This devastating phrase has been said in my hearing many times. Usually after the demise of said pet, when emotions feel raw and flayed. The phrase is not ‘harmless’, it dismisses the pain, meaning and memories that the bereaved human had for their animal friend, companion, and family member. It promotes a sense of shame. Should we feel as close or even closer to the animals in our lives than the humans?
Let’s explore what animals bring to us. They often promote our sense of well-being, they bring an unconditional love and trust that we often take for granted. They connect us to nature, promote mindfulness, empathy and compassion. They often make us laugh with their joy and curiosity. They feed our inner children and our souls. They bring connection as we get to know their individual personalities, their individuality and their quirks!
All family members have labels and these labels are generally meant to convey bonds and connections. For many, these labels are sources of anger, pain, neglect, isolation, criticism and many other difficult emotions. A title is not a universal statement of meaning. A title is an individual unique meaning to you.
Sharing your life with a pet can be so simplistic and very demanding. Your time and attention can be regularly hijacked. When an animal we love dies, we miss our actions of caring and providing love and warmth as well as their joy in a new toy or treat. It is also the things we never thought we would miss that make our hearts ache too. The song of their people at ridiculous o’clock in the morning, the hairballs, casual vomit, muddy paw-prints and drooling sleepy faces resting on a rapidly expanding wet patch on your leg or stomach!
It has been said and I’m not sure where I heard this, that “grief is just love with nowhere to go”. That feels so true to me. In this time of COVID, people feel guilty to admit their loss was not COVID related. People don’t have a bank of empathy, do they? Is the ‘empathy well’ depleted for all things non-COVID related?
I have personally lost three of my animal family in the last year. One of them I got to hold, stroke and tell them how much I loved them as they left this mortal coil. The other two I had to hand over to a vet in a car park. Only the bleak expression in my eyes was visible over the mask I had to wear. The vet’s eyes were kind and sympathetic as they accepted my loved ones. I know they would have been gentle and kind but I have anger and pain that I struggle with because I could not fulfill my last honour and duty to my babies.
I am left with only three of my ‘magnificent seven’. I hurt. I am so grateful to have my three that are left but I miss the ones who have gone. That pain means they were/are loved and reminds me of what they have brought to my life. I will be eternally grateful to them for that!
I am about to embark (in April) on a specific pet bereavement course. I’m excited! Animals are a passion of mine and being able to help those similarly affected by their loss feels important to me. In due course I hope to run pet bereavement workshops and I will keep you all posted. I am going to leave you with my truths about this subject.
- You don’t have to explain or validate your love for an animal
- Your pain is real and I ask you to be kind to yourself whilst going through the grief process
- It’s NEVER just a pet
- The pain is a testament to the love, bond and connection you have with your cat, dog, ferret, rabbit, horse, bird, snake or fish etc.
Remind yourself that you loved them every day you shared with them, I hope we are all so lucky.