We bought our daughter Julie a St. Bernard five years ago. Each evening “Mackie” climbed up on my lap to take a nap (even after she was full grown)! A couple years later Mackie died of a kidney disease. We buried her under her favorite tree, made a marker, and thanked God for the wonderful gift of Mackie. But each of us experienced grief and pain over the loss of our beloved dog. This article will give you several guidelines to help you experience good grief as you suffer the loss of your pet.
As I share the following guidelines to help you grieve the loss of your pet, please keep in mind that each person’s grief process is as unique as the relationship between that pet and its owner. However, pet grief can be good grief.
1. Just as in the loss of a spouse, parent, child, or other significant person, you must ACKNOWLEDGE THE LOSS of your beloved dog or pet. I know that sounds obvious, but denial is a powerful emotion during times of significant loss. In fact, pretending that you are not hurting during times of significant loss can actually be detrimental to your physical and emotional health. There really is such a thing as “Good Grief.” Grief is a healthy emotional process. Admit that your cherished dog or pet is gone. Don’t let others trivialize the importance of that dog in your life. A couple quotes will show you that we recognized many years ago how important dogs and other pets are to us. For example, Roger Caras once said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Josh Billings noted, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” And Will Rogers once quipped, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
2. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO GRIEVE. The fact is that people often invest as much love and affection in a pet as they do in many personal relationships. (Don’t laugh: dogs miss you when you’re gone, dogs never complain about your cooking, dogs don’t criticize your friends, dogs don’t shop, dogs mean it when they kiss you, dogs think you sing great, and a dog’s parents never visit). Other people might scoff, be confused, or misunderstand, especially those who have not experienced a loss of this kind. Don’t worry about what others think or feel; this is a time to be true to yourself. Allow yourself the time and freedom to be sad, to cry, and to miss your friend and companion. Tell yourself it’s OK – because it is. Pet grief can be good grief.
3. THANK GOD FOR THE GIFT OF YOUR PET. God created the animals that become our cherished pets. Good grief comes when we begin to recognize that God is the giver of all good gifts, and dogs are definitely good gifts. Do something symbolic to give thanks and show respect for this wonderful gift from God. Cheri and I buried Mackie and made a makeshift concrete headstone in the ground over her grave. Just the other day my son went out and found the marker in the woods, cleaned it off, and spent a moment remembering Mackie fondly. Pets matter! You can give a donation to an animal shelter in honor of your pet. Other meaningful acts people have shared with me include writing a special poem or story, commissioning a painting of their pet from a photograph, or framing an enlarged photo to hang on the wall. A fairly new phenomenon is the Pet Cemetery, where you can actually bury your pet, place a marker, and bring flowers. The bottom line is this; it was your pet, and it is your pet grief – do something that is meaningful for you. It will make you feel good about yourself and your pet, and it will assist you in bringing good grief to your grief process. (Continued…)