For many, pets are not “just dogs” or “just cats” or “just horses” or whatever. Pets are, more often than not, beloved members of the family and, when they die, you feel a significant loss.
The level of grief depends on different factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant the loss, the greater your grief could feel.
For our family it was a variety of emotions. This is why I want to share our experience of the loss of our dog. This is the first time our family has experienced the loss of a dog.
There is much information out there on how to deal with grief over the loss of a pet, so I won’t get into all the technicalities of it, rather, just our own experience. Hopefully, this may help you, or someone you know, deal with the loss of their own pet.
Our Quick Journey
We all loved Snuffy – our Black Lab. I always teased my kids for naming a Big mean looking Black Lab, “Snuffy” (can you imagine? – it was funny to me) but that’s what the kids chose and so we went with it.
He was a great dog! And last Sunday morning, as one of my boys went to feed him, he found Snuffy dead. We all reacted differently. When I heard the news, I was rather shocked, but rushing to get out the door for church didn’t give me much time to think about it – so I dealt with it quick, and thought “well, that is really sad, and too bad” Yet, my analytical mind took over realizing that Snuffy was actually 77 years old (in dog years), but having him since he was born, it was still hard to deal with it.
For others in our family, the emotions were different. Some cried, others were too mad to cry. Needless to say, the rather long ride to church was very quiet, still with a sniffle here and there as some tears were shed.
Several emotions were experienced. How do you help a big family with various emotions, while dealing with your own? The grieving process happens gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal time” for grieving. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold. Not easy, but I prayed and ask God to help us deal with this.
Tips to Dealing with the Loss of a Pet
1. One thing that I believe has helped us recuperate quickly is that we live in the country. My boys and I have become hunters in the past ten years. We’ve hunted deer, squirrel, rabbits, and fox. We know what it is to process these animals once hunted. We do it every year. So we have experienced animal death and we all get involved in the processing of deer, for example.
This experienced, I believe, helped us to get over the grief rather quicker than I expected. When it comes to your own pet, your buddy, your friend, and a part of the family who constantly needs your attention and support, it’s not as easy as hunting another animal, however.
Yet, the idea that animals do die, was easier to handle. Like I said, everyone loved and was crazy about Snuffy. But we all knew (and also talked about) the fact that he was getting old and may not have much time with us. So we were getting prepared for it – to some degree.
2. Another thing that I believe helped us was talking about it. My wisdom filled wife, on the way to church, begun to talk about how good Snuffy was, along with the fun and enjoyable years we had with him. A few funnies and goofiness about Snuffy were also said. This helped lightened the pain as we as remembered the good times and how grateful we were to have him.
3. We allowed our kids to deal with the pain on their own. We didn’t tell them how long to grief for or if it was ok to cry or not. We just let them be and prayed for them. Time is a factor. Some people take longer than others to process grief. Much like it takes time to grief over the loss of a human loved one; it also takes some time to grief over the loss of a pet.
4. The most important step we took in helping our family process this loss was, as I mentioned above – prayer. We prayed and thanked God for allowing us to have Snuffy for eleven years, and prayed that he’d help our family deal with it.
To be honest, I didn’t expect the family to recuperate as soon as we did. Twenty four hours later, we were all fine. No one, and I mean, no one, was in denial. Everyone had accepted it and everyone moved on. I am not saying that everyone or anyone should be able to heal within twenty four hours. Goodness no! Everyone is different – everyone grieves differently and heals differently.
Truthfully, church services were a little tough for some of them. We are all involved in our church services and it was tough for our children to play and sing during worship, work the sound booth, etc. But at the end of the day, everyone was able to let go and receive God’s healing, his peace, love and joy. Our trip home from church was much better.
5. Focus on others. After church I decided I was going to take the family out to lunch to help out and do something different. To our surprise, one of our church members invited us to her house for lunch. We had a great time! We talked, we laughed, we watched some TV, and we ate to our heart’s content. You’d be surprised how much this type of activity helps with this process.
6. Do the honors. Another important factor was that two of our boys wanted to do the honors of burying Snuffy. The next morning (Cause we didn’t have time on Sunday at all) they went out and dug the hole that took them over 2 hours to do. They felt they did something good for Snuffy and helped them bring closure to the loss in the process. By the time they came up for lunch, their resemblance had changed from sad, angry, etc., to pleased, and relieved.
7. Help other “Pet Friends.” Not only did we have to deal with our own emotions, help our kids with theirs, but our kids even realized that our other dog, Snuffy’s buddy, needed closure as well. Amazing how this works! They took "Walker," our other dog, and let him go by his buddy to let him see that he had passed. Walker knew that something was wrong and was concerned about the situation. In addition, while burring Snuffy, the boys let Walker be around just to help him be a part of the process. Walker was a different dog at the end of the day.
This quick journey has allowed me to see how strong our kids are, and how to hopefully help others when they go through this journey of their own. I’m not sure that we will heal as quickly the next time (with Walker or any other Pet), but we know what it took the first time, and we will attempt to put into practice the same process.
This experience has also helped me realize that people are more sensitive to life than we give ourselves credit for. We often live as if life is never going to end, but when that time comes when we have to say goodbye to a loved one, or to a family pet, it rips our hearts to pieces.
Allowing ourselves and God, help us go through the process of healing, accepting his hand and embrace of love, comfort and rebuilding of our lives, the healing process becomes that much more easy to cope with.
I am proud of our kids that took time to pray and give God their pain, understanding that Snuffy was not an “everlasting” dog; he had a limited time on earth.
We too, have a limited time here. A reality for us to know, is that how we live our lives will determine how great the pain others will experience during our departure. More importantly, our relationship with God will also help us accept the fact that we too are not physically “everlasting” and one day we will be standing face to face before the majesty and awesomeness of the One who gave us our life.
Phil 4:7 (GW) Then God's peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.
I wonder what other forms have you used to deal with your grief over your pet? Give your comments below.
About the Author
Alex Colón, Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, Teacher, Pastor, Blogger and best of all, Husband and Father of 4. Living the re-Branded life