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Losing a beloved pet can leave you feeling overwhelmed. What do you tell the kids? How do you memorialize your pet? Will you ever stop feeling lost without him or her? We spoke with pet expert Brien Thurston, who shared seven tips on how to deal with a pet's death.My golden retriever, Molly, was more than just a pet to me – she was my older sister. When she passed away I was devastated. In the days and weeks following her death I found it difficult to see other dogs. Finding tufts of her golden fur left me inconsolable.
Brien Thurston, the executive director of Pet Loss Canada, can relate to the grief that comes with losing a pet. In 2009, he lost his cat, Tobias, and he has since used his own experience to help and counsel others going through the loss of a pet. Here he shares his advice for dealing with the death of a pet.
1. There's no time limit
According to Thurston, the most important part of grief is realizing that it doesn't come with a time limit – you can grieve for as long as you need.
"I've had people who've been able to deal with it in two or three weeks," he says. "I've had people who are still going through these problems." You need to go through the fullest state of grief possible, so you shouldn't be hard on yourself if it takes you a year to start feeling better, he says.
2. Listen to your inner voice
"There are all sorts of people who are going to be prepared to give you advice," says Thurston. "Things like, 'Go and buy another pet.' Things like, 'Come on, get over it.'"
While your friends and family members are well intentioned, you are the only person who can figure out what you need. Try to block out what other people are telling you and focus on what your inner voice is saying.
3. Be honest with your kids
Parents want to protect their children from any pain and that often leads to lying about what happened to the family pet. However, Thurston advises being honest with your kids, because they do understand that something has happened.
"They need to have the answer," he says. “[Parents] have to express it in terms that their child will understand." There are several books that you can read with your children to help them understand what happened to his or her furry friend. Thurston recommends When Children Grieve by John James.
4. Make the burial a family affair
Holding a burial or memorial service is a great way to say farewell to your pet. It's also a good opportunity for your child to say his own goodbye to the pet, explains Thurston.
"Get the child involved so that this isn't just a simple matter of grieving for an adult, it also becomes a form of grieving for the child," he says. You can have your child give a reading or write a letter to his pet or place one of his toys in the pet's memorial.
5. Memorialize your pet
"You want to really start looking at where you're going to put your pet and how you're going to share your pet with others," says Thurston. Some people like to create memory boxes or albums, filling them with moments from their pet's life and displaying these keepsakes next to their pet's remains. Other people may want to buy a statue that looks like their pet, which can be placed on the mantelpiece or on top of the pet's remains.
6. Don't immediately box up your pet's stuff
Many pet owners feel as though the first thing they need to do is to box up their pet's belongings. However, Thurston doesn't advise doing this.
"They're not ready for that," he says. "They've got to leave things where they are until they're ready to pick them up one at a time." Give yourself time to process your loss and then slowly pack away your pet's toys, bed and dishes, remembering all of the happy memories as you put each item away.
7. Don't isolate yourself
According to Thurston, there are two types of people in the world: those who have had good experiences with animals and those who haven't. When you lose a pet, it's important to surround yourself with people who understand what it's like to love a pet.
"Those are the people you want to latch onto and talk to," he says. "That initial conversation will be difficult, it will be heart-wrenching," but talking about all of the memories of your pet with someone who can relate will slowly help you to heal.
We have more information to help you through losing a pet, including how to help your other pets cope.