Losing a pet is very emotional and stressful. Looking after your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs will ensure that you have the necessary energy to face your grief.
The 12 self-care essentials that I found useful while grieving the loss of my pet are:
- Maintain routines
- Do not let others tell you how to feel
- Allow yourself to grief
- Meet basic needs
- Choose a calming practice and use it frequently
- memorialize the memory of your pet
- Seek support
- Let go
- Try to avoid making major life decisions
- Prepare for special occasions
- Don’t compare
Below I describe each point in more depth to give you a one-stop guide on how to take care of yourself while grieving the loss of a beloved companion.
As simple as this sounds, it is one of the things you may find the most difficult. This is especially true if the routine was to go out for a walk with your best friend.
However, keeping a routine will help you feel in control, helping you feel calmer, and will ensure you meet your basic needs such as sleeping, eating, exercise, and more.
One thing I found really useful was to create a chart with everything that was to happen on my day.
The chart should have the days of the week and time. The idea is to add everything you do on the day: when you get up, when you go to sleep, your commute time to work, time at work, meal times, household chores, exercise, meeting with family and friends, hobbies, grieving time, etc…
This last one I personally found very useful. I am a mum of two young girls. To get any time to sit down is almost impossible. However, after I lost Pancho I needed time to grieve.
Having grieving time does not mean that you cannot grieve at other times of the day, but by focusing on one thing at the time I felt less overwhelmed.
So when I was at work I tried to concentrate on my work tasks, while I was doing housework I tried and concentrate on my housework, but when I was on my grieving time, I made the effort to sit down and work on healing.
Some activities that may be helpful to do during your “grieving time” are: journaling, talking to a friend, seeing your therapist, meeting with a grief support group, talking to a pastor, looking through photos, listening to music, etc.
After you complete your schedule, check and make sure it is balanced. For example, you don’t want to become a workaholic or a party animal to deal with your grief.
Remember, following a concrete tangible structure can help when you are dealing with the many emotions of grief.
Do Not Let Others Tell You How To Feel
There are people that may have comments such as “but it was just an animal”, “you can get another one”, “you need to move on”.
These people may make you feel judged and/or embarrassed for showing or expressing you are grieving.
They do not understand what you are going through, most likely because they have never experienced it themselves.
Keep away from these people. They will only make you feel worse. Instead, surround yourself with people that understand your grief.
Attend grieving meetings, seek friends and/or family members that have gone through it, or at least seek people that are open to the idea that grieving your lost pet is as normal as grieving a human companion.
Do not let people tell you how you should feel. Your grief is your own, and no one should be allowed to tell you: the length grief should last, nor when it is time “to move on” .
Allow Yourself To Grieve
Some people experience grief in stages such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance. Others may find that their grief is cyclical and it comes in waves.
There is no right or wrong way to experience grief. However, it comes simply embrace it.
Ignoring the pain or preventing it from surfacing may send you into a path of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and/or health problems when eventually those feelings catch up with you, and believe me they will catch up with you.
So, for healing to happen grief must be faced and actively be dealt with. Don’t ignore it!…
After I lost Pancho I had times when I was ok, and I had other times when I was very sad and needed to cry. On those times of deep sadness, I let my self cry. I allow the emotion to come. Once it was out of my system I felt I could carry on with my day until the sadness came again.
In the beginning, the times I felt low were more frequent and longer, but as time passed; the low times become less frequent and were shorter.
I cannot help think that if I had repressed those strong sad times, they would have built up and eventually overwhelmed me. Potentially sending me into depression.
I found writing and talking to others helped me clear my mind, help me dealt with my emotions, helped me released anger and frustration, and helped me reflect and come to terms with the loss of my beloved Pancho.
Pancho died at the age of 3 from meningitis. A few days after his death I felt angry and frustrated with the vets, as I felt they failed him for not picking up the infection on time.
On reflection, I think my anger, frustration and urge to blame someone for his death was part of my grief process. Meningitis is not common in dogs and thus its signs can be easily missed.
Writing and talking also allowed me to remember Pancho for the happy, energetic doggi that he was, and not the fragile, sick doggy he became in the last 3 days of his life.
Meet Basic Needs
Losing a pet is very emotional and stressful. Looking after yourself will ensure that you have the necessary energy to face your grief.
Spend time with your loved ones, eat healthily, drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep and exercise. Physical activities will help you destress and release some frustration and tension.
Allow yourself some pleasures like having a hot bath, your favorite foods or a massage. These pleasures will help you find comfort in life again and will destress you.
I am fully aware of how difficult it will be to follow any of the above activities after you have lost your best friend.
But trust me, the days and nights ahead are going to be hard. Doing all, or some of the above suggestions will help you go through the hardship ahead.
Choose A Calming Practice And Use It Frequently
There will be times when your emotions will overwhelm you. Having a calming practice such as breath focus, meditation or visualisation; will help reduce stress, boost your energy and mood, and improve your mental and physical health.
When you are stressed, your brain sends an alarm system to your body, causing it to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.
The release of these hormones is a primal response to help us against threats from predators and other aggressors.
To counteract the potentially detrimental effects of the constant stress and sadness from your grief, you must learn how to produce the relaxation response, a state of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response.
In other words, the relaxation response puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.
The two calming practices I found useful when I lost Pancho were:
- Breath focus – the purpose of this technique is to take long, slow, deep breaths through your nose, letting all the air out from your mouth. The muscular emotion should be from your belly not your chest. Until you master this, I suggest you put one hand in your chest and another in your belly. The hand in your belly should rise while the hand in your chest should be moving very little.
I love this technique because It’s easy to learn, can be practiced anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Be aware, this technique may not be appropriate for people with breathing difficulties.
- Mindfulness meditation – The purpose of this practice is to bring your mind to the present moment, leaving behind the past and the future. To bring yourself outside your thoughts into the present:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit,
- Close your eyes and find a point of focus, such as your breathing.
- Focus on: the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling
- Now shift your awareness to the sensations you observe in your surroundings. Ask yourself what’s happening outside of my body? Notice what you hear, smell, and feel in your environment.
- Change your awareness several times from your body to your environment and back again until your anxiety starts to fade.
Memorialize The Memory Of Your Pet
Creating a memorial is a positive way to both help you heal and let the memory of your beloved pet live on.
This is also a great way to help children get actively involved in saying goodbye and thus helping them work through their grief.
Some ideas for memorials are:
- Plant a tree. Be careful if wanting to bury the ashes under the tree. Due to the ashes pH levels, this (the tree) may not survive. I have written an article about this here. The article discusses ways to go around pH levels so you can bury the ashes. Alternatively, choose a living urn. These urns are designed for a tree to grow while incorporating the ashes.
- Create a photo album or scrapbook.
- Hold a memorial service.
- Write an obituary to put in your local paper or on social media.
- Write a letter to your pet telling them everything you are feeling. I did this on the day Pancho died. It was very helpful as it allowed me to clear my mind by putting all I was thinking and feeling on paper.
- Write stories that recall humorous and favorite memories.
- Paint a picture of your pet. This can be a very therapeutic way to deal with your grief.
- Choose an urn. For this you have many options:
- If wanting to bury the ashes while protecting the environment there are biodegradable urns and living urns.
- There are also non-biodegradable urns designed to be buried.
- Alternatively, there are many urns designed to be displayed at home.
- Create a memory box of the pet’s items, such as a dog tag or a favorite toy. If you have children, let them decorate the box.
- Salt dough charm. Salt dough is an easy material to make with kids, perfect to get the children involved in honoring your beloved pet. With just three ingredients, salt, flour and water, this dough can be used to craft a paw print or your pet’s name.
These are a few ideas. If you fancy none of these do not worry, there are many more ideas on the internet.
Seek For Support
As simple as this may sound, for most people asking for help can be somewhat difficult without feeling guilty, apologetic, weak, selfish, burdensome, or as though you have to send ten follow-up texts saying “Thanks Again!!!!!”.
However, getting support from your family, friends, fellow mourners or professional counselors is essential, as this support will have a major influence on your healing.
So, reach out for support and allow them to take care of you. You never know, someday those people may need help, and you’ll be there to return the favor.
When Pancho died, for weeks I felt guilty for not taking him for long walks more often, for leaving him at home while I was at work, for sometimes getting frustrated at him. I will replay in my mind over and over the things I did or didn’t do, the things I said or didn’t said.
Letting go all the things you did or didn’t do, say or didn’t say is essential for your healing process.
I am not saying this will be an easy process. That guilty feeling is part of grief.
But recognizing and remembering the wonderful life you gave him/her, may help you with the process of letting go.
Avoid Making Major Decisions
Grieving is one of the major stressful events a person can experience, this stress may cloud your judgment.
Therefore, if faced with a major life change decision and this cannot be delayed for 6 months to a year, then consider discussing your intentions with a trusted family member or friend.
Often, simply having a conversation with someone who has your best interest at heart can help you gain a better sense of perspective, and perhaps help you realize that the situation is less urgent than it feels to you.
Prepare for Special Occasions
Special occasions such as: birthdays, anniversaries (especially their birthdays or anniversaries) or Christmas may be difficult to enjoy without your beloved pet. These may even activate your grief.
To prepare for them decide in advance whom do you want to spend them with, and what do you want to do. Decide whether you want to keep certain traditions or start new ones, and most importantly keep it simple and stress-free.
Preparation will help you take one step at the time on this difficult day.
Do not Compare
It is human nature to compare ourselves with others.
Do not compare yourself to your expectations. As most of us are unprepared for the overwhelming response we have when we experience loss, our expectations tend to be unrealistic.
Do not compare how you grieve to the way others grieve. As mentioned before, grief shows in different ways and intensities. Grief is very individual and will be shaped by many things:
- The meaning of the loss – for example a person that relied on their dog to get around or to help them calm down, will not only feel the loss of a friend but will also feel the loss of their independence.
- Your personal characteristics,
- your support network, and
- your health.
Do not compare the way you heal to your perception of how others heal. Healing, like grief, is an individual experience and journey. There is no right or wrong way to heal, just your way!
Comparing will not help you but instead, it may stress you.
Your grief and healing process will take as long as it needs to take, and that is ok. Do not rush it.
Losing a pet is sad, stressful, and overwhelming.
Make sure you take care of your body, mind, and soul.