Over the Rainbow Bridge
by: Judy Hamontre, AVHS Volunteer
On August 11, I said goodbye to my miniature schnauzer, Pip. My home is empty, and my heart aches. Just like so many other pet lovers, I find myself asking, “Why does losing a pet hurt so much”, and with guilt adding, “almost more than the loss of a human?”
My friends and I have discussed this and postulated our theories. I decided to see what authorities have to say on the subject.
What I read from psychologists, veterinarians, and animal support organizations made me realize that grief for the loss of a pet is normal, intense and entirely justified. We need to allow ourselves to grieve in our own unique manners, finding the healthiest ways to cope so one day memories of our loyal friends bring smiles instead of tears.
Research has confirmed that for most people the loss of a pet is comparable to the loss of a human loved one. Grief can easily last 1-3 months and for some people longer.
As with loss of a person, grief can move through many stages, although deep sorrow seems to be the strongest.
Grief is a personal and unique experience for each of us. It is an expression of the love we have felt for this pet so central to our lives.
Dogs and cats in particular are members of our family. We celebrate their birthdays, share their stories and photograph and video tape them, often posting them on social media.
Our dear pets provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support and unconditional love. They are loyal and always excited to see us when we come home.
Their antics make us laugh, filling our hearts with joy. We talk to them and confide in them because they do not judge. They are our trusted friends.
They give us comfort and security as they cuddle next to us, put a warm paw on our arm or look deep into our souls with their loving eyes.
They fill our homes with their presence and their “stuff.” They become part of our daily routine. As we leave, we say, “Bye. I love you.”
They depend on us and our care which gives us purpose. They are our children.
With the loss of all a pet means to us, it is no wonder that we are overwhelmed with emptiness and heartache. It explains why we cannot stop the flow of tears and become angry when some people say, “Hey, it will be ok. It is just an animal.”
They do not “get” what that pet has been in our lives, and we need to ignore their words and allow ourselves to grieve without guilt in our own way and in our own time.
There are many ways to cope with our grief and begin to heal. Each person needs to find what works for her or him.
First and perhaps foremost is to acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it. Release feelings as they arise, especially in those first days.
Reach out to others who you know will listen and understand. If it appeals to you, find support groups to help.
Talk or write about your feelings, and begin to recall all the good times, letting happy memories start to fill in the hole in your heart. If looking at photos helps, do so.
Find ways to memorialize your pet. Have a memorial service, create a shadow box of pet memorabilia, frame a favorite photo, plant flowers in your pet’s favorite spot in the yard or hang a sun catcher in the window where he/she sunned. Make a donation to a local animal shelter in your pet’s name.
Do whatever is special to you and says, “I am honoring you, my furry friend, in memory of our strong bond of love.
And when the time is right for you, feel ok about bringing another pet into your life, not to replace the one you lost but to add new love to your heart.
For me now, it helps to picture Pip running pain free “Over the Rainbow Bridge” with my other two schnauzers, Riley and Destiny. I cry, but I also smile.
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