Grieving the death of a loved one is unique to each of us

(and deserves to be held in the waiting room until you are ready.)

To love an animal companion like a dog, cat, horse, bird, reptile, no matter what the species – is to truly know the meaning of unconditional love.

If you were lucky enough to share your life with a pet, all who come wth their own soul contract with us and purpose who has passed or is nearing the end of life, then you also have the flip-side of such a strong relationship: grief. Every experience of grief is unique, so you can’t really be prepared for the loss of your dog.

Some of the things that you might do or think while grieving may make you think you are going crazy.

If you are like so many of my clients dreading the day that they have to say good bye to their aging or ill pets book a Is my pet preparing to pass private session now because

there are things you can do to celebrate their life and make their passing a beautiful rite of passage.

Loss is a confusing experience, one that may even cross the barriers of space time.

We lose ourselves.
We lose our lives.
We lose everything.
Not just the person.
On top of that, we live in a world that is not equipped to help us come back to life.
That is what I learned the hard way 17 years ago with the death of my business,my marriage to a narc and a dead of myself as I knew ME.
And my beloved Elizabeth Kubler Ross was right about everything.
We deny.
We bargain.
We are angry.
We do all that she has mentioned.
But what then?
When we go through all the stages of grief, of bereavement, what do we do then?
We go and wait for time to heal us because the world somehow told us that.
And that has always been the wrong advice.
That advice created the Waiting Room, the place between the life you left behind and the life you have yet to experience.
Millions of people go there, thinking that is their second life.
I was there too. I was there for 4 years.
The Waiting room is misleading.
It makes you feel as if you are making strides but when you look deeper you are still not living fully.
With all my work on trauma and soul loss, by getting to the root cause of abandonment issues, of dis-ease, of luminal space I want to support you in
resetting your nervous system and your beloved animals to move out of the stuck place and TRUST this too will pass and grow you.
The in between place. The really hard place.

In reading this I trust you understand some of the common feelings, behaviors, and thoughts that may come with the loss of your pet.

It is my hope that while an article can’t get rid of the sadness or fill the empty hole in your heart, it may encourage you to find a way to grow from

this experience and see it as yet another gift from your dog. 

Is my grief normal?

How long will this last?

You may be surprised to have so much grief from the loss of your dog, or to be experiencing grief before your dog is even gone.

This grief is completely normal, and may be misunderstood by the people around you.

grief is not meant to last forever – please trust that.

They may accuse you of overreacting.

It is, after all, ‘just a dog/ cat/ horse/ bird/ bearded dragon.’

You may even tell yourself that and try to avoid working through your grief or want to ‘get rid of it’ as soon as possible.

Your grief will probably not be gone in a few weeks or even months. Because of the special relationship we have with our dogs,

grief of a beloved pet can often be more intense than the death of a family member, and coming to terms with the change will take as long as it takes.

The good news is that you do not have to ‘get over’ the loss of your dog; you do not have to forget your dog.

Mourning and processing your grief will allow you to change the relationship with the tangible dog of fur and drool to a relationship with an animal companion

within your own heart and mind. Your dog will always be there, as will your love.

Other losses cause grief, too

There are many losses that we grieve, whether we are aware of it or not. If you do not consciously process that grief, it can remain dormant

until the next loss, and over time, you build up a big pile of losses as time goes on, and sometimes a loss is so strong that you are forced to grieve not only that loss,

but others as well. So instead of just the one loss, you are processing a “multiple loss” of the current loss plus whatever else you have lost in the past.

Some of life’s experiences that can cause grief are:

  • Death of family friends, pets
  • Loss/change of a home, moving away from parents, etc.
  • Loss/change of a job or job description
  • Birth of a child / acquisition of a dog (loss of the lifestyle that came before)
  • Hysterectomy (loss of ability to give birth)
  • Divorce (loss of partner, lifestyle, and can involve the loss of kids or pets)
  • Kids moving out (loss of current family lifestyle)
  • Break-ups with friends or friends moving away

Seven Principles of Grief

The idea that every loss is a multiple loss is one of the Seven Principles of Grief by J. Shep Jeffries (2007).

If you want a giant overview of the grief process, I recommend you read that book.

Here is his full list of grief principles:

  • Principle One: You cannot fix or cure grief.
  • Principle Two: There is no one right way to grieve.
  • Principle Three: There is no universal timetable for the grief journey.
  • Principle Four: Every loss is a multiple loss.
  • Principle Five: Change=Loss=Grief.
  • Principle Six: We grieve old loss while grieving new loss.
  • Principle Seven: We grieve when a loss has occurred or is threatened.
I’m losing my mind. Is that normal, too?

There is a whole training module on Grief and the Dying Process in my Being Human Through Animals – animal communication home study course because this is such an important topic to live well so we can die well.

Yup. Many people (especially ones without dogs) don’t understand that dog lovers experience real, strong grief when they lose their dogs.

They may give their condolences upon first hearing of your loss, but may not realize that you continue to be in pain as time goes on, and wonder

why you are still crying, irritable, or otherwise ‘not yourself’ as time passes. You may wonder, yourself, whether you are going crazy.

Here are some cognitive symptoms of grief, from J. Shep Jeffrey’s book, “Helping Grieving People” (2007, Kindle Locations 1462-1480):

  • Responding sluggishly to questions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in usual activities—work, sports, games, collecting, social clubs,
  • Loss of pleasure—avoids sex, entertainment, food, and social events
  • General numbness—shutdown of reactions to social stimuli, no pain, and no joy
  • Intrusive thoughts about the loss—constant barrage of thoughts
  • Confusion and disorientation—difficulty with time sequences, location
  • A sense of futility about life—”What’s the use?” and “Why bother?”
  • A sense of helplessness—”Can’t do anything to help myself”
  • Uncertainty about identity—”Who am I now?” and “How do I present myself to others now?”
  • So-called “crazy” thoughts—hearing or seeing the lost loved one; feeling like they can communicate with them
  • Mental fatigue—too tired to figure things out, mind just won’t work
5 Tips for Self-Care

These are things you can do to help even if your loss was a long time ago. You will always love your dog. But if the loss was recent or tears still overcome you whenever you think of your dog, the grief may not be fully processed, and your health and relationships can suffer because of it. There are many other things to do, but here are five important ways you can take care of yourself.

  1. Feel your feelings without shame. You grieve the loss of your dog because you are human and you truly love your dog. Your feelings are real and need to be honored.
  2. Express your feelings and talk about the experience of your dog’s life and death or loss. Talk to friends, post online, or take a look at the chat rooms in the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement website. It is normal (but incorrect) for other people to assume you can move on quickly, because it wasn’t their loss. Don’t count on people to bring up your loss. They may think that avoiding it will make you feel better. Denial may help, in the short term, but it will come back to haunt you. If your own personal network is tired of hearing about your loss, then go to a support group and/or connect with people online. You don’t have to spend any time with friends who belittle your loss, compare your loss to theirs, or change the conversation to be about them instead of you and your dog.A lot of us try to be stoic, but we’re not doing anyone any favors if we don’t process our grief, because it can come out in other unpleasant ways (back pain, crankiness, overemotionality, underemotionality, lack of ability to form good relationships, you name it).
  3. Honor your dog’s life with some sort of ‘shrine.’ Put together a slideshow or video of your dog’s life, like the ones I made for Spoon and Peanut (below). Make a collage for your wall with photos and/or your dog’s collar. Do a memorial ceremony where friends and family who knew your dog talk about his life and how it affected them. Create a web site in honor of your dog.
  4. Give yourself permission to not grieve all the time. It’s okay to be happy even after the loss of your dog. It’s okay to enjoy the pets that you still have with you, too. You can set time aside to not grieve, or set time aside to grieve, whatever works for you.
  5. Hydrate, exercise, eat, and get out of bed. Dogs can provide companionship, exercise, and even give us a reason to get up in the morning. Without your dog, you may have to push yourself to do these things, but it will become easier over time.Without water, it’s easy to fall into a downward spiral.  Light exercise, like walking around the block, can have a great effect on your mood. Walking where you normally went with your dog may bring up a lot of memories with your dog. Allow yourself to feel the grief of that loss but when you are ready, also to remember the joy you shared with your dog.

4 Healing Tasks for the Grieving Person or Family

As I’ve said before, everyone’s grief is different, but the Jeffries book that I mentioned before lists five things that you might do as you mourn your dog’s death or loss. I wanted to share this with you because you may be more familiar with the outdated idea that there are stages. Instead, we simply encounter grief in waves and eventually (if we’re persistent) work our way through these five tasks in our own personal order.

  1. Sharing Acknowledgment of Death or Loss. Really, truly understand the finality of the loss. This is where having a shrine and memorial ceremony come in. Work on open communication about the death in your family, including children, in an age-appropriate way. Doing something together as a family to celebrate the life of the dog and mourn the loss can help heal, as can involving friends.Pre-Loss Tip: If your dog hasn’t yet passed, please read this. One way to give your brain time to feel the finality of the loss is to  keep your dog’s body at home for a few days, and to take part in the cremation or burial instead of just leaving your dog’s body at the vet. Before rigor mortis sets in, curl your dog into a sleeping position with the chin tilted slightly up (so nothing runs out – sorry it’s gross but true). Place an absorbent cloth under your dog in case there is any leakage from the other end. Stay home, don’t work, don’t talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. You can keep your dog home for up to 1-2 days: when rigor mortis fades and the body starts to soften again (after about 3 days) it’s truly time to do the funeral.
  2. Sharing the Pain and Grief. Talk about the loss and keep talking. Express emotions. Feel. Don’t be surprised if your partner expresses his or her pain differently. That’s normal and does not mean s/he is a monster. Do not hold in what you are feeling in order to keep someone else from feeling bad. It’s good for both of you to talk about your guilt, anger, shame, pain, etc.
  3. Reorganizing the Family System. This is the logistical part of loss, as in “now I have only one dog to feed, not two.” Or “Do I bury my dog or cremate her or both?”  “How do I deal with the change of relationship with my remaining animals?” “Now that the dog-reactive dog is no longer with us, should we start going on more walks with the other one?”
  4. Creating New Directions, Relationships, and Goals. This is not a fast process, not a goal to reach as quickly as possible, but be aware that this is something that is healthy to do. This task might involve getting a new dog or other pet, perhaps the same breed or perhaps a different one. It might mean deciding to volunteer at a shelter to get your dog fix in some other way, or doing the traveling that you couldn’t do with your dog.If your dog was reactive or had other behavior problems, you might feel guilty about seeing his or her passing as an opportunity, but it’s also a realistic truth. This final task is about moving on and exploring new options for your life now that the situation has changed, while still holding your dog in a special place in your heart. Task four also involves exploring the possibility of your loss as a profound self-development experience. More on that next.

Your dog’s final gift to you

Life with an animal companion can teach you a lot: how to live in the moment, how to enjoy the smell of fresh-mown grass or the first snow of the year to its fullest, even how to forgive. The death of your dog can also teach you to live in the moment, give you insight into what it means to be alive, and give you an opportunity for growth.

This chance to learn is a parting gift from your dog. Joining a pet loss support group (in person or online) and reading books on grief will help you put your grief in perspective and give you a way to continue processing your grief. It’s very important to express your feelings during this time. “The outward expression of grief, or mourning, is how you externalize those thoughts and feelings and ultimately, integrate them into your life” (Wolfelt, 2004, Kindle Locations 47-48).

It may also be helpful to work with an animal communicator or nervous system expert like me – book a Confusion to Clarity discovery session with me if you re ready to invest in yourself and are committed to do the inner shadow work because I know you cannot heal if you don’t feel.

While the grieving process is not a problem to be fixed, it is a time of tumultuous emotionality, from relief and intense guilt to anger and sadness.

The loss of your beloved pet may be an opportunity to understand the grief process and to work on the unprocessed grief of other losses in your life.