Grieving the Loss of a Companion

By Dave Goff

A couple of months ago my household lost one of our cherished members. Sable was the sweetest cat I have ever known. Death of a dog or cat She truly wanted nothing more than love, some good food, a good brushing and more love. Unfortunately, she also had some congenital issues that suddenly and dramatically came to a head. One day she was demanding to be brushed, two days later we were sitting with her in a quiet room at our vets’ office and watching the light fade away.

As I said, it has been a few months. I am just now able to really speak about this without my chest and throat clenching up and my brain shifting into neutral for minutes on end. My wife and I have been working to make sure that we work through our grief in positive ways and to remember Sable in the best ways we can.

For us, losing Sable was one of the hardest things we have ever gone through, so I thought I would write a bit about strategies that might help when coping with the loss of a family companion.

  1. First and foremost, allow yourself to grieve. Sure, you will still have to find a way to get through the day-to-day grind, but you need to have a bit of time to yourself when you can allow yourself to fully let go and grieve in whatever way is best for you. In the car, bathroom breaks, going on walks at lunch, time with close friends, etc…

  2. Everyone grieves differently. Don’t be upset with yourself and feel that you are being overly dramatic, or conversely, overly cold about your loss. At the same time, allow others some space to feel the grief in the way that they need to. How you express grief is likely to be as unique as you are.

  3. Talk about your pet. Tell stories to others and remember all the good things. Try to think of the funniest quirk or habit that would always make you smile. It is important to make sure that your strongest memories aren’t the ones from just before their passing, but the wide array of memories throughout your lives together.

  4. Not everyone will understand. It is wonderful to be able to talk and share memories of your pet, but sometimes there will be people who just don’t understand. Just acknowledge that these people see pets differently than you do and be aware of it. I would suggest not talking to those people about your loss. It would have upset me terribly if anybody had said “what’s the big deal? It’s just a cat.” That moment probably isn’t the best moment to discuss differing value systems.

  5. Do something symbolic. We got a sturdy plant and we mixed Sable’s ashes in with its soil. We also donated some newer toys of hers to a shelter, and picked up some extra food to go with it. If you are an artist or writer, it might help to express your memories in that way, with poetry or a painting.

  6. Get another pet. You can never replace a family member. Each and every one of our pets is unique and special and no dog or cat will ever be the same as the one we lost, but there are definitely good reasons to consider a new family member. Sometimes a new pet will help fill in those deafening silences and hollow days, not to diminish your grief, but just to avoid being overwhelmed by it. Also, there a lot of animals that need someone to love and care for them and if you are reading this, I think I can assume you would be a good candidate.

  7. Take care of yourself. Proper nutrition, sunlight and exercise are crucial when dealing with grief. Studies have shown a link between malnutrition and depression, so why would you want to make a bad situation worse? Walking a new puppy is a great way to get exercise…

  8. If you have children, talk to them. It is best to be honest and realistic with children. This will probably be the first time a child has to deal with the death of a loved one and it is essential that it be as positive as possible. Avoid euphemisms, like “put to sleep” or “went away.” Children can take things like this very literally. Imagine a child fearing going to bed after hearing that “Sparky was put to sleep” and then never came back again. As hard as it is, it is really best to confront the subject head on and use words like “died” and “dead.”

  9. Remember that your other pets may grieve too, or even just pick up on the emotions in the household. During this time it is important to be aware of how animals might express their emotions and look at ways to help them as well. Personally, I think a round of flower essences like Bach’s Rescue Remedy or Grieving Flower Essences for everybody can be a great idea.

  10. Lastly, do not obsess on assigning blame. Even if someone was directly at fault, remember that you need time to grieve and it won’t help to focus excessively on feelings of guilt or anger. Don’t let time that should be spent remembering your best friend turn into a huge negative experience full of fighting and blame.

Grief when you lose someone you love is a reality and nothing will take away the pain of that loss, but hopefully some of these strategies can help you deal with the pain in positive ways.

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8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Free builts said,

    I had a favourite cat when i was small and though almost 20 year passed after his
    death i still remember and feel grief of the day when he passed away.

  2. 2

    vickie belvin said,

    my heart goes out to you, i have 13 cats that i rescued, and they are all healthy, thank god, along with 1 older dog, but i have had many pets in the past that have crossed over to rainbow bridge, and there are no words to describe your loss, except to let you know, i cried reading your story, but it might help to let you know that i know with all my being, 1 day you will be together again, and right now your little cat is there with you watching over you, loving you, and till you meet again, she would not want you to keep greiving over her, but keep giving your love to all the other animals on this planet that need love so desperately, may the spirit be with you and your family always

  3. 3

    CHRIS KELLEY said,

    AS A FORMER CAT BREEDER, AND FOREVER DOG/CAT OWNER, I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT THE PAIN OF LOSING A TREASURED MEMBER OF THE FAMILY IS ALWAYS TRAUMATIC.
    THE WAY WE DEAL WITH THIS IS TO MAKE SURE THE ANIMAL GOT THE BEST VET CARE WHILE STILL LIVING, HAD A GREAT LIFE, AND IS NOW SUFFERING/HAS NO CHANCE OF SURVIVING. JUST AS YOU WOULD NOT WANT THE END OF YOUR LIVE TO BE A LIVING HELL, THEY DESERVE DIGNATY, COMPASION, AND THE LOVE YOU GIVE WHEN YOU DECIDE TO BE RESPONSIBLE ENOUGH TO LET THEM GO. WHEN THEIR IS NO GUILT ABOUT THIS DECISION, THE FACT THAT YOU DID THE BEST THING FOR YOUR ANIMAL IS USUALLY ENOUGH FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO REMEMBER YOUR PET IN A VERY POSITIVE WAY.
    REMEMBER THE GOODTIMES YOU HAD WITH HIM/HER. SPECIAL GOOD THINGS LIKE HOW HE WAS SPECIAL, GAMES PLAYED, TOYS LOVED, PLACES NOW EMPTY, BUT REMEMBER WITH LOVE NOT PAIN.

    P.S. GIVE ANOTHER PET THE SAME OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE AS GOOD A HOME AND EXPERIENCE LIFE WITH YOU.

    GET ANOTHER PET. THEY WON’T REPLACE, BUT WILL HAVE JUST AS MUCH PERSONALITY AS THE ONE YOU LOST.

    GOOD LUCK WITH THIS RESPONSIBILITY TO ALL OUR PECIOUS ANIMAL COMPANIONS.

  4. 4

    As life-long animal lovers, current dog and cat “partners” and maine coon cat breeder and fanciers, we have experienced many passings over the years. The joy and knowledge of life that has been provided by Mother Nature’s little miracles more than compensates for the sad interludes. Recently, we have preserved the memories with the help of Josh Bernbaum, a young, award-winng glass artist, who has been able to incorporate the ashes of our lost family members into an appropriate and beautiful animal sculpture. He can be reached a t jmbglass@mac.com.

  5. 5

    I’ve been owned by many cats over the years. Unfortunately, none of them
    ever lived long enough. I lost my sweet little Chloe probably 13 years ago,
    and I can still tear up thinking about her. And my precious BlackCat left nearly
    two years ago. It still hurts. I don’t know that you ever really get over it.

    Another cat will find you. There will be more kitties in your life. Remember
    your little friend will be waiting for you on the other side.

  6. 6

    I lost my dog Cody about 5 years ago, and I did not deal with my grief at the time. I had to put him to sleep very suddenly, no time to “prepare” myself, and then after it was over I went home and stuffed my feelings for 5 years. I finally started writing about it and was able to open the time capsule (the grief and feelings never leave, they just travel with you until you deal with them). I started writing down the story recently (http://journeywithcody.blogspot.com), and it has helped IMMENSELY. So much so that I was able to open up my heart and adopt a new puppy into my life. He doesn’t take the place of Cody but boy, is it sure great to have another dog around. I highly recommend dealing with the grief and then going out and getting a new buddy – I think it is all part of the healing process.

  7. 7

    I love the post from Eleanor about using writing to “open the time capsule”. I think it’s really a personal decision how long to wait before getting another pet. Take care, Phyllis

  8. 8

    Abuctsact said,

    There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That’s a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith and grieving the loss of a pet. I don’t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but when a pet dies, it is hard to know what is best.


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