By Sarina Lyall, LMSW, University of Tennessee Veterinary Staff Social Worker
What I know, through personal and professional experience with grief, especially grief over the loss of a pet, is that we can experience a variety of feelings that arise no matter how much we try to avoid them. It is important to be gentle with ourselves while we are grieving over the loss of a pet and know that what we are feeling is because we love them so much that it hurts us this bad in their death.
One thing that can be helpful while we are grieving is to share stories about our animals with others who can understand and appreciate the bond that is shared. Not everyone can understand and appreciate the unique bond we have with our animals, so try to find at least one person (a counselor, religious/spiritual leader, friend, family member) who may be willing to listen about your loss. Local pet loss support groups are a great place to find others who “get it.”
Finding ways to memorialize our beloved animals can also be healing while we are grieving. Some ideas for memorializing are: holding a pet memorial service; planting a flower, tree, or garden in memory of our animal; donating food, items, or money in our animal’s name to a shelter or rescue organization; making a scrapbook, collage, or any art project; journaling; lighting a candle; getting a tattoo; and many more. The possibilities are endless, but what you do has to feel right for you and the relationship you have with your animal.
I believe that the death of a pet does not end a relationship, it just changes it. Our animals have touched our lives and our hearts so deeply that they will always live on through us by what they have taught us!
“Healing from grief is not the process of forgetting, it is the process of remembering with less pain and more joy.” - Author Unknown
ABOUT VETERINARY SOCIAL WORK Veterinary Social Work (VSW), founded in May of 2002, is a partnership program between the University of Tennessee Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Social Work designed to enhance, support, and inform both professions. VSW recognizes and appreciates the unique bond that exists between humans and animals. We acknowledge that due to the deep bond we can have with our animals, we can experience deep pain when they die. One facet of the services that VSW offers to clients of the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center and the community are the pet loss support services. These include a bi-monthly pet loss support group and short-term individual grief counseling sessions, free of charge.