It’s Okay to be Not Okay
PDSA offers advice on saying goodbye to our pets
Losing a treasured companion is one of the hardest things we can ever experience. Whether the loss is sudden or following a long period of illness, the deep feeling of grief can be devastating.
Coping with the pain of grief can often feel overwhelming, and you may experience many difficult and confusing emotions – from shock and disbelief to guilt and even anger. This in turn may affect your physical health, causing problems eating, sleeping or even carrying out everyday tasks.
PDSA Vet, Olivia Anderson-Nathan said: “Pets are part of the family and for a lot of us, they can be one of our closest companions. They are there for us through the good and the bad, and the loss of our pets can be earth-shattering.”
Understanding the different stages of grief can help you manage the healing process. Some people may never experience these feelings, or only relate to one of the stages. Others can experience all of them. You do not have to go through the stages in any particular order, or for any length of time. It is normal for people to spend time shifting between each stage and revisiting certain emotions.
- Denial: It may be hard to accept that your pet is no longer with you and your home can feel very empty. It can sometimes feel that what you’re experiencing can’t possibly be real.
- Anger: This is the time you especially need the support of family and friends and a listening ear. You may feel intense pain and outbursts of anger.
- Bargaining: This phase may bring up feelings of guilt and you might be asking yourself questions like, ‘Did I do the right thing?’
- Depression: Some people feel immense sadness and will cry often. You might also feel empty and lost, not knowing which way to turn. Sleep can be disrupted and your appetite can change.
- Acceptance: You will always feel an element of sadness in your heart, but you will get to the stage of being able to accept what has happened.
A pet’s death may also have varying effects on the rest of your family, and these may be different depending on their age. Younger children may have limited understanding, but we advise against using ‘little white lies’ like “they have a new home” or “they have been put to sleep” as this may cause confusion. Older children will understand more, and will often need more support because of this during the grieving process.
“Everyone copes with loss differently,” continued Olivia, “but they say that time is the biggest healer. So giving yourself the time and space you need to grieve is incredibly important. Talking with friends and family about your thoughts, feelings and memories is a big part of the healing process for many people to help come to terms with what’s happened.”
If you feel like you’re struggling with grief, speak to your vet or your GP. They might be able to put you in touch with a bereavement counsellor. We also have some advice available online at www.pdsa.org.uk/bereavement
PDSA is the UK’s leading vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information. www.pdsa.org.uk