Are You Grieving the Loss of a Pet? You’re Not Alone, Here’s Some Tips to Help
If you've recently lost a pet, you're not alone. Whether it's the loneliness of your home, reminders all around, looking at photos, or profound feelings of immense grief, it will get better. I keep telling myself that it just takes time. My sweet Lucy just passed away after a six-month battle with mast cell cancer. She wasn't just a pet to me, she was my best friend, my shadow, and she meant everything. As I continue to grieve, I'm honoring my best furry companion and sharing tips to help ease the pain.
Lucy's Courageous Six-Month Cancer Journey
Lucy was diagnosed with mast cell cancer in January. She had her first major surgery to remove a tumor on January 28th, 2022. Another surgery was planned for May, 17th when the tumor came back quickly growing again in the same spot. At this point, cancer started moving fast. There were multiple tumors to address. The healing process after this major surgery was extensive, but we still had hope. By the end of May, we found some new tumors developing. Most were small, so Dr. Mercer took them off. We decided at that time that there'd be no more surgeries, and we'd tackle her cancer with medicine. Just as her body started to heal from those surgeries, multiple tumors popped up. She was managing them well, but her body was a battlefield. The pain started on Wednesday, August 10th, and intensified into Thursday. She couldn't walk because the pain was so bad. I took her to the vet, and because the tumor on her back had grown so big, she couldn't move without pain. We knew the time had come. There was nothing more to be done. When she took her last breath on Thursday, August 11th, I knew my life would never be the same again.
Moving On After Losing a Loved One
To say the last several days have been a struggle would be an understatement. I've cried myself to sleep every night. Everything in my home reminds me of her. She never left my side for 11 years. Everywhere I went in our home, Lucy was there. She shadowed me around the house 24/7. She got up the moment I would get up. She would sit down as soon as I would sit down. Her eyes always needed to be on me. It made our bond so special.
Case and point!
I couldn't have children, so my world revolved around her, and vice versa. It's been this way since I picked her up at a rescue in April 2011. One of the best things that I have ever done in my life is rescuing my Lucy. From multiple tragedies starting in 2013 and through the pandemic, Lucy was my rock and best friend. She knew when I was in pain and would NEVER leave my side. When I looked into her eyes I swear she was crying with me. Her sweet disposition and unwavering love were exactly what I needed through those years. Yes, I'm struggling. My head hurts, I have trouble eating, I cry until I can't breathe, and I hurt a lot. I've said to many friends, "I want her back so badly, but I know it doesn't work that way." I would move mountains to spend more time with her. All I can do now is cherish the memories and take care of CoCo. CoCo is grieving too, and she needs me.
It took a while, but their bond developed into something special.
Ways to Help Cope With Losing a Pet
As I struggle with my grief, I researched some tips to help me work through it. My friends and family have been wonderful, but 24/7 grief can be all-encompassing. Luckily, I found the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) online. They offered some great tips to work through grief, and more valuable information. Time and God may be a healer of all things, but I found this information very useful. You may too!
Acknowledge the Reality of the Death
Acknowledging the full reality of your loss may take weeks or months, and will happen at a time that's right for you. Be kind to yourself as you adjust to life without your beloved pet. Just as it took time to build a relationship with your pet, it will take time to get used to him or her not being there.
Continue your Relationship Through Memories
Your memories allow your pets to live on in you. Embracing these memories, both happy and sad, can be a very slow and, at times, painful process that occurs in small steps. For example, take some time to look at past photos, write a tribute to your pet, or write your pet a letter recalling your time together.
Accept Support From Others
You need the love and support of others because you never "get over" grief. Talking or being with other pet owners who have experienced the death of a pet can be one important way to meet this need.
Losing Sadie in 2018 was one of the hardest things to go through, losing Lucy has been much worse. I loved them both equally, but there was just something about my Lucy. I made this video about six years ago and I think you'll see how much I was loved, and how much I loved Sadie Marie Arnold and LuAnn Arnold. I could never replace either of them.
Helpful Tips to Get Through the Greif
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) also shared some helpful tips to combat changes that come when losing your best furry friend. I can relate to every single one of these challenges right now. I know it will get better.
The Deafening Silence
The silence in your home after the death of a pet may seem excruciatingly loud. While your animal companion occupies physical space in your life and your home, many times their presence is felt more by your senses. When your pet is no longer there, the lack of their presence—the silence—can become piercing. It becomes the reality of the “presence of the absence.” Merely being aware of this stark reality will assist in preparing you for the flood of emotions.
The Special Bond With Your Pet
The relationship you shared with your pet is a special and unique bond, and some people might find it difficult to understand. You may have well-meaning friends and relatives who think you shouldn't mourn for your pet or tell you that you shouldn't be grieving so much because “it’s just a cat” or “just a dog.” Your grief is normal, and the relationship you shared with your special friend needs to be mourned.
This information is based on AVMA's client brochure, Pet Loss and Grief, developed with help from Coleen A. Ellis, CT, CPLP.
Not only was she a Tony Stewart fan, but she would do many tricks for treats!
Please continue to pray for our little family, and I'll continue to pray for yours. God is amazing and will see us through the sadness and grief. Take your time. Handling grief is different for everyone. Hopefully, these tips have helped some. I'll be there for you if you need anything. I appreciate everyone that has sent messages, called, or sent a card, or gift. Knowing you're there has been a big blessing. Tomorrow will be a new day!
A heartfelt thank you to Dr. Mercer and the incredible team at Owensboro Animal Hospital. The amount of care given to Lucy was second to none. They became my rock over the last six months.