It’s never pleasant to think about, but death is an inevitable aspect of life. The passing of family and friends is always difficult, and we can struggle to cope. We must also face the fact as pet parents that the dogs in our lives will also pass away at some point, and that we may not be entirely prepared for the loss.
We know just how significant our furry friends are. They are a constant presence, offering comfort and companionship at times we need it the most. We build close, intense relationships with our dogs, often far more significant than many of our human interactions. Which is why for many of us the death of our canine best friend can be more devastating than the passing of a close relative.
It’s vital not to underestimate the effect animal deaths can have upon us. Our grief for them is no less impactful and tangible just because they have four legs. We must be certain to take the time we need to mourn, to recognize their incredible contribution during their time with us on this Earth. Here are a few useful coping mechanisms to utilize in the event of your canine companion’s passing…
When a friend or family member passes away, one of the first duties we are confronted with is a funeral. This is not only a practical step in dealing with the physical remains, it is also a useful tool for us to grieve properly with memorial rituals. We come together as a group and share memories. It’s a comforting, meaningful step. It seems strange, then, that often we don’t have similar rituals in place for our pets.
Memorialization should be treated as one of the most important immediate coping mechanisms following your dog’s passing. One of the up-sides to a lack of standardized pet funeral processes is this gives you the opportunity to create a ceremony that is entirely personal to you and your family. Whether you wish to bury your dog’s body in a favorite spot on your property, or scatter the ashes in a regularly-visited park, you can throw your energy into organizing a unique program that represents your feelings for your dog. Include music that invokes the best memories, tell stories about times they made you laugh.
Memorialization can also be about keeping a part of your dog with you after their passing. If you are planning on retaining their ashes, you and your family can make a DIY cremation urn. You could dedicate a small section of your home to them, coupling the urn with a few photographs, and artwork produced by yourself or your children. This doesn’t need to be a dour, sad memorial — make it a celebration of your pup’s happy life.
As a society, we have this strange and unhealthy propensity to downplay the impact of the passing of our pets. Yet when our dogs pass away it is vital to our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing to treat this circumstance with the care it deserves. Which is why we must be sure to place sufficient focus on our own self care in the days and weeks that follow.
First, do not be embarrassed or ashamed to take a little time away from work or home duties. The death of a pet can be a shock to the system, and you may need a few days to handle the initial impact. Set an automated email response in order to avoid having to explain your circumstances individually to each person who sends you a message. You don’t need to make excuses for taking some time to grieve for your dog — your emotional and mental health are a priority, and people will understand.
It can also be useful to adopt a practice of mindfulness. Grief can creep up on us at unexpected moments, and even trigger depression without our immediately noticing it. Make it part of your schedule to take moments to stop and check in with yourself throughout the day. Connect with how you’re feeling, and how it may be affecting you. Sit with the feelings, understand them, and take care of yourself.
There’s no getting around the fact that the death of your beloved canine family member will likely hit you hard. At times of emotional difficulty, it can be easy to become rather insular. We withdraw into ourselves; sometimes feeling that we are protecting ourselves from further pain, or shielding others from our sorrow. A certain amount of private time is certainly healthy, but don’t underestimate the value of sharing and support in moving through your grief.
Many veterinary offices keep a list of support groups that are active in their area. Remember, grief doesn’t always begin with the event of death itself. Serious pet health problems could find your dog experiencing symptoms of an illness months or even years before they pass away. This knowledge that your pet may soon pass may trigger aspects of early grief, and you should enquire with your vet about which support groups and services may be available.
Your family can also act as a valuable support mechanism. Each of you will have been touched by the life of your family dog, and will each be experiencing grief through your own unique personal lens. Keep an open dialog with each other. Make it clear that the subject of your pet’s death is not off-limits, and that discussions about them are always welcome. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal, therapeutic-style situation — just simply share your memories with each other, positive or negative. Chances are, you each want to keep the memory alive. Talking about it can often be the most healthy way to do this.