Navigating the loss of a companion animal is a challenging and painful experience on it’s own, however when grief is interrupted a painful experience can be intensified. As the pandemic of COVID-19 has interrupted everyone’s daily lives and routines, it has also interrupted those who are dealing with a loss and working through their grief process. If you, or someone you know is navigating the loss of a pet during this time, we would like to offer our condolences, and let you know that you are not alone.
While the outbreak of coronavirus has undoubtedly impacted our society on both the individual and global scales, it has placed additional stress to those experiencing the loss of a beloved companion animal in a number of ways:
Reductions in veterinary care may have impacted your experience in saying goodbye to your beloved pet.
Restrictions on social gatherings may have impacted your ability to mourn and follow memorialization rituals.
Anxiety about the uncertainty of the situation, and necessary precautions taken may have intensified your grief, or distracted you from your grief making you feel guilt about taking attention away from you beloved pet.
Social supports may also be distracted at this time and may not be as helpful or available to you.
You may also be worried about other loved ones and your own health and experiencing grief related to pandemic in addition to your loss.
If you are struggling with your grief and experiencing some of these things, or other effects of the pandemic and social distancing please know this: You are not alone, you are strong, and we are here for you. We know that isolation can be a real challenge, especially while grieving, but there are some things that you can do to alleviate some of the hardship of quarantine, and process your grief.
Mourning is the process of expressing feelings of grief and loss and is often associated with different rituals or ceremonies where the bereaved are able to express their sorrow together. It can be challenging for those who lose a beloved companion animal to mourn in this way because funerals and other similar ceremonies are not as common; on top of that the social distancing guidelines make these types of gatherings impossible and unsafe. This does not mean that those who lose a companion animal are not allowed to have a funeral or ceremony to honor their loved one, but rather you are encouraged to do whatever feels right for you and your relationship with your companion animal. These ceremonies may not be held in the way you originally intended, planned, or envisioned, however that does not mean that you can’t or shouldn’t still mourn in a way that is meaningful to you. Some ideas for mourning during this time:
- Have a funeral service at home with your immediate family members while wearing masks.
- Host a funeral where others are able to join via skype, zoom, or other video call.
- Utilize social media to share about your loss
- Access online chat rooms and support groups to share with others who are going through the same thing. Summit Veterinary Referral Center offers a free pet loss support group online twice per month.
- Write a letter to your beloved companion animal, or from them to you.
- Express yourself through poetry, music, or other art forms and share them with others, keep them for yourself, or release them once you were able to express how you felt.
- Do something that you liked to do together in honor of your companion animal.
- Send out cards with a photograph of your pet, informing those close to you and your pet of your loss.
- If none of these sound like the right fit until quarantines are lifted, then use this time to plan a ceremony or activity that feels right for you.
Memorialization is the way that we preserve our memories, and commemorate time, items, and energy to our animals after they have passed. Again, just as the grief process is unique to each individual, not all memorialization techniques and practices will feel “right” for everyone. Finding ways to honor and memorialize your companion animal can be a moving process that guides you through your grief journey by honoring and celebrating their life, lessons learned with them, and how they have impacted the future. Some ideas for memorialization include:
- Make a donation in honor of your pet’s name to a charity or organization that is meaningful to you both.
- Use your favorite photos to create a collage or album, and place photos around the house in their favorite spots.
- Create a video montage of photographs and/or videos of your animal. http://www.ilovemypetvideo.com/
- Write a poem, story, song (or playlist) about and dedicated to your pet.
- Write down your special memories of your pet. Add to these stories and anecdotes from friends and family and place in a scrapbook.
- Plant a tree, bush, shrub, or flowers representing your pet; place your animal’s cremains in the soil with your plant.
- Scatter ashes (partial or entirety) of your pet in his or her favorite spot(s).
- Paint sacred rocks, or have a stone engraved and place them in your garden: http://www.apetmemorial.com/
- Create something that reminds you of your pet – a drawing, clay sculpture, needlework project, glass ornament. Or, have a personalized piece of glass artwork created: http://www.rainbowbridgehearts.com/
Gratitude is a quality or feeling that can be so hard to grasp during the time of loss because you can think to yourself, “What do I have to be grateful for? I’m not thankful for my loss, or this pain”. Gratitude, however, is one of the most healing elements you can introduce into your life, especially during grief. Understand that gratefulness is not about denial of loss and grief. Alternatively, we become more aware of the fullness of life – the beauty and the pain. Holding both means full engagement of the heart, full compassion, full living. It is important to practice gratitude and thank those who have been a support to you, your animal and all the wonderful lessons and memories they added to your life, and to yourself for all of the care and love you provided to your animal. Some ways to practice gratitude during this time include:
- Send out cards with a photograph of your pet, thanking others for their support and impact on your animal’s life.
- Reflect on lessons learned from your relationship with your companion animal; write them down or share them with others.
- Take in and observe the small things around you, find appreciation in simplicity.
- Write down 5-10 things outside of your relationship that you are grateful for.
- Give back to others by volunteering, donating, or another act of kindness.
Lastly, as we enter the month of May, which is National Mental Health Month, I wanted to remind you all to take some time for intentional self-care. Not only is self-care important for everyone, it is especially important for those who are grieving. Being intentional about your self-care practices will help you to take the most away from those practices, and they can provide support to build resilience and strength in the face of grief, depression, anxiety, stress, and much more. Sometimes during the grief process, we can feel guilt around self-care, but taking care of your body, mind, and soul is not selfish and does not take away from your animal. Taking care of yourself allows you to heal around the loss of your companion animal and integrate the loss into your new life in a healthy way, it does not mean you are leaving them behind. Some ideas for self-care practices during this time:
- Eat healthy foods that nourish your body.
- Get fresh air daily, whether you are able to get outside for a moment, or just to open a window.
- Get movement into your day in any form. You can dance, walk, run, jump, skip, bike, wiggle, stretch, whatever works for you.
- Reach out to your loved ones and connect with them often.
- Incorporate humor into your day; tell a joke, hear a joke, laugh with a loved one, watch a funny movie.
- Drink water
“You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.”
-Old Chinese proverb
- Summit Veterinary Referral Center’s Social Work Team (offering virtual grief support individually, and a grief support group twice per month): https://www.summitvets.com/social-work.html
- This Pandemic of Grief, by Dr. Alan Wolfelt: https://www.centerforloss.com/2020/04/pandemic-of-grief/
- Virtual Memorial Home and Grief Support Community: www.rainbowbridge.com
- What is self-care?: https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/