Coping with pet loss
A guest Q&A series by Pradeepa Rao
I would like to dedicate this article to all the grieving pet parents who have experienced the loss or are anticipating the loss of their beloved pet. This is for all the unconditional love you shared with your pet.
It is important to understand that when we talk about pet loss, we are not just talking about loss via death. Pet loss can occur in many other ways, e.g. pets that go missing, have been kidnapped/stolen, have had to be given up due to separation from family/partner/due to financial reasons. Each of these situations is valid enough to be considered a loss depending on how deep the bond between the pet and pet parent is/was.
In a country where mental health is becoming important only now, although people have been advocating for it for a few years, it is a sad observation that the death of a pet is still not considered a valid enough reason for impacting one’s mental health. This includes family and friends who come under the “non-understanding” umbrella of the societal view on this matter. What does that do to a grieving pet parent? It often leads them to distance themselves from the very support system they thought they could rely on, for fear of being judged, and resign themselves to living with the pain. Hence, I hope to be able to a source of some effective guidance on how to deal with this immensely difficult reality of life:
- How does one cope with this massive loss? Every few days I’m reminded of her absence.
The answer lies in the question itself. The loss is massive. Which also means it is life-altering in more ways than one. The death of the pet might mean the end of physical suffering for them but be the beginning of emotional suffering for the pet parent. Often, during the initial mourning period, pet parents tend to receive suggestions or comments that, although intended to make one feel better, are mostly unsolicited and unhelpful. Reduced concentration, change in sleep and eating habits, and feeling numb, miserable and hopeless are natural reactions to the grief of losing your pet. Allow yourself to feel all of it, as and when they occur. I would take dealing with deep pain in everyday life any day over bottling it up and isolating ourselves to avoid feeling anything for fear of being judged or misunderstood. Again, both these are natural reactions to the loss. Every individual is different, and neither of these ways is a wrong way to react. We cannot say how long and intensely these feelings will last. Grief is a very complex emotion that unravels at different paces for different people.
The void is here to stay, unfortunately. That does not mean you have to live with pain constantly. Why remember just the painful passing of your pet? Celebrate the moments that made them unique. Yes, there has been a shift in the emotional and physical elements of our relationship with them. It only proves that our bond with them is unique, beyond the realms of mortality and full of memories that deserve to be cherished and celebrated. Remember, your pet never taught you to be sad or live an unfulfilled life. If anything, they filled it with the kind of love that not everyone is lucky to experience. Thank them for it by doing your best to live a life full of love, even if you break down remembering them now and then. Honour their legacy.
- How do you prepare yourself for it? How do you deal with the guilt that comes with the subject of euthanasia?
The sad truth is that you can never be truly prepared for a loss as impactful as this. Death is a reality that can evoke the most undiscovered emotions in us. Life will inevitably go on after we lose an important part of our lives, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt to do so. You might want to constantly remind yourself to be kind to yourself. We tend to be the harshest on ourselves — filled with guilt, rage, sadness and many other things. Accepting that this is a new reality, validating your feelings and fearfully stepping into a life without your pet’s physical presence are all phases that will take their own time. You have to be your own best friend during this time. A lot of times we feel cheated because our pet passed away or had to be let go for medical reasons beyond our control. This wrecks our minds with a sense of guilt/ what-ifs and buts. We should remind ourselves of three things as often as possible:
- You did everything humanly possible, within your means to help your pet deal with whatever took them away, in the best possible way you could.
- Was your pet merely surviving, or were they thriving? Were they in undeniable pain? Undeniable pain- this is of utmost importance! You wouldn’t want your pet to simply be present physically, only existing as a semblance of the entire personality they once were. The kindest gift we can give our pet is a life free of pain and let them go with dignity should the call need to be taken by us. They deserve that respect from our end after we have tried everything to keep them around.
- Mortality is a truth we cannot evade. We cannot play God.
- Getting another pet to fill the void — good/ bad/ subjective?
No rule dictates how you should act regarding getting another pet. The only thing you have to be mindful of and understand is that this is not a “replacement of the loss” that you are going through. The relationship you will share with a new pet will be a fresh one. It will be unique because they are a new being in your life. The decision of getting another pet may not distract you from the pain but might help fill the void to some extent and help your hurting heart. Sometimes you know you are ready for another pet; sometimes you don’t know until you get one home. Neither of these approaches is wrong as long as your intentions are pure and you do right by the new kid in the family, no matter the situation. They would be your new responsibility instead of them having to work hard to undo your grief. That will happen naturally as time passes. You have to think about whether you are ready to invest emotionally, financially and physically in this new responsibility you intend to get home.
- How do you deal with the memory of your baby dying in your arms? Feeling helpless.
We often hear statements such as “Time heals everything”, which are well-intentioned but often, not very helpful. Yes, time helps, but only by helping you learn to deal with the pain. Dealing with the memory and hurt requires work on our part. We try to “be strong” because we have been conditioned to believe not to show our weak side or deal with it. This is also a result of not wanting to be judged by society. After all, for most people, “It was just a pet”.
And that is the issue. We are told to minimalise the way we feel about losing our pet. Being strong and keeping busy doesn’t make our experience vanish; it only delays the mourning and healing process. Allowing yourself to feel the emotions, validating that whether or not they hold for anyone else, they are genuine for you, is the first step towards helping yourself heal. There is no coming back from death. But there is a whole lifetime waiting for you to remember your pet for more than them passing away. They were more than just that one incident. They were full of life, with personality traits that created beautiful memories. While you grieve, remember them for the richness they brought to your life. They have left behind a legacy that is now your responsibility to uphold. Death does not reduce them to being a “painful memory”. They deserve to be celebrated for what they meant to you. That said, grief will take its own time, and you don’t have to rush it or shut it down. Remember, being kind to yourself is what your pet would have also wanted for you.
- At what point should one seek help?
Whenever you need it. There is no set rule as to when you should seek help. If the pain is too much for you to handle, seek help. If you find you don’t have a support system that understands what you’re going through, seek help. If you want to dive into learning how to deal with it right after losing your pet, seek help. There is no benchmark for seeking help, nor is there any shame in admitting you need it. Your gut will tell you when you are ready for it. Come with an open mind, knowing that you will be entering a safe, no-judgment space and allow your heart to unravel whatever you feel.
- How to help a friend going through this?
I love this question! It is incredible to see people showing an interest in wanting to educate themselves on how to help their loved ones going through this heartbreak. First, we need to unlearn statements that may sound helpful but are not. E.g. “Time will heal it all”, “They had a good life”, “This was going to happen”, “You can always get another pet”, “Take a day or two more and finish grieving”.
Grief is a natural reaction to loss and the end of a familiar presence and pattern in life. Help your friend by just being there for them. Not all of us are vocal, which is alright. If you don’t know what to say, say nothing; simply lend them an ear. Allow them to talk about their pet and remember them. Help them reminisce the funny and adorable qualities their pet possessed. Let them know that what they are feeling is valid and that you’re there to hear them out without any preconceived notions or judgments. Help them in their journey of grief while being an anchor for them to realise what they want to do next and whether they are ready for it. Don’t dismiss how they feel. Try to offer options for long-term recovery and not just short-term relief. Be a supporting shoulder for the heavy lifting that has to be done by the griever. In short, being there for them and validating what they are going through is the most significant contribution.
- Where does one bury a pet? Hurts to even ask this.
I am afraid this is a very broad question. Most metro cities have pet burial sites. For cities that don’t have this facility, one will need to figure out whether the burial can happen within the grounds of their home or at a loved one’s property with their permission. Having to say goodbye is already a painful process, so having a contingency plan (like we do for humans) would be a good idea. If there is no land available, electric crematoriums that allow pets can be considered. Some research will need to be done to ensure you are in control of the situation when the time comes.
I hope these answers help you regain a sense of well-being after the death of your pet. I hope you learn to remember not just their passing, but also celebrate the life that they lived so fully with you, and do something noble in their memory. #adoptdontshop
Pradeepa has always been an avid animal lover and a staunch supporter of the Adopt, Don’t Shop and No Kill philosophy. She quit a lucrative banking career to pursue her calling — animals. She has been rescuing, fostering and getting pets adopted for almost a decade now. Her life and plans revolve around her 3 cats and 3 dogs.
Pradeepa learnt the art of animal communication from Earthwise and has been instrumental in helping many lost pets find their way back home to their families. In 2018, she had to face an untimely and rude shock in the form of her dog, Theo’s death. There started her journey of a deeper life purpose, and she trained under Blue Cross UK to become a certified pet bereavement advisor to be able to help grieving pet parents like herself.
She runs a venture called Furry Tales (furrytales.in) that has helped people adopt animals from individual rescuers and shelters, and is aimed at educating pet parents on becoming better at their responsibilities. They also sell lifestyle merchandise for pet parents, and a part of the revenue goes towards welfare work.
You can write to Pradeepa at email@example.com, or contact her via DM on Instagram by clicking here.
The questions were crowdsourced from the Pressure Kukur community on Instagram and similar questions were clubbed together. They were then answered by Pradeepa Rao.