post a bit differently than previous posts. This post is dedicated to those who care for our companion animals. You are among the finest hearts of all. So, whether you are providing rescue to animals, advocating for their safety and rights, providing nurture or veterinary care, or grooming and sitting for them, this one is for you. Whether you sell products to feed them, clothe them or honor their memories, this one is for you. Whether you foster, re-home or offer sanctuary to senior pets, this one is for you. And especially to those tenderly caring for animals in their hour of deepest need, this one is for you. We thank you all for helping them and us through the difficult times, as well as supporting us as we raise them and love them fur-ever. Pet Perennials mission is to help heal hearts and our land, one product at a time. But it is the times before memorials and recognition of the final loss that often go overlooked. The veterinarians, their staff, their receptionists, and counselors offer us much more than their skills in caring for our animals, they offer us their heartfelt support as we move through emergencies or heartbreaking diagnosis, as we move through hospice care and evaluations that all too often must end in difficult choices and the final goodbyes to our cherished companions. To all we offer our thanks.   

We are nearing the beginning of the holiday season and thus Pet Perennials would like to take time for reflective thanks. 

So, as you find ways to honor your beloved pets who’ve crossed the rainbow bridge, remember a stanza from Colleen Fitzsimmon’s poem for her Shadow called “Missing You”.  

                       I stood by your bed last night, I came to have a peep.

                         I could see that you were crying, you found it hard to sleep.

                      I whined to you softly as you brushed away a tear,

                      “It’s me, I haven’t left you, I’m well, I’m fine, I’m here.”  


Pet Loss – An All Too Often Disenfranchised Grief  

Pet loss often goes unspoken. Pet loss is often misunderstood. We feel we cannot speak of its depth. Is it because we feel if we were to share our profound sorrow that it would not be tolerated by those around us? Perhaps this is part of the reason of late I’m finding an increasing number of pet grief sites on social media. Places where others experiencing the loss of a beloved companion can share photos and stories without fear of being dismissed or ridiculed for the depth of their grief. So often I’m reading comments shared about having lost a pet a year or more ago and from the blue the pain has reared itself yet again. Or I hear of folks unable to be in their homes, running from the emptiness created when it is no longer filled with the sounds of paws racing to the door to greet them, or the silent comfort of a warm furry companion lying by our side. These grief sites are so needed. These sites often are run by grief counselors trained in helping us through pet loss. They are a refuge in our sorrow. A place to be understood and a place where we can truly be honest about the depth of our heartache.  

And just when we feel we are beginning to heal, someone asks us, “Where is your Rudi?” and the pain surfaces again and again. Or we find a forgotten toy and the pain surfaces again. Or a memory simply flashes in our mind and again the pain surfaces.  

We mourn when we lose a beloved family member or long-time friend. But grief stemming from human loss is expected and accepted. What makes mourning a pet so different?

The connection we feel with our pets may be one of the strongest connections we’ve ever permitted ourselves to feel. Unlike our fellow man, our furry companions accept us unconditionally. They know our shortcomings yet they choose to look away. We have a bad day at work and “bark” at them too loudly and most often they walk away until we regroup. Then without retribution they are back at our sides ready to sit with us or lick us or make us laugh. For many of us, the empty nesters or elderly or divorced, they are our best friends, our loyal companions, and our roommates. Without them we would spend countless hours alone in our homes. With them we have the company and love we all desire. So, is it any surprise that we mourn so deeply their loss?

When humans die the community support and understanding is ongoing. There are celebratory remembrances: flowers, cards, eulogies. And there is an accepted period of mourning, often months or even a year. Friends visit and talk about our loss. It is validating. Pet loss in contrast often results in what might be considered a “disenfranchised” grief. All too often you’re expected to return to work and be fully (and happily) engaged in life. No one sends you flowers (well rarely) and if your grief persists for longer than a few days (or weeks) family begins to worry about your mental health. We must cover costs of medical care, often paying for it long after the pet has passed. And the process of burial may be lacking comforting rituals and filled with lonely grief. Fortunately, some of this is changing and there are progressive companies offering pet bereavement time off. And there are pet insurance companies that offer affordable insurance for our four-legged companions that provides an affordable way to gain that expensive treatment that in a time of need can be a huge help. And there are many products offered to memorialize the pet, although expense may be a barrier.  

We want to lead the way to change. We want acknowledgement of a person’s pet loss to be the “norm.” We want to bring pet loss and the grief it brings to the forefront so it is no longer disenfranchised but accepted and supported, no longer a lonely heartbreak.  

When you know someone (and we all do) whose pet passes, take the time to send a remembrance. Send a card, pick up the phone, stop by to chat with them. At Pet Perennials we offer families a healing activity to do together – our Make it Yourself Pet Perennials Kits. The activity is a way for families to discuss their loss, and talk about life beyond the physical. Often a child’s first experience with death comes through the loss of a beloved furry family member. And our Healing Hearts candle makes a wonderful way to remember someone’s loss. It is the only pet memorial candle containing a keepsake heart and message from the pet from across the rainbow bridge. Lighting a candle is an accepted way of remembering a soul that has crossed. Doing the same for our animal companions is a thoughtful way to let someone know you understand and you are there for them.  

As Henri Nouwen said, to console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden.” We all need to give it and we all need to receive it.  

So as this holiday season begins, it can be joyous for many but equally as sad and difficult for those newly dealing with the loss of an animal companion. Their absence is felt stronger, and the memories are there. Each holiday ritual lacks the presence of their beloved pet and brings a renewed sadness of their loss. Often there have been years of holidays with their pet. Or as those sharing in the grief sites have explained, often there have been just weeks or months with a new pet before unexpected loss occurred. Either way, their loss is real and the absence of the pet at the holidays brings a new type of pain that may surface bringing a debilitating sense of sadness.  

If you or a someone you know is coping with the loss of a pet, suggest joining a pet grief group… whether online or at a local shelter. Share with those that understand. Reach out to others. The holidays are a time for thanks. And the holidays are a time for memories. Let us help. Let others help. Be someone’s help.  

Let the season of thanks begin. Let the season of hope begin.  

Blessings to all. And our deepest condolences to those in need. Remember, the loss of a companion animal may be one of the most heartbreaking experiences in one’s life. Don’t let someone's grief go unacknowledged. Don't let someone grieve alone. Pet loss breaks hearts. Pets are family. 


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