BY VERONICA VAN HOF
Our pets are our family, when we lose a pet it can affect us just as much or even more than the loss of a friend or family member. Veronica Van Hof, director of The Baltimore Humane Society Memorial Park shares some helpful suggestions to help with the loss of a beloved pet.
“I think what people need to know most of all is that the grief that accompanies death or loss are paradoxically deeply individual but also very much a common experience. We learn this during our monthly pet-loss group meetings. Although our individual responses may vary (some people for instance have to clear the entire house of all of the pet’s belongings down to their water bowl while some people build a memorial shelf with collars, favorite toys and more that they keep forever) we all experience the same spectrum of stages of grief.” said Veronica Van Hof.
Grief is not a linear process.
Although we all experience at some point during death or loss the clinical five stages of grief in more or less this order: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, it is not a neat and orderly process. Grief is messy and it is normal to move forward and back many times.Grief has no timeline. There is no magic number of days, weeks or months that it is correct to grieve and then move on. Do not put a time limit on your grief but do remember that it’s OK to seek help if you feel “stuck” in one stage of the grief process or if your loss is beginning to greatly affect the way you function daily.
Don’t feel bad for having a ‘good’ day.
You will have good days. Embrace them. Grief is physically and emotionally exhausting and painful. It’s OK to have an OK day because tomorrow you might start inexplicably crying in line at the grocery store. Both good and bad days will happen. Remember, this process is not a defined line with a beginning and end.
Let your friends know that they aren’t expected to “fix” you.
There are no just-perfect sentiments anyone can say that will make you immediately bounce back into normalcy. Your friends might try and might fail spectacularly at saying the “right thing”. Let them know what you need is someone to just listen, or a day out of the house, or an hour’s worth of distraction. They don’t need to fix you. They just need to be there. Let them know that with specific words if you’re able.
Talk to your lost pet. Out loud. Write a letter.
Tell them everything you miss about them. Tell them all the decisions you are struggling with. Talk or write about your favorite memories together. This can be incredibly therapeutic.
Join a pet-loss support group either in-person or online.
Even if you attend only once. It helps to be in a safe place where your loss doesn’t have to be explained.
Make a memorial to your pet.
Create a video slideshow with music using an online website. Or put together a photo album or scrapbook. Make a memory diorama with a cigar box. Put together a memorial shelf or window sill. Donate to a local shelter or rescuein their name.
Adopting again is not “replacing” your pet.
Your grief is directly proportional to the love you had for your pet — your friend, family member and loyal companion. A friend’s wise father once told her after the death of her beloved dog, “You are not replacing her. You are finding somewhere for all the love you have in your heart to go.” Remember this. And remember our amazing friends would never want their space in your home to be empty forever. When you are ready, give that safe space to another homeless pet. Yes, losing them hurts. But we know it’s worth it.
The Baltimore Humane Society Memorial Park is a historic cemetery dedicated entirely to pets and is located on a certified wildlife habitat. Director of the Memorial Park, Veronica Van Hof has been at BHS almost two years. Veronica is a certified pet-loss counselor and an InSight-certified funeral celebrant. The monthly loss group is on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 pm, 1601 Nicodemus Road in Reisterstown. RSVPS to my email or phone are great.
Baltimore Humane Society was founded in 1927 by Elsie Seeger Barton. They are a no-kill, non-profit animal shelter that does not receive any operational funding from the county, state, or other governments; and we are not affiliated with any national humane societies or animal welfare organizations.Coping tips for when you lose your best friend