By Elinor Stanton
Have you ever had a pet? Have you ever become attached to a cat, dog or other little being from the animal kingdom? And have you experienced the loss of a beloved pet? If so, this is meant to help anyone who finds themselves grieving over the death of a pet, whether it be a cat, rabbit, dog or any other living creature with whom you have had a close bond.
In my experience people who dearly love their pets experience deep pain and a sense of loss when these pets die. Often they are embarrassed by their feelings and try to suffer in silence. They believe no one will understand how they feel. In fact not all people do understand.
So why is losing a pet so painful? One’s pet is not experienced by its owner as “just any old cat or dog.” Pets and owners develop strong bonds. Domesticated animals are totally dependent on people for their existence. In return they offer unconditional, non-judgmental allegiance, and many are also very affectionate. Animals and their owners grow to understand each other, and words are not needed. Pets seem to sense an owner’s mood and I believe some try to comfort us. Many pets live for years and the bonds grow deeper each day. There is an emotional dependence that goes in both directions.
Animals tend to bring out the best in people. They are so dependent on us we give them not only food and water but pieces of our hearts. Pieces of our hearts that we so gladly give are the same pieces that hurt so much when our beloved pets leave us. They leave holes in our hearts. How can we not be devastated? We feel empty because something inside is missing, so we cry and grieve. To grieve without self-judgment is important. Cry deeply and without reservation-tears are healing. They aid in getting to the point of accepting the loss.
Take your time in adopting a new pet. It will be difficult to fully grieve if you bring home a new cat, dog or other creature too soon. It will be difficult not to compare how different the new pet is if you’re not emotionally ready.
In rare situations an individual might become deeply depressed by the loss of a pet. If so, it may indicate unresolved trauma or loss from the past has been triggered. Seeking counseling will not only aid the grief process but will be an opportunity to heal and grow emotionally.
Elinor is a psychiatric nurse practitioner serving Naples and Marco Island. Questions or comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org