Is there such a thing as “normal” when grieving the loss of a pet?
Updated: Apr 29, 2019
Grieving tends to be a very personal experience.
Grieving tends to be a very personal experience, often loaded with an array of emotions. Some of the emotions—like sadness—are expected, even anticipated. But sometimes loss brings unexpected emotions that surprise those who are grieving, as well as those around them. The experience of loss can be different for everyone, and therefore can present unique challenges. For some people, the death of a pet can be more difficult than the loss of a relative. In the same grain, the word “normal” itself can be pretty loaded. The human condition grooms us all to see ourselves in relation to each other and to seek “normalcy.” To that end, it is certainly normal to experience sadness with the passing of a dear companion, best friend, and loyal co-conspirator in life.
Having had a pet for whatever period of time adds a dimension of companionship to everyone’s life, regardless of their level of sentiment around having a pet.
With the pet’s passing comes an absence, and filling that void can seem overwhelming. Some people become angry about having their time with their friend cut short. Some feel guilty about continuing down the path of life while their dear companion is no longer on the journey. Some feel a certain relief, especially if the end was lengthy and difficult; but many who feel this relief find it complicated by guilt about feeling that relief. Some people’s sadness turns out to be immense, complicating their ability to carry on with their regular activities. And some people completely break down, unable to stop crying, unable to understand their deep and dramatic grief, let alone try to share it or explain it. All of these responses to a pet’s passing can be considered “normal.”
Even though these emotions can fall within the realm of normal responses, they are much more difficult for some people than for others. If you are personally experiencing grief over the loss of a pet, understand that you will feel the loss and don’t be hard on yourself about it. Allowing yourself time to grieve will usually help the feelings pass a bit faster. Active mourning can help move you on a journey toward reconciling with the loss of your pet.
If a friend or family member is experiencing such grief, this is probably a really good time for you to be even nicer than usual, knowing that their grief is real—and painful. Be available for them to share their sorrow if they want to. Or simply be present, knowing that this is a difficult time.
Pet loss, unfortunately, is a natural part of the life cycle for pet lovers. As much as you have loved snuggling up with your furry friend, walking with them even in the cold and the rain, coming home from a get-away early because it was meal time—having to say a final farewell is generally inevitable, and incredibly sad.