By Susan Walker-Ford
In the wake of tainted pet food deaths that has devastated pet lovers across the country, the subject of grief and loss is paramount. How does one begin to accept that the unconditional love from their best furry friend is no more? How does one find understanding of such unnecessary loss? How does one reach a place of forgiveness or even hope of moving on in the presence of such pain?
Veterinarians have often listed the stages of grief in the loss of a pet as shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These are much the same stages for experiencing the loss of a human family member. What makes dealing with the death of a pet so much more difficult to express than that of human loss? First and foremost, grief over the loss of a human loved one is not only universally accepted, itâ€™s expected. The loss of a family member or friend is license to wail, scream, cry, buy flowers, and at the very least take a day off work. When one loses a pet, the same emotions may apply, but most corporations do not have a pet grief policy when it comes to paid leave. When one feels the same powerful emotions for a pet, it is often met by ridicule from non-pet people.
It’s only a dog
Just go get another cat. Shelters are full of them.
How could you pretend that an animal means as much as a person?
The list goes on and on because even though there are 360 million pets in the United States alone, there are multitudes of people who just plain don’t get it. The pain over the loss of a family member who just happens to be an animal is just as big, just as hard, and every bit as justified to the bereaved as human loss. Sometimes, the loss is felt even greater because an animal has the capability to love a master unconditionally, devotedly, and without regard to their own lives. Very few humans can muster this kind of love on a 24/7 schedule. So how does one deal with the loss of a precious pet when the world seems to discount or be unable to relate?
Here are the Top Ten Ways:
1. Feel – Allow the emotions to be as big as they need to be.
2. Release – Find a positive outlet for your pain.
3. Honor – Memorialize the lost pet in the way that makes you feel better.
4. Celebrate – Remember what your beloved pet brought you and journal the lessons and blessings taught by them.
5. Hope – When the time is right, seek peace through other animal angels.
Go ahead, FEEL the pain. Allow yourself the time it takes to be alone, to grieve, to shout, to feel anger, to blame, to forgive, to release, to cry. The bigger the pain, the bigger the release must be. Taking a day off work, even a vacation day or week, might be necessary. Some people want to feel the discomfort of burying their pet in a special place. Others want to be present when their pet is cremated. Tears and emotion must be allowed for the movement of the current of grief to pass.
Releasing the grief usually feels like a pent up rage is exploding from the center of oneâ€™s being. Physical activity like boxing a punching bag, running, heavy gardening, moving rock, or riding a bike are ways one can release the pain. Even non-physical people need a release for the anger which a natural by-product of loss. We blame our veterinarians, pet food companies, our friends, and anyone in the path of heartbreak. That.s natural. We want to scream at anyone who doesn’t understand. Instead of a negative channel, using a positive physical release can help those feelings move through us in a healing way.
Honor the pet who has been lost with a shrine, a scrapbook, an online memorial, a beautiful urn, or even a souvenir gemstone created from their ashes. Who cares if someone else finds you over the top or even silly? Itâ€™s not their loss. If someone loses a loved one, the ritual of saying goodbye is a very important one. Flowers, gravesides, services, letters to friends explaining your loss or a story about what your pet has meant are just ways people let go. One of the largest growing segments of the â€˜death industryâ€™ at funeral homes and crematoriums is pet memorials. People want to treat their pets with the respect theyâ€™ve always given. Honor is a last thank you to a best friend gone home.
Celebrate a pet through remembering. Each animal that blesses us with their love and devotion brings also, a message. They teach us. They make us better people. Beginning a daily (or more often) journaling of a special memory from a departed pet will help us remember and let go. The memories might bring tears. Thatâ€™s good. The memories might bring up pain. Thatâ€™s good. The memories might bring up laughter. Yes, when one finds a departed petâ€™s hair on a seat cushion, it becomes a loving visitation. The things that used to be a nuisance can be loving remembrances.
Hope is often found through the love of another pet. Timing is everything. Some people feel that a â€˜replacement petâ€™ cheapens the relationship with the departed pet. No pet is replaceable. But a beautiful volunteer at a humane shelter once said, â€œThe reason that our petsâ€™ lives are so short compared to ours, is so we can be blessed by manyâ€. There is so much peace in that statement. Perhaps the feeling that a new animal is â€˜sentâ€™ helps ease the pain. A picture of an animal angel sending some new furry creature to help care for their precious human is a healing picture, indeed! Take as long as needed to feel, release, honor, and celebrate the memory of an animal lost. But hope springs eternal in a new love.
For people who love someone going through the loss of a pet, unable to find the perfect words, what do you do to show that you care, even if you cannot fully comprehend the depth of pain a person is experiencing? There are several books on the subject, greeting cards, and even flowers that can help someone know that you care. There is a new book designed as a keepsake for the bereaved pet owner called, Goodbye My Friend: Celebrating the Memory of a Pet, by Devon Oâ€™Day (author of My Angels Wear Fur) with an accompanying CD of healing music by award winning songwriter, Kim McLean. The book was designed so the front cover becomes a picture frame for the beloved petâ€™s photo. As the first page is turned, the music should begin allowing the bereaved to take a visual, audible journey through their emotions of loss. The book was beautifully designed with pictures of dogs, cats, and horses to promote healing through feeling. The book/CD is new from Rutledge Hill Press and is available through all major book outlets, including Amazon. On the last page of the book, there is a link and a code for a free online memorial for the lost pet, from http://www.PetStories.com
One cannot always be an â€˜animal personâ€™, but when one loves an animal person, the right words of comfort are desperately needed at the time of loss. Devon Oâ€™Day and Kim McLean are available for interviews on the subject of pet bereavement. They are currently on a book tour with a program of readings, stories, letters, and songs which includes bookstores, churches, and fundraisers for animal rescue organizations. These â€˜booksingingsâ€™ are made available to fundraising groups free of charge.
Susan Walker-Ford is a freelance writer on a variety of lifestyle subjects. This article is based on a personal interview with Thomas Nelson author, Devon O’Day and award winning songwriter/artist Kim McLean upon release of their new book, Goodbye My Friend: Celebrating the Memory of a Pet. Devon O’Day and Kim McLean are booked extensively on the speaker circuit for presentations of inspiration, faith, pro-life, and animal organizations.
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