Grieving a Pet Can Be a Slow, Painful Process
The Void is a Reminder of the Loss
Before I had become a pet owner, I was clueless about taking care of one let alone losing one. Sure, I've been in the presence of family members who had experienced the death of their pet. However, I just couldn't relate to it nor grasp it because I didn't have to handle it nor cope with it. I would offer my condolences, but I didn't understand just how emotional the loss could be. I still made an effort to engage in conversations about it.
Looking back, I think I may have taken the years which I spent with my pet for granted. I didn't consider the fact that they do age and some die prematurely while others live to elder age. But the longer they do live, it's very easy to lose sight that, most likely, an owner will outlive their pet considering the life spans contrast.
The five stages of grief, which pertains to the loss of a human loved one, may also pertain to the loss of one who is of an entirely different species.
Five Stages of Grief
Denial: Finding difficulty in believing the loss is real.
The death of a pet isn't easy to cope with and such may not register immediately. Considering the companionship which was so important and significant, the end to such could cause disbelief. Even so, this doesn't ease the expectation that in some way, shape, or form, a pet will come running around the corner or will be sleeping, while stretched out, on the living room floor although neither will happen.
Anger: The 'why' comes into play when trying to understand the feeling of being left behind.
In reality, there is nothing which could be done about the inevitable which is death. It's going to come and may be quick or may take a lengthy amount of time; especially if a pet is terminally ill. The anger could be turned inward while wishing not to have to deal with the finality.
Bargaining: Making promises which are unrealistic to somehow reverse the loss.
A sense of guilt could stem from believing the loss could've been avoided. To place blame upon one's self is normal in the sense of wondering if anything could've been done. Or even questioning their own competence as a pet owner.
Depression: Sadness, loneliness, and negative thoughts are common.
A pet is a family member, and, as with a human loved one who has died, it isn't unheard of to wish they were still here while being unable to see far ahead. Or go on while knowing they won't be here for any significant events which may happen. The void could be strong enough to be unable to fathom life without that long-time companionship.
Acceptance: Coming to terms with the fact that a pet is no longer living and is gone forever.
When a certain amount of months have passed, or perhaps even years, one may not completely get over the death of a pet, but to finally realize they're no longer in this life, and aren't going to return, could set in. There may be moments of sadness although not as intense. But rather filled with thoughts of those special times which were spent while learning to move forward.
As a teenager, I truly didn't reflect on the fact that I had become a pet owner so unexpectedly. There were spurts of adoration whenever I would see someone holding a cat or walking a dog. But I never thought to myself, "I have to have one!" because there wasn't a sense of urgency whatsoever. But I have to admit that once I held one which was my own, a sudden attachment developed. I had a companion who relied on me to survive and to receive care. From the very beginning, I sensed my life would change and would be different because of such a new responsibility.
Perhaps there isn't a length of time to be determined just how long one grieves as well as the point when acceptance is reached. I've since realized that I no longer have a companion who will greet me as I walk in. The void is definitely there and is sometimes all which I think about for an entire day. I just sit there and reminisce about special moments and funny situations which I can relive only by memory.
Some people think to grieve a pet is considered overly-dramatic. Perhaps because, once again, they're of an entirely different species than humans. But they're living beings as well. They live, breathe, and are mortal.