Losing a pet is an extremely painful and exhausting time for all members of the family.
Thus, this is the time to also focus on one’s physical, emotional and mental health.
“Grieving is a highly personalized, individualistic experience that is influenced by culture and social groups. The process in which you might experience the pain of losing your pet might look immensely different from even a direct family member living in the same house, “ said Adam Clark, LCSW, in “7 Self-Care Essentials While Grieving the Death of a Pet” in Psychology Today.
Clark shared tips on self-care during this time when a person is processing the loss of a beloved pet.
“Our grief is an expression of the love we have felt, the pain of loss and the process of having to reintegrate our life into what it will look like with the ‘absence’ of our pet. I place ‘absence’ in quotes as many believe it is only a physical loss, as our pets will always remain in our hearts and their influence upon our lives will last forever,” Clark said.
1. Give yourself time to grieve in your own way and release your emotions.
Despite a busy schedule and long list of things to do daily, do find time to grieve and experience your emotions fully, Clark said.
“Give yourself the time to feel, experience, and let the emotions you are experiencing release at regular intervals along your journey through grief and on a daily basis in the beginning. Otherwise, you might find yourself stuffing your emotions which can cause more pain down the road,” Clark added.
2. Allow yourself to reflect on the life you and your pet shared.
It is not easy to reflect on a life shared with a loved one. It can be very painful. It can make you cry harder.
But reflecting will help you to shift from too much sadness to a more positive state such as being grateful you had a wonderful dog or an amazing cat.
“Take time to reflect either through writing, storytelling, or whatever form of expression brings you comfort. I typically encourage my clients to start a memory journey and reflect upon the life shared. It can be easy to want to immediately write down the pain of grief, especially in the beginning. However; when you are taking the time to purposely reflect in this manner, try to focus on what positive memories were shared,” Clark said.
“This allows your body to experience a different emotion and helps bring you from pain into gratitude for the time spent together over time. Make sure to not use this method to avoid experiencing pain, we must experience both within the grief process,” Clark said.
3. Nourish yourself with good food and sufficient sleep, among others.
Never skip a meal even if you do not have an appetite.
During the first phase of grief, most humans complain of complete loss of appetite and inability to sleep or insomnia.
But Clark advised grieving humans to try their best to eat, specially nutritious food, and to maintain a sleep schedule.
Grieving is taxing on the body. Help your body by eating nutritious food.
The mind is active during the initial grieving phase. “Guilt plays a role in this as well, “Clark said.
To calm the mind, you can meditate, or do breathing exercises.
4. Choose a calming practice and use it frequently.
“As we said earlier, it can be incredibly frustrating and painful that the outside world doesn’t slow down. We aren’t typically allowed days off from work to grieve the death of our pet and are even only federally mandated to receive three days from our employer for direct, human, family members,” Clark noted.
“Choosing a calming practice such as meditation, active focus on breathing, mindful eating, or releasing our body tension can help as our anxieties that may increase during social obligations while we are still experiencing our grief, “ Clark stressed.
5. Continue routines with your living pets as best as you can.
Your other pets also experience the loss and absence of the dog or cat who crossed the rainbow bridge.
“Animals thrive on routines and structure. Dogs experience grief and can search for their pack member. Cats may hide or spend more time alone, changing behavior while they process alongside you. Horses may run the fenceline for some time and whinny, trying to receive a return call from their mate. Try to maintain walking routines and feeding schedules as not to disrupt their process or your own, “ Clark said.
“Routines allow us a sense of structure and familiarity, although the first few times can be painful, these immediate triggers can reduce over time,” Clark added.
6. Memorialize the love and memory of your pet.
“Saying ‘see you later’ to ones we love can be a crucial step in moving through the grief experience. Sometimes, we don’t get to say ‘goodbye’ before the passing of our pets. Not having a form of closure in this process can leave some feeling as though they have a hole in their hearts, “ Clark said.
By memorializing the memory of your beloved pet, you can have a sense of closure.
You can write a letter, hold a funeral service, or create shadow boxes with your dog or cat tags and collars and imprint of their paw.
Some go to a favorite space or memory from their pet’s life and spend some time there.
“There is never a wrong way to memorialize the beautiful experiences and life that was shared,” Clark said.
7. Do ask for support from understanding friends or relatives.
“Although grief is a highly individualistic experience, we grieve within communities. Entire communities can even grieve within their own way. It’s important to recognize when you need support during your grief process, “ Clark stressed.
You can ask a friend to have coffee or you can seek professional help to assist you in processing the pain and anxieties.
“There are also many online communities through social media which allows a safe space to express your grief, seek peer support, and share in the memory of your beloved pet,” Clark said. DC
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