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Coping With Grief From The Loss Of A Pet

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Coping With Grief From The Loss Of A Pet

Honoring Your Pet's Memory
David  Kessler
David Kessler More by this author
Feb 18, 2017 at 06:00 AM

The story below is from You Can Heal Your Heart, Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Deatha book I co-wrote with Louise Hay.

Grief is a natural reflection of life and exists in any relationship where we have feelings and attachments. We all mourn for those we loved, for those we disliked, and even for those we hated. We don’t grieve when there is no attachment. In that context, it seems silly to think that we wouldn’t grieve for the animals in our life that we are indeed very much attached to.

 Our pets share our living spaces—and in many cases, our beds—and are truly members of the family. Despite this, people who are grieving over an animal that died will often find that they must be very discreet about whom they share their feelings with. They instinctively know that they’re dealing with a form of disenfranchised grief—a type of grief that other people might deem as “less than.” Some have shared their heartbreak only to be met with: “Well, it’s not like it was a person. It was just an animal,” and “Just go get yourself another pet.”

 The reality is that grief from pet loss is not as easily fixed as some would have us believe. It’s hard to live in grief that’s judged as unworthy. Grief is about love, and our animal companions often show us some of the most unconditional love we could ever experience. How often, despite our best efforts, do we absorb some of society’s judgments and think, I shouldn’t be grieving this much? Yet when we let these thoughts in, we betray our genuine feelings.

 To complicate our grief even more around pet loss, we’re often clearer on treating them humanely. When they’re in pain at the end of their lives, despite our wanting them to stay around, we will often choose to euthanize them to make sure that they die in a respectful, dignified manner, surrounded by love. But sometimes it makes the loss a little harder when we wonder if we did the right thing at the right time.

 People feel very strongly about their animals. Many people resonate with humorist Will Rogers’s statement: “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”

 Holding Pet Grief Preciously

 Ella had a German shepherd named Garlic. He earned that name because despite Ella’s best efforts, he always had bad breath. When people met him for the first time, they would comment on what a beautiful dog he was and that his breath wasn’t really that bad. For years, Garlic was a fixture in the neighborhood. Whenever anyone was out and about, they couldn’t help but greet the dog with a “Hey, Garlic!” whenever he was in the front yard or on a walk.

 When Garlic died of old age, Ella and her family thought about how they had shared his life with the whole neighborhood, so why shouldn’t they share his death with everyone, too? The alternative—that he would just disappear from the neighborhood like a child’s toy or a patio chair—was unthinkable. And if they kept their grief private, they would be followed by weeks and months of randomly running into neighbors who would unknowingly ask, “Where’s Garlic?” Then they’d have to explain it over and over again.

 Ella decided to write an obituary for Garlic and e-mail it, along with a photo, to all of their neighbors. She used the list from the neighborhood-watch committee, although she was a bit concerned that there might be some backlash for using the list for that purpose. But her family affirmed the following to themselves: We lovingly share our grief with our neighbors.

 To their surprise, almost everyone received the news lovingly as well. And when Ella was in her neighbor’s kitchen one day, there was Garlic’s picture taped to their refrigerator. Ella and her family were also amazed by the number of e-mail responses they got back. One of them read: “You don’t know us, but we knew Garlic. Garlic would visit our house every day around 4 when we brought the kids home from school. We often thought that such a sweet dog must have sweet owners. We hope to meet you soon and offer our sympathies in person.”

 Whenever Ella was asked about the obituary, she simply said, “His life mattered. Why shouldn’t his death?” This was an amazing example of how she held her family’s grief so preciously, that others in turn held the grief respectfully, too.

It’s obvious that the neighborhood was changed by this dog’s death. One person brought over a casserole, another brought a pie...just as if Garlic were a person. Someone else made a donation to a pet charity in his name. A profound sense of sweetness and tenderness blanketed the neighborhood and lasted long after Garlic’s passing.

About Author
David  Kessler
David Kessler is one of the most well-known experts and lecturers on grief and loss. He co-authored two bestsellers with the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: On Grief and Grieving and Life Lessons. (David was honored to have been at Elisabeth’ Continue reading