The Fragile Circle of Life


Grieving the Death of Your Pet

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. Irving Townsend

The simple joy that companion animals bring to our lives is priceless. Our pets cheer us, comfort us, delight us, sustain us and love us without condition. Our family of pets is a fragile circle of life. Dogs and cats live a dozen years or so. Horses average two decades, maybe a little more. Smaller animals may grace our lives for a year or less. We will outlive our companion animals and their deaths will break our hearts. If we continue to live with pets, we will experience this grief many times.

The sadness we feel when a beloved pet dies is natural. It is part of the pain that comes with losing someone we love. But pet loss is often made more painful because others do not understand how deep the attachment to a pet can be. We hear, "Well, he was just a dog," or "You can always get another cat." Based on the writings of Kenneth J. Doka, I call the death of a pet society's disenfranchised grief: deeply felt by the griever, but minimized or negated by others. What these insensitive people fail to understand is that we had a strong and loving relationship with our beloved friend.

The opinion of others is not important during this difficult time. We alone know how devoted our animal friend was. No matter what our mood or appearance, our pet was always there for us: always forgiving, always loyal, always loving. No wonder the pain of loss is so great. We have lost a member of our immediate family.

If you ever find yourself questioning the validity of your deep grief over the death of your beloved pet because there is, after all, so much tragedy in the world, please remember these words below. They come from On Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler and appear on page 30 of that wonderful book:

When you compare losses, someone else’s may seem greater or lesser than your own, but all losses are painful...Losses are very personal and comparisons never apply. No loss counts more than another. It is your loss that counts for you. It is your loss that affects you.

Your loss is deep and deserves your personal attention without comparison. You are the only one who can survey the magnitude of your loss. No one will ever know the meaning of what was shared, the deepness of the void that shadows your future. You alone know your loss...

...Your task in your own mourning and grieving is to fully recognize your own loss, to see it as only you can. In paying the respect and taking the time it deserves, you bring integrity to the deep loss that is yours

The circumstances of the death can also add to our heartache. If our beloved companion dies without warning, as with accident or sudden onset illness, we can berate ourselves for our carelessness: How did this happen? What symptoms did I miss? What could I have done to prevent it?

Sometimes we are caring for a pet because a family member has died and the animal is left without a home. Not only does the pet become a friend over time, but the bond represents a living, loving connection to our deceased loved one. When this cherished companion dies, sorrow may intensify as we grieve anew for our other losses.

Grief is an expression of our love for the dear one who has died and none of us experiences the death of a beloved pet in the same way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Whatever helps you cope, whatever eases your pain, whatever brings you peace—these are the right ways to express your sorrow.

No one can tell us how long or in what manner we should grieve, but there are phases of grief that we will likely pass through: shock and denial, anger, depression and finally, acceptance. The phases of grief are difficult to bear, but they are all part of the natural reaction to loss. As most of us discover, however, we do not experience grief in a neat, step-by-step way. Our emotions can be all over the place because grief is messy. 

Consider, too, that each member of your family had a different relationship with the departed pet. Each member will have a different reaction to the loss. The important thing is that you all accept your feelings for what they are and find ways to express them.

If you have other pets, you may find that they are also grieving. Signs of companion animal grief include listlessness, a refusal to eat or drink, yowling, whimpering, over-grooming, frequent meowing, or wandering from room to room. You will most help your surviving pet grieve by showing him extra attention and care during this painful time. Refer to Pet Grieiving: How Pets Mourn the Loss of a Companion by Gary Le Mon at Natural-Wonders-Pets.com for more information.

Please note: Consult your veterinarian if your pet displays any of these symptoms because they can indicate a medical condition that needs attention. Once illness is ruled out, most animal experts believe that it can take up to six months for the symptoms of your pet's grief to disappear. If your pet goes outdoors, it is wise to restrict unsupervised access to the outside for a while because your pet may wander off in search of his lost friend.

One of the most agonizing decisions we will ever make is authorizing euthanasia. Even if the pet has suffered a long time, we may doubt ourselves afterward: Was it the right thing to do? When you find yourself questioning your actions, it is important to recall the circumstances that led up to the decision: Could your pet recover from the illness or injury? Was your pet's condition deteriorating? Was the course irreversible? Did your beloved pet experience more pain than pleasure in life? Did you choose quality of life over quantity of years?

Ending the life of a suffering animal is the loving, compassionate, unselfish thing to do. It is the final act of caring. Your friend closed his eyes for the last time knowing that his trust in you was well placed. He was always safest in your care. In the end, you loved him enough to set him free.


Go to next page: You Are Not Alone

The Grieving Heart is getting a new home...
Grief has no timetable, but the launch of a new website does: August 1, 2019.                                                                     
The updated design will be easy to use, secure and mobile-friendly.
Please visit again. Thank you!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

My E-mail:

Christine (at) The Grieving Heart (dot) info 

A Word About E-mail: One way to decrease SPAM caused by Internet bots is to deactivate the live address link. You can still contact me by typing this address into your own e-mail program using @, a period, and no spaces, the standard e-mail format. Thank you.

Note to Visitors:
I read and respond to grief email at the end of each month when I update this site. If you need a more timely response, please visit a well moderated grief healing discussion group. It is free to use and requires registration to participate. I am not part of this group, but certified grief counselors are there to help, support and comfort grievers and those who love them. Because the counselors lost funding for the site, they are grateful for voluntary donations.
Why no links to Facebook and other social media? Click here for the answer.   


How complicated and individual mending is,
the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
Mary Jane Moffat
© Copyright 2008 - 2019 Christine Jette.
All rights reserved.