This week we are revisiting a Q&A from my now archived grief advice column titled “Ask A Grief Coach.” Every now and then, a new conversation starts on the topic of losing a pet but it’s been a minute so I want to again make space for those of us with this easily disenfranchised loss in our lives to reflect and rest in the truth that these losses are as heavy and worthy of our compassion as anything else we may experience.
So for those of you who are relatively new to the show, I used to write a column called ask a grief coach over on medium. Quite a few years of articles you can read through if you are so inclined but occasionally, I bring one to the podcast as a meaningful way for us to recognize our shared experiences in grief. This particular question came from a client and was originally shared with permission, although it was also made more anonymous through the changing of some details.
Ultimately, the purpose in sharing these questions is to create a deeper sense of compassion for yourself but as you listen, keep the context of your own story in mind. No answers you hear from me will ever apply directly to your circumstances because your grief is unique to you.
So here’s the full question about pet loss:
“After all the grief we’ve experienced in our life in the last few years — family members passing, job changes, fertility, the pandemic — our beloved dog just passed away as well. He was with me before my entire family today, including my marriage. Now I’m faced with life without my best friend at my side, and I’m not sure how to deal with his absence on top of all the rest. It seems silly, in light of how significant the pain of the last few years has been, but he was always with me and I’m struggling to handle the change. We spent some time at the coast, looking for rest. It helped but some of these moments seem so much harder than they should.”
I remember when I first got this question one of the things that struck me the most was the significance of all the grief this individual had carried over the last few years. Not one of those circumstances was simple or easy to navigate, and yet here they are wondering if the death of their pet and longtime companion was worth adding to the list.
As you listen to my response, I’d love for you to consider how you might respond in support of a friend with a loss like this.
“I am so grateful to hear about your time spent at the coast with your family and the memories of your beloved dog. I am a strong believer that the salty air at the ocean is purifying for our spirits and souls, and it sounds like your time in the sand brought great comfort to your heart.
I think the biggest thing I would offer you is a reminder to give yourself space. Grief looks like it looks; there’s no prescription to lessen the truth of our losses. But you can be willing to honor your heart anytime it hurts. There is no “should” or “should not” in this space. You can grieve as deeply for your pet as you would for any other loss you’ve experienced.
There is far too much societal pressure to move on quickly from these alleged “lesser” losses, but they deserve to heal in their own timing. And equally as important, we must remind ourselves that there is nothing lesser about it, and no shame for feeling heartbroken – because there is no grief heirarchy! As the griever, you are the one who gets to choose as you are the one experiencing crashing waves of sorrow each time his absence is acknowledged. Of course we have moments when we are fine, and others when we realize he would be lying at our feet or barking at the doorbell. Our pets are family — they are important, and deserve a chance to be honored as well as any other person would.
So as you navigate the reality of your pup’s passing, take a few minutes as needed to reflect on how sweet your relationship was over the years. To appreciate the companionship, the kindness, and the affection you received and offered to your dog. Keep honoring what you need through trips to the beach or setting little reminders of his life throughout your days. It’s never silly to honor your heart and right now, it sounds like your heart needs a little permission to indulge in comfort for the heaviness.”
To put a finer point upon it, navigating complex losses like this person is necessarily means they are going to need space for each of those experiences to be metabolized and expressed individually.
No more trying to “just heal” and move on, because there are too many moving parts. Dismissing our needs and pain or creating an internal hierarchy is a disservice to your healing.
So if you find yourself in a similar position, or if you too are grieving the loss of a pet, I see you. I see the heaviness, the patience. I see the internal fight to validate your own experience, torn between feeling like a “pet loss is less important than other griefs” and I’m with you as you straighten your spine and affirm yourself. Your grief is real – just as real as the integration and healing that awaits as you soften toward this hurting part of you, too.
Thank you for listening to episode 98 of Restorative Grief. Pet loss is one of those questions I hear people so timidly ask, and I just want to shout YOUR GRIEF IS COMPLETELY VALID! With the conversation today, we see this grief as part of a lifetime of love and companionship. Changing your rituals and daily experience after a decade of life together is painful, no matter the loss.
If this is your first time listening to Restorative Grief, welcome! This format of Q&A is a little different but since I get questions all the time, I’d love to start bringing it around more often. You can connect with me on social media under the handle @MandyCapehart everywhere, and send your own questions if you’d like to have them addressed. Thank you, as always to my beautiful patrons and supporters. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a supporter, check out the links or look us up on Patreon for bonus episodes and content.
And as always, one last thing: Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.
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