How it feels to grieve after losing your pet; an identity change.
Let’s admit it- grieving is not fun. It’s uncomfortable, vulnerable and painful. And it’s an up and down path, with unwelcome surprises along the way. Grieving is part of loss, it’s part of life and a part of love. Love and grief and intertwined so the loss of love is nothing but painful.
When your beloved pet passes away, the wave of grief covers you up, swallowing you whole, with no clue as to when it will pass, so you can “breathe” again. I’m writing this 4 months (and a few days) after Chilly passed away. I am not free from that huge wave of grief yet. One day, I know I will be. I feel much better than I did the first month, but today, it just hit me, sadness and loneliness without his presence. It’s hard to take daily walks around our neighborhood. I have to get out of our place in the city, to breathe, to get fresh air, to exercise. But I know every time I do it, I’m going to think of Chilly, as he came with me everywhere, on each walking path, each destination.
Seeing other people with their pets is hard. Especially if their pet looks similar to your pet. It does bring a smile on my face when I see pets playing happily, or lounging with their parents, but it also triggers the deep sadness I have, the deep hole in my heart from losing Chilly. And I know I am not alone. Many pet owners go through this, all the time. It amazes me how we go through life, focusing mostly on ourselves, our pain, our issues, without considering the fact that many people are experiencing the same thing. Maybe not at the same time, but we all go through the same things in life, in different ways and different depths of impact. It’s paradoxical to feel comfort in knowing we are not alone when we are grieving, but it’s uncomfortable or not normal to talk about grief and sadness to feel less lonely with our grief.
So what does grief look like after your pet has passed away...one day you may be ok, be productive, laugh with someone, enjoy things that make you happy, and still miss your pet while thinking of him or her. And another day, you may not be ok, may be unproductive, trying to fake a laugh or smile with someone, and be pulled to be with yourself, and have lower energy. There may be days when things are going great, and out of nowhere, something triggers the sadness and grief inside of you, and it temporarily causes you to pause from what you are doing, then you can get back to your day feeling fine. But then there are days, when it is going well, and something triggers you, and the rest of your day is off as you are feeling the heaviness of the loss. No two days look the same.
The journey of grief is unpredictable. It’s not something you can plan to perfection with no hiccups, but you can try to plan for it by expecting your life to be ‘off’ for a while. And that’s ok. Accepting that you are grieving and each day and each week will feel different and look different for a while, will help you through the process.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, pets become part of our routine and muscle memory. We are their caretakers. Losing that role and adjusting to a new routine is part of the grieving process. It is an identity change, which is a big transition and adjustment. As pet parents, we are not only grieving the loss of our pets, we are grieving the life of being their caretaker, being part of a pet parent community, and more. That is a lot to take on emotionally and mentally. This identity change adds to our grieving journey, as it would for anyone who loses a human family member.
Losing a pet is very difficult. You are going to have on days and off days, with some days that are up and down in of itself. It’s a journey of heavy emotions that you have to sit with and feel, in order to get through it. I talk more about that here. One day, the wave of grief will pass so you can “breathe” again, but you have to know that life is not going to be the same again because you have lost something so incredibly valuable to you, your beloved pet. Accepting this helps. You loved your pet, and grief is love.
“The grief doesn’t end because the love doesn’t end.”- David Kessler