We euthanized our fantastic and beloved dog, Maksim, in mid June. He was a fantastic guy to be around and a great help in my business. I still struggle with his loss and have asked my dear friend, and respected animal chaplain, Russell Elleven, for some guidance on how to deal with my grief.
Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin is a Unitarian Universalist minister and trained animal chaplain. He offers free monthly support sessions via Zoom.
Here’s what Russell has to say…
Three Suggestions for Those Who Grieve a Pet
When our beloved pet dies, we are often thrown into the abyss of grief. Animal lovers know, for the most part, that the joy of bringing an animal home will one day result in the death of our companion. And when that day comes it hurts. It hurts a lot. It hurts so much that we often don’t know what to do in order to make the hurt go away. Who will understand our grief? Who can we talk to about the pain?
As an animal chaplain I listen to folks who are grieving the loss of their animal companion. Each person and each relationship is different. And at the same time, there are some striking similarities with grieving pet parents. At first there is a numbness. Even if the death was imminent the initial reaction is often one of disbelief. This quickly turns into pain and often the inability to do much else than think of our beloved companion.
There is no timeline for this grief. Don’t allow anyone to tell you differently. There are no steps or stages to your grief because everyone experiences loss in different ways. Your loss, and your grief, is unique.
And yet, there are some things many people find helpful while in the throes of grief. I offer you three things that have been helpful to many of the people I talk to when their pet has died. It may be that only one of these suggestions is helpful at any particular time. I encourage you to try at least one of these strategies as you grieve.
1. Read a book: There are many wonderful books on the topic of pet loss. For some folks reading, a solitary venture, is what helps most. Being able to think about your beloved companion while reading a book about pet loss can be very soothing for many people. One of my favorite books to recommend was written by a colleague of mine, The Rev. Gary Kowalski, and is titled Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who has Lost a Pet. If you are a reader of books you will likely appreciate Gary’s voice and his ability to comfort you through his words.
2. Find Support: You may not be much of a reader and that’s okay. You can find support in other ways. One of the ways to find support I appreciate greatly is support groups. There really is nothing better than being in a room (either virtually or in person) with others who “get it.” Not everyone will understand or appreciate your pet loss grief. But inside a pet loss support group you will find others who really do understand and will not judge you for the grief you feel after losing a beloved companion. Should you have any difficulty finding a group, do not hesitate to reach out to me and I’ll help you find one. I do not believe it can be overstated how helpful a support group will be for most people on this journey. Taking the first step to join a group can be intimidating for some. However, it is almost always the case that individuals are glad they took that slight risk for all the support received. If my group would be helpful, we meet on the first Wednesday of the month at 8:00 pm (eastern). Just contact me (www.animalchaplain.net) for the zoom link & password.
3. Forgive Yourself: I acknowledge this is easier said than done. For many of the people I talk to there is a persistent feeling of guilt, particularly when it comes to euthanasia. Did I request euthanasia too early? Did I wait too long? Was my companion in pain? Was my companion afraid? All of these internal messages can get in the way of our healing. Inevitably, the people I listen to are incredibly kind and loving pet keepers. And inevitably, these people did the very best they could for their companion. It doesn’t feel good to hold ourselves accountable in this way and our companion, we know, would have offered us immediate forgiveness. Even after death our beloved companions continue to teach us.
Your pet would have wanted you to feel better. I do too. Try reading something supportive. Try reaching out to a support group. Try forgiving yourself knowing you did the best you could. None of these things will bring immediate relief. But by doing something, you will find the grief becoming lessened while still honoring the pet who blessed you with so much love and affection.
Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin is a Unitarian Universalist minister and trained animal chaplain. He offers free monthly support sessions via Zoom. Connect with him at www.animalchaplain.net.