Whether you’re anticipating a loss or mourning the death of a beloved animal, grief can take a toll on you in every way – emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The pain of loss is draining and exhausting. Regardless of how you’re feeling, you probably still have to work, be there for the important people in your life, and take care of daily responsibilities.
When we lose a human loved one, it is common to receive lots of support and care from the people in our communities. If we lose an animal loved one, regardless of the importance of the relationship, the support is usually less. People do care. But it’s not a societal norm to bring meals, send sympathy gifts, or just come over to sit with us in our time of grief – even though we may yearn for that kind of acknowledgment and understanding. Some of us don’t even take time off from work right after the death and just keep going while in shock or holding back tears.
Even if we are lucky enough to have others in our lives who give us support, we may still need more than our friends and family can offer. That’s why it’s crucial that we give to ourselves as well so we can stay healthy and replenish our energy. Meeting the demands of life while mourning a loss takes a lot out of us. Although it may not come easy, one approach is to try to give ourselves the same care, love, and concern we gave our pets. They would want that for us.
Here are some ideas:
- Whenever you think about it, take a few minutes to consciously relax the parts of your body that hold tension and breathe. Take five to ten slow deep breaths. Grief is stressful and we may be inundated by difficult thoughts or overwhelming emotions. Even for a few minutes at a time, try to focus on breathing and keeping your body relaxed. It may bring you a little break from the pain. When we breathe deeply, it sends a message to our body and brain to relax.
- Move your body. This can be difficult if your walks were always with your canine friend who is now gone. If you enjoy walking outside, exploring other neighborhoods can be interesting and get you out the door. Perhaps a friend would join you? Maybe check out other ways and places for exercise, such as a community center or a fitness club. Other ways to move your body are yoga, tai chi, or qigong. These slower movements can involve contemplation, visualization, and conscious breathing, depending on the type of form you practice. Many are designed for healing and to reduce stress in the body/mind.
- Get a calming and relaxing massage. Sometimes this kind of caring, healing touch can open our hearts and let the tears flow. So be sure the person massaging you makes you feel comfortable and safe.
- As a grief healing exercise, write a love letter to your pet and just allow all the feelings this brings up. You can do this all at once or add to it each day. After you are finished, you can re-read it or just leave it alone. Even if you never look at it again, this exercise can help move you forward in your healing journey.
- Nurture yourself. Take a warm bath. Listen to beautiful and peaceful music. Watch a TV program or movie that allows you to completely escape your reality for a while. Read an inspiring book or listen to a podcast.
- Try a guided healing visualization. There are several free apps you can use on your phone or computer with thousands of meditations to choose from, some specifically about grief. Insight Timer is my favorite.
- Make yourself eat well. Try to eat less sugar, white bread, and desserts and eat more protein, produce, and nutrient-dense foods. I wish it were a tradition for people to bring meals after the death of an animal loved one, but that usually doesn’t happen. If you’re on your own or responsible for family meals, make it simple. If you don’t have an appetite or anxiety and sadness makes you feel sick at the thought of eating, try a smoothie or soup. Stress or a grieving heart can make us crave fatty foods and sugar. The problem is, if you go too long without eating or just eat junk, you might feel drained and terrible physically which makes it even harder to cope with how you’re feeling emotionally.
- Try to get enough sleep and rest. Although grief is exhausting, people often find that their sleep patterns change or their sleep is disrupted. If you are used to sleeping with your pet near or on the bed with you, the pain of this empty space can feel overwhelming. Try to be patient with yourself and know that difficulties with sleep are normal after this huge of a loss. Everything has changed. We may be inundated with painful memories of the death, sorrow, guilt, anxiety, and a host of emotions after the death of a pet that make it really hard to relax and sleep.
- One approach is to use tools to get out of your head before sleep. Yoga Nidra is a form of yoga that relaxes your whole body, step by step. If you can focus on the body part you are relaxing, by the end of the practice, you will hopefully either be asleep or close to sleep. Or listen to a guided meditation that will take you to a beautiful place and relax your body and mind. YouTube has many audios you can listen to. Anything that will help separate you from your thoughts will be helpful.
- Find emotional support through friends, family members, an online or in-person pet loss group, or a professional who specializes in grief support for pet loss. It can be so healing to talk with others who understand and can empathize with the depth of your loss. You should not have to be alone with your grief.