Coping with Pet Grief: How to Move Forward While Mourning the Loss of a Pet

Marcia Breitenbach

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Grieving for our animal companions is painful and can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unable to even imagine moving forward into life again. There are many reasons why this can happen, and yet, the most important thing is to find ways to decrease inertia and activate the self-healer within.

You and Your Intention are in Charge of Your Healing

You are the only one in charge of your healing. Even though you may be attending a support group, speaking with a counselor or clergy, or getting assistance from your physician or other professionals, the ability to make progress comes from inside. It is by having a clear intention to heal and through making choices that reflect that intention, plus sticking to your action plan, that you will have more success and a grief journey that flows with more ease.

Let’s first speak about intention. By proclaiming out loud, writing down, and sharing your intention with at least one other person, you will open the door to your healing potential.

This may seem simple, and yet it’s not really that straightforward for some folks. I have noticed over the years that there are some people who may say they want to feel better, and yet underneath is a different agenda. They may have a belief that by getting better, that they will lose touch with the deceased. For them, holding onto grief and pain is the only way they think they can stay connected with their loved one and with their life with the loved one. By healing and moving forward, they feel they would be betraying that relationship, almost as if they were saying they were going to be forgetting about the loved one and their times together.

This does not need to be the case at all. Moving forward means you are willing to take the grief, allow it to transform you, and to take steps forward into the new you, and into your new life, bringing with you all the love and memories you hold, and allowing your new life to unfold naturally. It does not mean forgetting and closing the door on the old life. That would be a form of disrespect to yourself and to your loved one. Rather, it means that you agree that you will allow yourself to be changed and molded into a better, more loving version of yourself, and that you will bring forward all the good qualities of your loved one and honor their memory and their gifts to you by making the decision to heal. You become a model of taking the love that existed between you and your animal companion and allowing it, along with the grief process, to shape you and your life into one with more purpose, more compassion, and more focus.

Sound good? All it takes is your decision to make this happen. You are in charge of your life in more ways than you know. To begin this part of the action plan, take a moment each day to do the following:

Standing (you will have a better connection energetically throughout your body, mind, heart and spirit), say out loud (preferably) a statement that is similar to the one below. Healing has as much to do with attitude as with anything else.

“I am committed to healing from this loss and pain, and I am

committed to moving forward and reconnecting with Life. ”

Negative Thoughts and Painful Memories

Especially in the earlier part of your grief journey, you will have the tendency to focus on the last days and moments with your loved one. If you were there at the time of death, you will revisit those moments in a series of flashbacks. Plus, if the death appeared uncomfortable or distressed in any way, you will re-experience the feelings you had watching your loved one deteriorate or die. You may see your pet as they were having a seizure, or you may be remembering the look of their body after they died. These pictures and feelings come to you more frequently in the beginning, and will eventually fade. However, some people hold onto these pictures as well in their minds as it is their last ‘real’ (or what seems real to them) connection with the deceased. Sometimes when we are feeling intense pain, we at least feel alive. Many bereaved go in and out of feeling numb, and there can be some gratification derived from feeling the intense grief.

In addition, because grief can be particularly overwhelming initially, it is normal to have thoughts that aren’t ‘positive’ or particularly helpful to your healing. Such thoughts might be, “I can’t handle this, ” “This is too much for me, ” “I’m going to die from this, ” “I want to die, ” “I’ll never feel good again without them, ” “I won’t ever feel happy again. ”

Haven’t you had some of these thoughts after a loved one, animal or human, died? They are normal thoughts and it is also normal to re-experience the more ‘negative’ or distressing moments before the death. So what’s the problem? The problem is getting stuck.

In order to have a better flow in your life, grieving or not, it is important to find ways to balance the energies within. If you are constantly in a state of negative thought patterns, you will be sending direct and clear messages to your inner healer to go take a vacation, that you aren’t interested in feeling better.

However, in order to activate the inner healer, and yet stay true to your human emotions, all you need do is consciously choose to balance the statements, memories and thoughts that could sink you if you give them too much focus towards more positive and life-affirming thoughts and words.

Denying Thoughts and Feelings

Some people think that if they just force themselves to think positively, all the time, and to chase bad memories away, that they can move forward with ease. Unfortunately, the opposite is usually true. What we resist persists!

Instead, what I suggest to clients, and what I choose to practice myself, is a delicate balancing act. I allow myself the thought or feeling, and then I put myself into a position of power by using self-talk that acknowledges my ability to heal.

Let me give you an example. Right before my dog Bits died, I was in the emergency vets office and there were a few moments when she was fighting the oxygen mask and I was trying to keep it on. I believed the oxygen was helping her to be more comfortable in her final minutes, not wanting her to have to struggle for breath. I had just made the decision for euthanasia and was having a few moments alone with Bits before the vet was to return with the needle. After Bits’ 3rd attempt to get the mask off, I released it and within a minute, she died in my arms. She knew better than myself what needed to happen. However, after the fact, and for weeks, I often had that picture in my mind of her fighting the mask, and my attempts to keep it there. Not only was I dealing with the recurring image of her just wanting to die peacefully, but I also was replaying my guilt each time. We’ll get to guilt in a moment.

Acknowledge All Feelings and Thoughts, and Then Balance Them

So, in order to make my journey easier, what I needed to do was this: When I had the image pop up along with the thoughts and feelings, I simply acknowledged them. “I’m seeing that picture again of Bits right before she died. I’m feeling sad or upset with myself that I didn’t get it right away that she was ready. ” That is step one. You must acknowledge what is there, rather than ignoring it or shaming yourself for having those feelings and thoughts.

Secondly, follow this acknowledgement immediately with a balancing thought such as: “These pictures in my mind, and these thoughts and feelings are normal. AND, I am choosing to be gentle with myself right now. I did the best I could at that particular time with the information I had, and I believe that Bits knew that. She holds nothing against me, I’m sure, and wouldn’t want me torturing myself. These thoughts and feelings will pass, so for now, I will remember some of the other times I had with Bits. I know I was a good Mom to her and that she loved and appreciated me. I remember the day I got her…”(you place a good memory here). And then you also tell yourself that you are human, you will have negative thoughts and feelings, but that you are CHOOSING to heal by bringing balance to these experiences.

What To Do About Fear

Fear is normal and needs gentle recognition also. I’ve never met anyone grieving who wasn’t dealing with fear. Sometimes, the fear is very specific, such as the following. One of my clients avoided walking the route in her neighborhood where she used to walk her companion animal. “I can never walk that way again. ” She asked me if I thought that would be ok. I replied that it is fine to walk any route she would like; however, the problem lies in how much space is being taken up in her head by her fear. What we fear usually becomes bigger when we don’t face it. It grows, and is a nagging, persistent thorn, even if we manage to keep ourselves distracted and busy. Fear uses up part of our energy reserves and puts a negative drain on our life force.

This particular client took the time she needed initially to walk her other dog on another route. Because she lived in a small subdivision, there really was no other route there to walk. So, she would put her other dog in the car and drive to a nearby neighborhood and walk there instead. At some point, she was willing to look at her fear and see what was there. I had her first write about it, and she even drew a picture of the route. She talked about who lived in what house, which dog belonged to which house, and related a couple of funny things that had happened on their walks there through the years. She cried and released more grief. My client realized that this route held nothing but good memories for her, and that she only avoided it to avoid the memories and her intense feelings. Once she decided to take her dog for a walk there, she discovered that it wasn’t nearly as hard as she had imagined.

With most fear, it is important to face whatever it is, and do it anyway, to walk through it. Obviously, this does not apply to fears that are there to protect us. For example, you may not want to jump off a cliff because you are afraid you will get hurt, even killed by the fall. That is a protective fear and needs to be listened to. You know the difference.

Self Talk as a Tool

When you are in a situation that scares you, and it’s related to your grief and the changes in your life because of the loss, look at what you are saying to yourself. Try saying something like this, “I am afraid that if I walk there, (or go to that particular store, or talk to that vet, or whatever it is that scares you), I won’t be able to control myself. ” “It’s normal for me to have this fear and yet I won’t let it paralyze me. I will do this anyway, and I know I will be ok. If necessary, picture angels on either side of your supporting you in this process. Or, you can ask a friend to accompany you. You don’t have to do it alone, just do it.

Forgiveness and Guilt

Forgiveness is a key to moving forward. For anyone grieving, there is usually someone we blame for something. We may think the vet didn’t do something right, and that this contributed to the pet’s death. We may have some anger towards our partner because they didn’t love the animal the way we did. We could be upset about the lack of empathy or compassion from the medical staff. Most often, we hold something against ourselves, as if we are supposed to be perfect and have perfect judgment. We think that, “if only I had done this, that or the other thing, then everything would be different. ”

If we hold onto resentments with no avenue for expression, they eat us up and cause problems down the road. Take time to write a letter(s) to as many people as you can think of that you may hold anger or resentment toward, even if it doesn’t have to do with this situation. The letters can be harsh, no forgiveness, just expressing the anger. These letters are not meant to be sent. You are writing them only to get the feelings and thoughts out on paper, to assist the letting go process. Then you can burn or tear them up, releasing the anger to spirit. You might add a prayer to this process, requesting help to release this resentment from your body, mind, heart and spirit.

Later you do the forgiveness statements. You could also write a short letter, repeating the process of release that you did above. Most especially, don’t forget yourself. Forgive yourself for any shortcomings you may feel you have. It’s important how you word these things. Something like, “Even though I don’t approve of what you did or said, I want to release my anger towards you. I let it go and this helps to heal me and to heal this situation. ” Or, “Even though I wish that I had done some things differently, I know I did the best I could at that time, and I forgive myself. I let go of judging myself because this will help me to heal and healing is what will honor the incredible love I have shared in this relationship with (deceased). "

Gratitude Is Essential

Healing happens with more ease and more flow when we take time to expand our gratitude. Take time each day to state the things you are grateful for. This is also a helpful exercise to do when you are having negative or painful memories.

For example, you see a woman in the park with her dog. They are having a game of chase the ball. You stop, shaken, as it brings back memories of doing the same with your dog. Instead of fighting back the tears and the pain, you choose to take a deep breath, allow the tears, and to have the following thoughts, “Seeing that dog running freely makes me miss being able to do that with Chester, and how Chester couldn’t run for a good six months before he died. ” Instead of allowing yourself to go into a deep hole of replaying the last six months of Chester’s life, you follow this with, “Being sad is normal and part of my process. Seeing that dog and woman also reminds me of the fun that I had with Chester. I am grateful for all the years we had together, for our ball games and the exercise it gave us. I am grateful that I can still walk without assistance in the fresh air, and enjoy this park. I am grateful there are people like me, and that woman, who appreciate the special bond between humans and animals, and that some day, I can provide a home for another. ” Your statements need not be identical; the important thing is to acknowledge, feel, and be grateful.

Gratitude also extends to the pain you are feeling. When you can feel grateful for your grief, and trust that it is transforming you in positive ways, you are well on your way to healing. Even if you don’t fully believe it, try stating this as well, “I am grateful for the lessons this loss and this grief have brought me. I trust they are helping to transform me into the next best version of myself, into someone more aware, more kind and loving, and someone with more purpose and passion for living. ” You may not fully believe this, and that’s ok. By choosing to state them, you are more likely to have the positive results you desire because you are signaling your unconscious self what you believe. Our subconscious beliefs inform our actions and what we manifest every day.

Make a Stand To Connect With Life Again

There is a natural process that happens when we grieve, where we contract, or retract from life. We pull back, as we feel the intense emotions, and try to make sense of the changes happening in and around us. We need this time to traverse the difficult initial steps on our grief journey.

Then, there is a point where we must make the choice, do I want to close off to the world, or reconnect? Reconnecting is one of the ways that we can honor the deep love we shared with our animal companion. Most of us know that our loved ones in spirit would not want us to become hermits and close off our hearts and lives.

You also give meaning to your suffering by making the commitment to connect with life and love. This means you are taking a stance to love yourself better, the world around you and are willing to let go of the pain. You will still remember your loved one and honor her without making yourself suffer. S/he wants you to be happy and to give your love to the world.

One of the ways to reconnect is to begin doing some of the things you used to do but may have stopped. You can also try something new! If you have no animal in the home now, think about doing some traveling. Or, perhaps you will take a class at your local community college, just for the heck of it!

Give of Your Heart

Down the road, allow the possibility that you can honor your loved one by making a home for another deserving animal. Even though you may be afraid that you won’t be as loving towards the new companion, it’s ok. You have a heart that is capable of opening and giving, in a different way.

You can also do acts of kindness, either as volunteer work, or just doing random acts of kindness towards people you meet up with. We were put on this earth to be of service to each other, to give of ourselves. Start small if you need to, going out of your way to open doors for people, offering a tissue to a mother with a sticky-handed child, telling the mechanic that hands you your car keys that you’re grateful for his abilities and prompt service. Go ahead and feel the fear about being misjudged, or looking foolish, or whatever it is that holds you back from stepping forward; feel it, and then do it anyway. The rewards are so much greater than holding onto the fear!

Be Aware of Books Falling Into Your Lap

When we are ready to grow, resources are right there for us, if we are looking for them. I have so often found just the right book, or just the right person to help with a situation because I was open to receiving it. Have you ever been in a bookstore and a book either literally fell off the shelf, (and it wasn’t because you were leaning on it), or it caught your eye and when you looked inside, you saw it was just what you were looking for?

We have a lot of help that is invisible. I think it’s spirits of one form or another, a guardian angel, a spirit guide, or a deceased love one guiding us to the right book or person. Be open to this and you will probably get more help than you know what to do with!

Imagine Yourself Happy Again

Along the way, schedule some private, quiet time to shut your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine yourself smiling and laughing. Picture yourself as you would like to be, enjoying life again, perhaps more than you used to! Let yourself feel this in your body. It is by activating your imagination, along with your intention, and the positive steps outlined above, that you produce the desired results.

And remember, you are worth it. Your life is a precious gift, as was the life of your loved one in Spirit, and it is your choice to heal and grow.

Marcia Breitenbach is an author, speaker, musician and therapist who has facilitated pet loss support groups for the Humane Society. Visit her website to get a free soothing and inspirational song at and for more information.


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