They say you don’t really realize the true value of something until after it’s gone. From a favorite coffee mug to a beloved companion, this prophecy holds true most of the time; albeit in varying degrees. Passing away of friends and family is more than difficult to cope with; but coping with the loss of a pet is just as much, if not more, draining on one’s emotional faculties.
A pet is treated as family, but people have a choice in opting for pets or otherwise, unlike the family they are born to and are a part of by birth. Also, keeping pets almost inevitably demands the acknowledgement of the unpleasant fact that your pet will, in all probability, go to its grave before you do, and leave you to deal with its absence on your own. In fact, this is sometimes the principal reason behind a person’s unwillingness to keep a pet; the fear of having to cope with the loss.
People keep pets from their inherent need for loving and being loved, of finding comfort in belonging to someone who belongs just as wholeheartedly to them. Pets themselves become the only family of people who have no one else in the world. So letting them go when the time comes is as hard as bidding farewell to a fellow human being they care about. The pain involved is, in fact, greater as pet lovers seldom find the much needed empathy for their loss among those around them, and the social support that is so necessary while dealing with death is almost absent in this case. The most important and effective way to deal with this is not being ashamed of your feelings of loss. Just because one does not feel the way you do about your loss doesn’t lessen its burden or reality in any way. In cases where one does not receive the empathy of family and friends, one should try to find support groups for pet loss where one’s feelings are paid more heed to.
Often, the period preceding the pet’s death is just as trying as the time succeeding it due to some long-suffering illness that the pet has contracted. Be sure to consult a legitimate veterinarian and continue painful medications only if you are sure they will give fruitful results. Prolonging your pet’s suffering when there is no hope of recovery and making it live in a vegetative state just because you do not feel strong enough to let it go is wrong and selfish. If the situation so demands, you should not feel guilty or hesitate to euthanize your pet; know in your heart that the time had really come and that you must accept what you can’t change.
If you have more than one pet, the loss of one is bound to affect the others. Pets when kept together form deep bonds with each other and they too are bound to feel grief at the loss of a companion. Their ordeal is in some ways tougher as they are not able to express their pain like us. It is important to understand this about them and give them that space. They should be given additional attention and care during this period which works to the mutual benefit of the owner and the pet as it balms the pain for the lost one a little on both sides.
The aftermath of the demise of your pet almost always comes with your feeling guilty or angry about the cause of death. It is also natural to feel helpless if proper treatment could not be arranged for in time due to lack of resources. But death is just a universal truth and sooner or later every living being has to fall prey to it. Blaming yourself is not a solution and it drowns you deeper into depression which is also a natural outcome of such events. Similarly, denying the loss or refusing to acknowledge the fact that you will never again see your beloved companion again does not help. The best way to cope with your emotions is to be honest to yourself about them. “Being strong”, contrary to the popular notions, entails this honesty rather than keeping your feelings bottled up in order not to cry and betray signs of “weakness”. Facing up to your feelings and discussing them in proper company is always a step towards recovery. One can also do things that might feel like honoring the memory of their pet, like putting up an inscribed headstone on its grave or observing its death-day by feeding stray animals.
Some people feel that finding a new pet is the only solution to filling up the void that has been left by the departed. However, taking up a new pet immediately after the death of an old one is not always a good idea. One always needs some time to get a grip over oneself and bring the emotional turmoil under control. Getting a new pet too soon might bring make one feel that the new animal is illegitimately trying to claim a place that it has no right to or that loving it is disloyal to the memory of the old pet. The rest of the family as well as other pets, if any, also need to get used to the idea of sharing a personal space with someone new, who will probably not be the same as the one they have lost. In time, however, a new pet helps to deal with the loss and highlight the good times you have spent with your old pet more vibrantly than the sadness brought about its passing away.