During this time of isolation, social media is filled with photos and videos of dogs and cats. Even television personalities sit with pets on their laps or beside them as they entertain or inform us. Most are funny or endearing, but the message is clear – our animals keep us sane during this incredibly difficult time. And they do.
Their constant presence brings us light and lightness. They make us laugh when the news is bleak. They comfort us when we feel lonely, scared, or sad. Their needs force us to keep a routine even if we have lost our jobs or our days seem void of plans or direction. But what if, on top of all the other losses because of covid19, we are faced with the death or impending death of our beloved pet?
At any time, the loss of a pet can feel devastating and unbearable. Added to that pain can be a feeling of shame because those who don’t have the same intense connection with their pets may not get it. People who matter to us can make comments that make us feel worse and trigger feelings of embarrassment because we aren’t “over it” as quickly as they think we should be or not ready right away to get another pet.
As a pet loss counselor who is supporting bereaved pet parents during this collective time of grief and loss, I have found that the feeling of shame seems even greater. Now, more than ever, people may feel they have no right to mourn. “I can’t believe how much it hurts. He was just a little dog.” Or, “What’s wrong with me to grieve so much for a cat when I know people who have lost their parents?”
There is nothing wrong with you. You have lost a precious family member, best friend, and constant companion; one you loved and who returned your love completely and unconditionally. This is no small loss. The intensity of pain doesn’t spare us because what we are mourning had fur.
Here are some thoughts about coping with the death or impending death of a pet during the pandemic:
- If you have to make the wrenching decision to euthanize your animal and you have some time to plan ahead, know that policies have changed in many animal hospitals because of covid19. For the protection of everyone, some clinics will not allow pet owners in the building. And some will only allow one person inside to be with their animal.
Mobile vets may still be able to come to your home and perform the euthanasia outside or in a large room where social distancing is possible. If you know you will not be able to be with your pet at the end, you may be able to request an oral sedative to administer beforehand. Now, more than ever, advance planning is important. Consult with your vet or other vets in your area about their policies and procedures for euthanasia so you will know what to expect. This is such a stressful time for everyone, including veterinarians who may be risking their lives to bring a peaceful death to animals who are suffering.
- You may be overwhelmed with guilt if you were not able to be with your beloved animal at the end. It is not easy, but please try to treat yourself with compassion and understanding. No wonder you are in such pain. As well as losing your loved one, you were forced to make a choice that went against your heart. What would you say to a good friend faced with this agony to offer some comfort and peace? Is it possible to take those words and say them to yourself? You may have to do it again and again.
Someone else can say, “You had no choice,” and although that statement is true, we have to really believe it is true in the depth of our being to allow guilt to release its grip. This may require us to look at why we feel guilty given the circumstance and to question our beliefs about what we think we did wrong.
- If you are able to be with other family members who also loved your animal, share your feelings with each other. If you are alone, in limited company, or unable to find the support you need, reach out to others you trust. Telling people your sad news may feel unreal and the words like a punch in the gut at first, but for many people sharing the pain can eventually help it diminish. Reach out in whatever ways feel right to you in this time of social distancing: a phone call, texting, social media, an online pet loss support site, or video calls.
- Everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way. Some people are more expressive with their feelings while others are more internal. Honor your own way of dealing with this loss. Try not to let anyone pressure you with their own expectations about how you should be feeling or what you should be doing.
- Take good care of yourself. Grief takes a toll on us in every way. If you are working from home, you are in the presence of constant reminders of your loss. Some people find it helpful to take some time off from working because grief makes it hard to think clearly and our thoughts may be scattered. Don’t neglect your physical needs and be sure to remember to hydrate and eat something nourishing. If you feel sick from emotional pain, try something easy to digest like soup or a smoothie. Some people in mourning have no appetite and others are hungry all the time. Try to get enough sleep but don’t worry if your sleep patterns are different. That is a normal part of grief. Right now so much has changed, and it will be reflected in your body, mind, and spirit.
If you could use some additional support in coping with your loss, please contact me. As a pet loss counselor, I would love to talk with you.