Coping with the death of a pet for the first time

Coping with grief and the death of a pet for the first time

Being exposed to death for the first time can be an incredibly difficult experience, and often the first monumental death in our lives will be our best furry friend. The intense sorrow and grief that can come after losing your companion is something that most of us encounter, and often more than once. 

When we discuss grief, we talk about it with such gravitas; we are overcome with grief, we are grief stricken, as if grief is something that has taken us over. Often that’s exactly what it feels like; grief taking over your entire body, your thoughts, your emotions, your energy, even your appetite. 

Grief isn’t an easy process to work through, no matter what age we are or how many times we’ve experienced it. But the first time can often be the one of the most challenging points in our lives. Know that whilst grief will never truly leave us, we learn to live on and eventually thrive again, even if it doesn’t feel that way now. 

Understanding your feelings about grief

When grieving, it’s important to know that the way you’re feeling or reacting is normal, even if that looks different to other people in your life. There is no singular way to mourn and everybody deals with death in different ways.

Often people talk about the 5 stages of grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You might go through these in order, completely out of order, all of them at once or just one or two. 

Denial often comes first, where you may feel shock, numb, and isolate yourself from people in your life who are further along their grieving process. Denial must be met head on, as it opens up the process of grieving and healing. 

You might also be dealing with some negative self-talk about you and your ability to work through this difficult time. ​​Acknowledge that thoughts such as 'I can't handle this' or 'I'm not strong enough' are just a story you are telling yourself. Observe these thoughts but know this self doubt is not a true reflection of your ability to heal.

It’s universally accepted to mourn the death of a human, yet unfortunately not as much for our pets. We know just how sacred relationships with pets can be and that their death is a valid loss to grieve, so please don’t let this rhetoric minimise your pain or grief in any way.

Allow yourself time to face your feelings

It can be tempting to distract yourself from your emotions and carry on with life as normal, but these feelings have a funny way of popping up at the most unexpected moments. Accepting your feelings and giving yourself permission to grieve can help the process along.

Recognising the different responses to grief

Like we mentioned earlier, grief can be all-encompassing and feel like it’s taken over your body and mind. It’s quite common for grief to present itself in various different ways, so recognising what these responses are can help you work through your feelings.

Physical responses to grief

When you hear physical responses, your mind might immediately go to crying, which is a common response. Crying can come naturally for some, or might not happen at all for others, which is completely normal. 

Some people lose their appetite when struggling through grief. Other people feel exhausted yet they can’t sleep, and even experience headaches, aches and pains and nausea.

When experiencing these responses, it’s okay to turn to medication for the headaches, pains and nausea. Looking after yourself can feel overwhelming but the basics like sleeping, eating and drinking water are vital at this time.

Social responses to grief

You might be overwhelmed with kind messages of support, but when dealing with your grief these messages can sometimes feel overwhelming and difficult to respond to. It’s understandable that you might want to avoid going out or seeing people for a while, particularly if you would feel pressured to put on a brave face.

Alone time is important, but don’t isolate yourself away from close friends and family as this can be detrimental to your healing process.

Mental responses to grief

Feeling foggy, confused, losing your train of thought or living in a daze are all common responses when our mental wellbeing is compromised by grief. 

If you’re unsure about what to do when your pet dies, here is a guide that may help you.

Emotional responses to grief

You might think crying is an emotional response, but it’s actually the physical response to the emotion you’re feeling. Sadness, depression, guilt, blame, loneliness, even anger often manifest in the early, volatile stages of grief. As discussed earlier, it’s important to understand and recognise these emotions, but don’t feel bad or guilty about the way you feel. 

Looking after yourself while you grieve

Some people rave about self care like it’s a miracle cure for everything, and whilst it is not, it can be extremely helpful to take gentle care of yourself while grieving for the first time. 

Gentle movement

Walking, stretching, and yoga are all excellent ways to move your body and exercise, but are not too strenuous where you may feel depleted afterwards. Maybe don’t head on your pet’s favourite route if it’s too soon.

Feel-good activities

It might be your favourite movie or book, getting out in nature, or even as simple as a long, hot bath. It’s important to keep up your regular self care routine when you’re not feeling your best. 

Talking to your friends and family

It might feel like the absolute last thing you want to do, but even regularly talking to one or two key people in your life can help with grief and reduce those feelings of isolation, especially if they’re going through the exact same thing as you. 

Moving on with a new furry friend

There’s no right or wrong answer to when it is time to find a new pet after the loss of your last one, but it’s important to work through your grief first. If not, this can cause issues for both you and your new friend.

Don’t rush into the decision of choosing a new pet, and don’t view them as a replacement pet. You’ll get to form a new relationship with this pet, where new memories can be created.

Hold a memorial

A pet memorial is a normal part of the grief journey and allows you to pay tribute to their life and the impact they made on yours. To find out about the personalised pet memorial options we provide with our services at Goodbye Good Boy, give us a call on 1800 573 186 or visit us online at goodbyegoodboy.com.au.