How to handle grief over loving and losing a beloved pet
By Brandon Wainwright
As any pet parent will tell you, the joy, love and comfort that comes with adopting an animal companion is a blessing rivaled by few experiences life has to offer. What they’ll also tell you is that losing an animal companion can be more emotionally devastating than just about any of life’s many adversities.
After experiencing such loss, it takes some pet lovers many years, if ever, before they are willing to open their hearts up to another fur (or feather, etc.) baby. For though they know they will be signing up for much joy, they also know they will be signing up for much pain. This is the unavoidable reality of loving a pet. The beautiful struggle.
I’ve always been a dog lover, but our beloved chihuahua/dachshund mix, Tyson, was my soulmate. He had a richness of spirit that could best be described as “old soul.” He loved with a warm depth that was somehow wise, tough and vulnerable all at once. Losing Tyson in April 2018 was one of the most emotionally painful experiences of my life, but it was also one of incredible spiritual growth.
In my search for healing, I’ve discovered a few things along my path that I would like to pass along to anybody that is grieving over a dearly departed pet.
• Don’t buy into the mistaken idea that intense grieving over a pet is weird or inappropriate. Our relationships with our animal friends, though different from those with our human friends, are nonetheless very significant and impactful, sometimes even more so. The love we feel for another being is not determined by species, but rather by how our souls mesh. We must be gentle with ourselves and understand that our grief reflects our love – and there is nothing weird or inappropriate about that.
• Don’t adopt another animal during your grieving process. For many, the natural compulsion when we are coping with the loss of a fur baby is to try and alleviate the pain by adopting another pet. The problem is, it is impossible to replace that magic with another pet. This isn’t dissimilar to the let-down that invariably comes from a “rebound relationship” after a breakup. The new pet simply can’t live up to our expectations, and we end up feeling dissatisfied. Worse, our healthy healing process is often hindered. This is unfair to both the pet and to us. Instead, spend time with a friend’s pet. Perhaps offer pet-sitting services or even foster a pet awaiting their forever home. This way, we can offer and receive love and companionship from a pet while allowing ourselves to heal without setting a pet up for failure. When we are truly ready for a new fur baby, we will know it.
• Don’t minimize the significance of your healing process, but rather open your mind, heart and spirit to new experiences. For example, Reiki, which is a Japanese form of spiritual energy, offers amazing healing from not only physical ailments, but also mental, emotional and spiritual difficulties. I discovered Reiki during my grieving process. I have since become a Reiki master and animal Reiki practitioner. It has definitely changed my life for the better.
• Realize that though your pet has crossed the rainbow bridge, their soul is still very much alive and connected to you. Consider sitting quietly and, in your mind and heart, simply reach out to them. You’ll likely be very comforted by the beautiful love and peace you receive in return. You might also consider utilizing the services of an animal communicator to deliver messages to, and receive messages from, your pet. For some, this may sound far-fetched, but believe me when I say that animal communication is very real. It has the potential to facilitate great healing.
• With the intense loss we feel when a beloved pet transitions, it can feel like a tragedy. The “tragedy” is only one of perspective. Rejoice knowing that you loved your pet and helped them learn their life lessons – and they did the same for you. Find comfort and peace knowing that you provided them with love and friendship in a way that only you could – and they absolutely did the same for you. This makes their lives a wonderful success and anything but tragic!
The thing is, our pets are more than just our friends, companions and protectors. They provide friendship, companionship, love and protection with an innocent joy and dedication that is both pure and unconditional. All they want in return is love. We, their human companions, naturally reciprocate this pure, innocent love and dedication.
In other words, our pets bring out the very best in us. They help us tap into our highest spirits because they make it safe to love with a vulnerability that is rare in most human relationships. The struggle is worth it!
Brandon Wainwright is a police officer, certified Reiki master and author of “Tyson’s Gift.” Learn more about the memoir about the journey between him and his beloved dog by visiting tysonsgift.com.