People grieve in many different ways. Know that nothing is unusual.
I trained in the “Growth and Transition” workshops of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, learning how to process events in life. She defined the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, sorrow and acceptance.
Many pet owners get stuck in denial and guilt, sometimes for years. Horse owners in particular seem prone to the guilt that comes from horses suddenly dying. Often times, these people will seek me out to talk to those animals on the other side. They cry and grieve during the conversation, and I keep an unlimited amount of Kleenex available. It doesn’t matter if the horse died six months ago or six years ago; if you do not process your grief it stays with you, like a lump in your throat. A few hours after a session, however, clients come back beaming: at peace and happy with the relationship, knowing their animal is in a great place.
1. It is okay to cry and show signs of grief. Deal with your grief honestly so you can move through it. I find that many people don’t connect with their emotions, because if they cry, they assume that the emotion becomes a bottomless pit. It isn’t. It does seem, however, that the only way to overcome the grief is to go through it. A pet loss is felt as deeply as the loss of a close family member, precisely because they are a close family member.
2. Don’t close yourself off. Connect with empathetic humans. Be kind to your self and avoid people who don’t understand. Talk about your pet with family and friends and enjoy your other animals. Look at the information on my website, AnnHoff.com, about grief.
3. Have a memorial service if you feel one would help. It can help you work through grief and will create an opportunity to allow everyone to share memories of how much they loved the pet. An important feature of any memorial service is that you are honoring your pet.
4. Let go of your pet’s essence. Who they are, in love and spirit, will always remain with you and in heaven they can be with you at the speed of thought. Honor them by allowing them to cross over and do not keep them earthbound. (If you plan on keeping your pet’s ashes, see the appendix for my ceremony for sending a pet on)
5. Decide if you want a physical memorial to your pet. This could be a tree, a flower garden, or a donation to an animal shelter that engraves their name on a plaque or brick. Remember, the shining star is the years you and your pet spent together.
6. If you need someone to talk to that isn’t close to the experience, call or email me firstname.lastname@example.org, AnnMarieHoff@aol.com .I can contact your pet on the other side, share how they currently feel and what their truth is about the experience.
7. Only you know when and if you feel comfortable getting another pet. If you let someone talk you into adopting an animal before you are ready, you may make crucial mistakes in picking a puppy or a rescue animal.
8. Grieve within your pack or herd. Other family pets can grieve so deeply that they stop eating and become lackluster. They may wander, looking for the pet that is not physically present. (My cat Speedy wandered for miles: meowing and looking for his passed brother.) The group is undergoing a major transition; make sure you spend plenty of time with them.
9. If someone besides you has lost a pet, meet him or her with tact, patience, and a willingness to listen rather than speak. It can be awkward dealing with another’s grief, but it is important to acknowledge their loss. If the person is upset about the circumstances of the pet’s passing or seems to be more upset than fits the situation, a gift of a session can be very healing and thoughtful.
Remember, there are always more animals to love and care for. I deeply love all my animals on the other side and yet, Gracie and Lucie have a new place in my heart. I also have the knowledge that I rescued them; to someone else they were throwaway dogs, while to me they are treasure. For all of us, this life together is a second chance.