Coping with Your Grief After a Pet Dies

I have a long history of personal relationships with animals starting when I was a child.  My first memories of an animal's death were my basset hound Timmy, when I was about 10 years old.  He just died one afternoon while I was outside playing with him.  That was the first time I experienced the excruciating emotional pain of losing an animal.  He was my best friend and I have never forgotten how bad I felt for months afterward.  Since then, I have experienced the loss of several animals.  I loved them just as much as any humans I have ever loved, and the grief that I have experienced is the same no matter if it is an animal or a human.

When I was younger, experiencing and expressing this grief was harder because most of my friends did not understand why I was so sad and heartbroken over the loss of an animal.  Over the years, the understanding of grief over a deceased animal has come along way in that most people now acknowledge that animals are an important part of many people's lives.  This change in viewpoint is wonderful because now people do not have to be embarrassed about expressing their feelings about their animals.

Two years ago, my husband and I lost two of our three dogs within less than three weeks of each other.  One was getting older and had health problems, but we were not expecting to have to euthanize our other dog.  Losing both of them so close together was a crushing blow to both of us.  We were left with one dog, and just a few months ago had finally made the decision to get another dog when he got sick and we had to euthanize him as well.  I have always heard people say that after losing an animal they make the decision to never get another one because the grief they experienced was too painful.  

After losing our last dog, for the first time in my life I seriously did not know whether I wanted to go through the pain either, but after a few weeks I realized that I miss having dogs in my house.  For me they have always been such a source of joy and I decided that I don't want to deprive myself of that happiness even knowing that I will always have to face the pain of losing them.

After the losses I have experienced I have come to realize a few things that I think may be good advice for others who will face the same grief with their animals.  I have realized that I cannot control when my animal will pass on.  I have spent so much time worrying myself into, literally, a crazy frenzy and I finally figured out that this does not change the outcome.  All you can do is make sure that your animal is well cared for and gets the proper medical attention when and if needed. 

I have also learned that even though the grief is incredibly painful in the beginning, it does subside after time passes.  The amount of time it takes is different for everyone, but someday it does go away.

I have learned that going the extra mile to provide veterinary care for your animal is not necessarily the best decision.  Sometimes you have to weigh the consequences of putting your beloved animal through more procedures or surgeries if these things ultimately have little chance of success.  I have experienced three situations in the past where I now feel that I ended up putting my animal through more pain and suffering because I felt I was doing everything I could.  I now realize that I should have given up earlier and accepted the fact that death was on its way.

The most important thing I learned is that feeling guilty over whatever you did or did not do is useless and will only prolong the grief that you feel.  With each animal that I have lost, I have spent so much time feeling guilty that I made the wrong decision at the wrong time or that I should have done more research into the problem; and in the end, this guilt never changes the outcome.  You just have to do the best you can under whatever circumstances you are faced with and accept that you're only in control of the care you give the animal during its lifetime.                             

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Leslie Weinsheim
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