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Archive: Dealing with Pet Loss, Grief, and Change 2023

This article was first shared in our newsletter after dealing with the loss of my cat Ramses McQueen. I watched a webinar about grief and it had a huge impact on me. I have noticed that many people either don’t deal with their own grief or diminish the importance of our pets. People also often refer to the stages of grief and how long you should grieve for as if it is a set formula. This is not correct, or fair. Everyone experiences grief differently and it takes as long as it takes. So, if someone gives you a hard time because you are still grieving the loss of your beloved pet you can either share this information with them or just tell them to shove it in colourful language of your choosing.

Ramses had a beautiful face with a pink nose and white all over his mouth and dark tabby colouring on the side of his cheeks and top of his head.
Ramses close-up

Pets are beloved members of our family, more so these days than ever before. And, particularly as a lifelong animal lover I feel the loss of my pets and the @furryornot gang members deeply. Some people do not understand how profound pet loss can be and may say things to minimize our loss or even belittle our feelings. I can only hope those people can come to understand how important pets are, but if not I admit I hope they step in some poop at the park, at the very least.

Personal Pet Loss

My first cat Sissy passed away when I was in university. Clyde my dog passed away several years before I started my business. I still miss them, think about them, and wish they didn’t leave so soon. I unreasonably hope that I will have the oldest dog or cat ever recorded but that has sadly not happened yet. Hal passed away in 2020 and Ramses passed away in 2021. It totally sucks. Hal’s death was incredibly hard for me to deal with. Ramses completely shocked me and I was so worried that his brother Moxie would be super stressed and get sick too. Every pet loss experience will be different and I think whatever you feel and how much time you need or whatever your reaction might be is totally acceptable. You are not alone in this.

Professional Pet Loss

My first client dog that passed away was Olive. She was a large black lab and I adored her. Her parents were kind enough to let me know and give me a chance to say goodbye. It was so heartbreaking as Clyde’s passing was still really raw for me. Since then I can’t say it is easier but it is certainly an expected part of the job. Sometimes I feel hard hearted because I don’t feel like I can respond emotionally. And, sometimes I cry profusely off and on all day when I find out. Loss, grief, and change are difficult and I understand as do all of us who truly love our pets.

Grief Councillor Wisdom

I recently watched a webinar about pet loss and grief hosted by Cat Camp (Jackson Galaxy, with grief councillor Stephanie Rogers. It validated some of my thoughts and feelings and provided some verbiage to explain what pet loss is like. The most poignant take aways I want to share are:

  • The extended pain of grief for a pet that has died is not culturally acceptable and is considered ‘disenfranchised loss’.

  • As a culture we do not have the symbols or tools for mourning that others will acknowledge.

  • The pain of grief is also cumulative, meaning that when there is another pet or person that passes all previous losses are felt and remembered.

  • The accepted terms for processing grief like ‘Getting over it’, ‘Moving on’, or ‘Letting go’ are not actually what happens or may not even be truly possible.

  • Getting ‘back to normal’ or stopping the pain is not physically possible. ‘Normal’ has now changed.

What Stephanie Rogers recommends:

  • Instead, of these unreasonable expectations to ‘get over it’ we need to ‘incorporate’ the loss into our lives to move forward.

  • Acknowledge the loss and ‘incorporate’ their full life with you including their death by using some sort of ritual to honour them, rather than avoiding your feelings of grief.

Ritual to Honour Your Loved One

The best example of a simple ritual Stephanie gave is a handshake. It is just a small gesture that lets you say hello and meet a new person.

So a ritual for mourning can be something simple like:

  • toast a beloved family member at an event

  • tell a story about them

  • light a memorial candle

  • make a donation to a charity in their name

  • plant a tree, buy a star or some other memorial gift

  • put up a photo where you can see them daily

I hope this helps you with any loss you experience. And know that despite what some people say you do not need to ‘get over it’ ever. Use Stephanie’s term of ‘incorporate’ and cherish your memories of them for the rest of your life.

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