Even though it’s been several months now, if somebody asks me about that day, my voice will waiver and crack. By “that day,” I mean the day I had to make the heart-breaking decision to put my beautiful 18-year-old cat, Tigger, to sleep. He was ill, in pain and no longer had any quality of life. Seeing his lifeless body in the room at the Vet’s is an image I can’t seem to shake, as much as I try.
I’m no stranger to death. I was a complete mess, a ball of anger and confusion, when my father, having lost a furiously fought battle with cancer, took his last breath one day in 1998. Like most people, throughout my life I have had to come to the terms with the loss of family members, close friends and other pets too.
Yet somehow, and much to my distress, the death of my beloved Tigger seemed even harder. How could the death of a family pet possibly hurt as much as that of a family member?
One reason may be, as researchers have long known, that the animal-human bond is strong, often as strong as a family member.
The other I wonder is that this loss was in the present, right in front of me, and like the other losses I have suffered, at that precise moment in time it is the thing you are focused on.
We also must remember, that grief is a highly personal and individual experience, influenced by many factors. The process in which you might experience the pain of losing your pet might look immensely different from a family member living in the same house.
Our grief is an expression of the love we have, as well as the pain of loss and the process of having to ‘move on’ without our pet. I do believe that our pets, and any loved one, will always remain in our hearts and their influence upon our lives will last forever.
I, 100% understand that everyone has to process grief within their own time-frame, of which none is set, but hopefully here are some helpful steps, anyone can take, during an extremely emotionally painful and exhausting time.
1. Say ‘goodbye’ to your pet. Saying your farewells is a crucial step in moving on and gaining closure on what has happened. We are used to holding a funeral for friends and family, but not always with a pet. You could choose to write a letter, hold a funeral service or even create a memory box with your dog or cat tag and collars or an imprint of their paw. There is never a wrong way to remember the beautiful experiences and life that was shared.
2. Don’t forget about other pets you may have. Remember animals thrive on routines and structure. Routines create a structure and familiarity for humans too and although the first few times can be painful; these immediate triggers can reduce over time.
3. More importantly, don’t forget about yourself. Remember that Grieving can be hard work, so make sure you eat and sleep well, as hard as that may feel.
4. Set aside the time to grieve in your own way. Give yourself the time to feel, experience, and let the emotions you are experiencing release at regular intervals.
5. Reflect upon the positive memories of your pet. Take the time to reflect through writing, storytelling, or whatever form of expression you are more comfortable with.
6. Choose a calming activity like meditation, relaxed breathing exercises, light exercise, yoga or Pilates. And don’t forget to practice it frequently.
7. Don’t hesitate to seek support from understanding friends or family. There are also many online communities through social media and forums that are safe spaces to express your grief, seek peer support, and share in the memory of your beloved pet.