Grief from the Loss of a Pet

Posted by: Joseph Kuo | September 18, 2019

Our cat of 20 years passed away last week. While this was expected, it doesn’t mean that we are any less sad or experience less grief. I still expect to hear her paw steps in the hallway, to see her at her customary sleeping spot and to scratch her beneath her chin – only to remember that she is no longer with us.

Sometimes, grieving for pet loss can be difficult because not everyone around us have pets or appreciate how much a pet is a member of the family. To help us feel better or perhaps to alleviate their own discomfort, our friends and family would tell us, “Don’t feel bad, it was only a…” or “This is why I don’t have pets.” Frequently, these well-meaning words end up invalidating our grief or suggesting that we are not being rational. Ironically, the love of a pet is frequently the closest to “unconditional love” that most people get to experience.

From My Grief Recovery Training

Having trained as a Grief Recovery Specialist® at the Grief Recovery Institute®, I’d like to share a few ideas that are helping me cope with the death of our cat:

  • Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss. A loss is an end or a change to something familiar. My interactions with my cat were definitely part of my normal life that are no longer present.
  • There’s nothing wrong with my brain for feeling sad. Yes, I know that my cat was old and yes, her health was deteriorating. It may be that she is now relieved from pain and perhaps she’s in a better place, AND I can still feel sad. Intellectualizing death doesn’t mean that we escape our feelings and emotions.
  • Everyone’s grief is unique and cannot be compared. My grief is valid even if I acknowledge that others have suffered “greater” loss than I have.

By acknowledging that my feelings are okay, I am much better able to recover by growing through my grief rather than suppressing my grief.

Minimizing Regret

My training had also allowed me to help my kids through this loss. As the death of our cat drew closer, I asked the kids to come up with:

  1. A few things you loved about the cat. What makes her such a great cat.
  2. A few things you wished could have been different.
  3. Whatever it is that you want her to know and what she means to you, both things you have said before and not yet say.

Then, tell her, out loud, while she is still alive. We don’t always get the chance to express ourselves fully, to someone while they are still alive. Having this opportunity to do so means that we minimize the regret of leaving things unsaid. This experience was very sad and there were lots of crying. In fact, my daughter didn’t originally want to do this. However, having gone through this, my daughter is very grateful that she had the chance to say goodbye fully.

To readers experiencing pet loss, please know that there are others who can appreciate what you are going through. There are resources that can support you through your loss and I encourage you to explore The Grief Recovery Method® to see how that can help.