Grieving for the death or loss of your companion is hard work. It can be incredibly exhausting, painful, and overwhelming to process through the many emotions that are faced during this time. It can be made harder if assumptions are made about a few common myths associated with pet loss. This article explores nine frequent misconceptions when it comes to experiencing the death of a companion animal and clears them up with the truth.
1) Myth: You shouldn’t be grieving for your pet this much.
Fact: Research shows that grieving for the death of a companion animal is just as painful, if not more so than the death of an immediate family member. You have a right to experience and feel your emotions whether or not our emotions are understood by others.
2) Myth: Expressing your emotions for the death of your pet should be limited and hidden.
Fact: It’s healthier to allow your body to process through emotions and to experience your grief. Emotions can be very high especially in the acute phase of grief, or right after experiencing the death of your companion. Knowing that your reaction is very normal can be helpful to allow yourself to start moving through your experience.
3) Myth: You killed your animal by euthanasia and should feel horrible.
Fact: A lot of veterinarians decide on veterinary medicine because the option of euthanasia is available. Our pets don’t deserve prolonged suffering and pain. Euthanasia can be a gift in which we can halt suffering and help our pet’s transition as comfortably as possible. Facing the choice of euthanasia can be one of the worst and most difficult choice a pet owner may ever have to make, but at times it shows the immense love and compassion shared. It can be a selfless act when we want to hold on but know that our pets deserve more, no matter how painful it is to let go for ourselves.
4) Myth: The veterinarian didn’t care about my pet and wanted them to die.
Fact: When we grieve, we try to cope with our intense emotions. It is common to misplace blame or accuse others for the death of our companion. Medical mishaps do happen, and experiencing one is tragic. Countless veterinarians have come to my office grieving as such. I have yet to meet one that purposely wanted a bad experience during surgery or for a companion animal to be euthanized. You have a right to be angry and it can be helpful to express your anger, but finding positive outlets to funnel that anger is important.
5) Myth: The pain of loss is too much and you should never have another pet.
Fact: Yes, the pain loving pet owners experience after their passing is immense. It can be hard to place the experience into words and our journeys are all very much unique. As part of the human condition, we will experience a lot of grief throughout our lifetime and some of the most substantial experiences can be the grief of losing a beloved pet. How much joy and unconditional love was shared? How many times did we experience pure and wonderful emotions shared between ourselves and our pet. The pain of grief can represent the pain in having our companions no longer sharing our lives with us. We grieve as much as we have loved, and at times even more so. Don’t rush into adoption to “cover up” your loss, as no two pets are the same. At the same time, don’t forever push away any dreams of future companions, either.
6) Myth: If I have to take time off of work for grieving my pet’s death, I’m weak and crazy.
Fact: Your pet is a member of the family and the experience of grief can be immense. We need time to grieve and process through our experience. Depending on the personal life circumstances a person is facing, at times it can be just too much to keep working as normal throughout the experience. Taking some time off can be just what we need to step back and process.
7) Myth: I’ve been grieving for months, I should be over this already.
Fact: Grief does not follow a timeline. Commonly the beginning experience can be intense and it does lessen overtime; however, there are many ups and downs along that process. No two experiences are alike in time, intensity, or duration. The important thing is to continue meeting your basic needs throughout your process of grief to keep going.
8) Myth: No one understands what I’m going through and I feel all alone.
Fact: Grief is a highly individualistic process and no one can truly know exactly what we are feeling. However, we grieve within communities. People may find themselves with friends, family members, or coworkers that aren’t understanding and that can make the experience more painful. There are many online communities, forums, and online sites to memorialize the memory of your pet. There is an ever-growing community emerging that understands your pain and recognizes the importance of grieving for your pet and sharing their memories with others.
9) Myth: I should have known this was coming or been able to act more quickly.
Fact: Our pets are biologically pre-programmed to hide pain unless you are trained to be able to identify it. We couldn’t have known what the end of life looked like, or will look like for our pets, just as we cannot identify it for ourselves. Feelings of guilt can feel like they are drowning us when it comes to making choices in our pet’s end of life, or having to make medical decisions extremely quickly. We do the best we can, with what we know, at the time we know it. No one can ask for anything else.
Adam Clark, LSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work.