HEALTHY LIVING
04/05/2017 07:22 am ET

Don't Shame Me For Grieving My Dog's Death

A loss of a pet is still a loss.

Lindsay Holmes
The author's dog, Sapp, who loved going for rides and running on golf courses.

“U want to cancel bc ur dog back home died? Haha.”

A few months after I moved to New York in 2013, I learned that my beloved childhood yorkie, Sapp, passed away. I was supposed to go on a date that night ― my first one ever since moving to the city ― and I felt like I just couldn’t handle it. That was the text I got in response to suggesting we reschedule.

I went on the date because I felt bad inconveniencing him. (Ah, young Lindsay. Still had so much to learn.) Part of me hoped that it would be a good distraction. When I got there, I was met with more condescension about my emotions.

Unsurprisingly, the dude didn’t last. But the impact of his dismissive attitude ― which made me feel like I was ridiculous for being sad over my pet ― did. And it wasn’t until a few months later that I actually processed (and cried) over Sapp being gone.

A simple Google search for “pet grief” yields millions of results, proof that many people mourn the loss of a pet. The theme even permeates pop culture: Books and movies have long explored what happens when our beloved dogs predecease us, from classics like “Old Yeller” and “Lassie” to newer tales like Marley and Me and A Dog’s Purpose.

But people can still report feeling embarrassed for grieving a furry friend, especially when others make insensitive comments.

Let’s make one thing clear: There’s nothing frivolous about being in mourning. It’s a lesson I wish I’d understood then. Pets can be just as important as human family members and losing them can be devastating. 

Research suggests that human beings feel connected to their furry friends and they feel bonded to us, too. So it makes sense that we feel the magnitude of their passing when they’re gone.

“We need to be more sensitive to pet loss and the grief surrounding it,” grief expert Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and chair of the American Psychotherapy Association, told me. “Pets can be in our lives for years. When that constant companion is all of a sudden gone, the grief is not only real but it can be profound.”

Reidenberg stresses the first step to moving forward from the loss is just acknowledging that you’re grieving. Below are a few other tips he says might also help:

Don’t set a time limit on how long you mourn.

Just let the process happen. “If you push it too fast it may come back down the road,” Reidenberg said. “If you delay it, you may find it coming out in different ways, such as irritability, lack of concentration, poor quality of work or trouble in relationships.”

Don’t compare your grief to someone else’s

“If a friend lost their pet and seemed to get over it in a few days but two weeks into your loss and you are still crying, that’s okay,” Reidenberg said. “We are all different in how we process our feelings so be okay being with your grief process.”

Decide what to do with your pet’s things

Some people want to leave their pet’s water dish out, others want to box it up immediately. There’s no one right way to do it. “What is important is to do what makes you comfortable when you are hurting,” Reidenberg explained.

Keep a photo of your pet around 

“Just because our pets are gone does not mean you have to totally remove them from your life,” he said. That could mean putting up photos of your furry friend on your desk or keeping an image of them as your phone background.

Seek support if necessary

There are pet loss groups that can help if you’re having difficulties coping. If the loss begins to interfere with your everyday life, Reidenberg recommends reaching out to a mental health professional.

The bottom line, Reidenberg says, is to remember that your emotions may be unexpected but they’re still valid. They certainly were for me.

When I went through a painful breakup, had a bad cold, was dealing with anxiety or just needed a companion, my dog was there. I never spent time imagining a world where he wouldn’t be. The reality of that was difficult to process at first.

A loss of a pet is still a loss. And you’re allowed to grieve over it.

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