A NATURAL AND NORMAL RESPONSE TO ANIMAL LOSS
Research suggests that both talking about our pet’s death and social support are essential to the grieving process. While speaking with supportive friends and family is one piece of the puzzle, talking with a professional can also be incredibly beneficial. To help you find support, below is a list of support group meetings, online communities, and message boards—as well as suggestions for how to find an animal chaplain or other helpful professional near you
After the death of a companion animal, sadness, grief, or guilt will likely be present. These can significantly impact our lives. One study found that 93 percent of humans reported a disruption in their lives, such as trouble sleeping or losing appetite. Over 50 percent reduced their social activities, and 45 percent had job-related difficulties. Other studies have documented people’s loss of motivation, increased stress, anxiety, worry, and depression. Furthermore, animal death tends to resurface our memories of past bereavements and losses.
People describe their grief to me based on how it wreaks havoc in their lives: I can’t function. I can’t think straight. My heart hurts. All I can do is cry. I’m never prepared for when it hits; grief floods me.
It seems easier to describe what grief does rather than what grief is. I’m partial to this definition: Grief is “the response to loss in all of its totality―including its physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual manifestations―and as a natural and normal reaction to loss.” That last part is worth repeating―as a natural and normal reaction to loss. Even though plentiful research validates the impact of grief, how people respond to us—thoughtfully or not—can vary, especially when it comes to animal loss. Some people in your life may “get it.” Others may suggest you “get over it.” When grief is socially negated, we refer to it as disenfranchised grief, and this seems to make the loss hurt even more.
If you have recently experienced a loss, let me be clear: What you are experiencing is real. And it is valid. And it stinks. I am so sorry for your loss. If there is one thing I can underline, highlight, and might write in ALL CAPS for you, it would be this: Don’t try to go it alone. Scroll down to the bottom of this page for hotlines and support groups available to you!
In Sacred Sendoffs: An Animal Chaplain's Guide to Surviving Animal Loss, Making Life Meaningful, and Healing the Planet, I also offer tips for managing grief related to the loss of an animal. (You can pick up a copy at your local bookstore, Bookshop, Amazon, B&N, or order it here.)
"Rather than thinking we need to move on, get past the pain, or stop feeling grief, we may just need to find a place to put all that love we once showered on our pets when they were alive. Because while we may not know the precise details of what happens after bodily death, we can still cultivate spiritual connections to those who have passed on. Talk to your passed-on furry friend. Write them love poems. Make a small altar to honor their life."
―SARAH BOWEN, animal chaplain & author of Sacred Sendoffs
Grief Hotlines & Support Groups
PennVet Pet Loss Support Group
The Human Animal Bond & Grief Support Group (UUAM)
Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement
Tufts University Pet Loss Support Phone Hotline
Chicago Veterinary Medical Association Pet Loss Helpline
Cornell University Pet Loss Support Hotline
Pet Loss Support Lines by State (USA)
Michigan State University Pet Loss Support Group
Schedule a 1-on-1 with Sarah
Are you reeling from a recent loss? Or anxious about an animal's critical illness?
Grief over animal loss is natural, normal, often painful, and frequently not supported by society. Yet, animal loss causes disruptions to individuals, families, workplaces, and communities, and so it needs to be addressed for the well-being of ourselves and those around us. Luckily, mindful, meditative, and spiritual practices can help bring healing.