How is the best way to manage grief from losing a pet?

Tomorrow we have to do one of the hardest things there is to do - we have to put our 12 year old dog down. The thought of it breaks my heart and I am in constant grief as we make the decision, taking him there tomorrow, saying goodbye, and going on without him. How is the best way to manage this kind of grief?
Asked by Wrigley

To begin, I am truly sorry for your loss. The loss of a pet tends to be a quite painful experience. You aren’t just merely losing a “pet,” but rather you are losing a constant companion who has offered you unconditional love along with comfort. This loss can be comparable to, and sometimes even more difficult than the loss of a human whom we love. We form intense and strong bonds with our pets, who offer us uncritical and enduring devotion. How could we not grow to deeply love our pets when they provide us with often unmatched loyalty and affection? You love them. And they love you back, so devoutly. 

As with all loss, healing will require time as well as patience. Your constant feeling of grief at this time is entirely normal and to be expected. Know that grief can be experienced as both an emotional as well as a physical experience. This can definitely be an overwhelming, full-body ordeal. Typically, grief begins as an acute challenge, and over time we enter into a more integrated phase.

This is a devastating and difficult loss. You had a real, meaningful bond with your dog. It absolutely is going to hurt. Grief can be a complex thing. We can experience waves of emotions. One minute we seem to be managing okay. The next we are curled up and sobbing. It will take some time to begin to feel more normal. That’s typical. How long will it take? You’re on your own unique timeline. Nobody can determine this for you. Don’t compare your grief to anyone else. Some individuals may undergo intense grief for a few months. For others, it might go on for a couple of years. But no matter what, the intensity will subside over time. It might not feel that way now, but it will.

Do your best to be patient with yourself. Things aren’t going to shift overnight. You will likely always have grief over losing your pet, but the sharpness of the pain will subside with time.

In cases where we are faced with making the decision to euthanize our loving companion, grief can become a bit more complicated. We might experience additional feelings of guilt and even some doubt. However, it also is an opportunity wherein we are given the chance to prepare and to say our last goodbye. And we can give ourselves some grace, realizing that we are offering our beloved pet an honorable passing and that what we are doing is genuinely minimizing and ending any suffering they might be experiencing.

This could be a good time to reach out to friends and family. Allow people a chance to support you through this. It will benefit you. And it will be a blessing to them – people actually feel good when they know they’ve been able to help someone else. There are different ways you can ask for assistance. You might ask a friend to just sit with you while you tell some memories. Maybe you ask them to go for a walk with you, perhaps at a time when you would take your dog out for a walk. This can be very beneficial as your normal routine with your pet is now disrupted and is apt to cause a surge of sadness and loneliness – enlisting a friend to walk with you will get you out of your house and give you what is likely to be much needed companionship. Or maybe even just ask a friend to send you a daily text message – it could be something like “hey, just saying hello and making sure you’re doing okay and have taken time eat today.” Think about what you might need and then consider who could ask. 

Sometimes, it helps a lot to tell our stories as it gives us a chance to process our thoughts and emotions. Naming and speaking about our feelings tends to help. If that feels like too much, you could also consider writing things down as a way to help process and get things out of your head. Express your grief in whatever way feels right for you personally. Don’t ignore the pain, find ways to being to let it out. Talk to a friend. Journal. Seek out others who have lost a pet and explain experiences with them.

Another option could include taking care of someone else’s pet. You likely aren’t ready to consider a new pet but caring for another animal could reduce some of the sadness particularly as it will keep you occupied and prevent you getting stuck in your own head, ruminating over the situation (and if this feels like too much, that’s okay). Alternatively, finding other ways to be of help could be beneficial. How might you serve someone else during this time? If nothing else, focusing on someone else and their needs gives you a bit of mental break.

An additional idea is to try to find ways to introduce some little joys into your life. A simple little pleasure is a way to help us better tolerate the pain. It can be a great start to making you feel a bit better and to take your mind off things even for just a short bit. Plan to have coffee with a friend. Get your nails done. None of things takes away the grief, but it introduces some little bits of distraction and happiness to assist you in coping. It also is a way of making sure you are taking care of yourself.

Dealing with grief is a challenge, and some days will be harder than others. If you find it’s too difficult to manage on your own, then reach out to a therapist. Grief can sometimes make it hard to function in our daily lives. If it begins to feel like you’re lost in a fog you can’t seem to get away from, then seek support.

Again, please accept my sincerest condolences. This is really a heartbreaking and hard thing to go through. It is going to hurt but you’re going to come through it. Be compassionate and patient with yourself. Let your emotions out. And find support from others, be it loved ones or a therapist.