Question: "How can I overcome grieving the loss of a pet?"
Answer: The loss of a beloved pet can be traumatic. This is especially true when the pet owner has had the pet for a number of years or when the pet reminds us of a deceased loved one. The death of a pet is cause for real grief and should be respected as such. The death of a pet falls into the category sometimes referred to as “unspeakable losses.” We don’t mind everyone knowing how much we miss a departed family member or friend. But it can feel embarrassing to admit how much a deceased pet meant to us. Often, bereaved pet owners must grieve in silence and wonder how they will ever get over the death of their pet.
The loss of a pet is traumatic because often the pet gave us unconditional love and acceptance when nobody else did. They were usually happy to see us when we came home or provided company in our loneliest hours. Their innocence and funny ways provided us with years of enjoyment and laughter. When anything important to us is gone, a void is created that takes time to fill. Experiencing grief for any kind of loss, including the death of a pet, is normal and healthy, and it’s okay to allow yourself those emotions.
Even in grieving over the loss of a pet, we should stay grounded. There is a tendency in our culture to humanize animals, so part of the grief we feel may be due to the loss of the fantasy relationship we pretended we had with our pet. We may have subconsciously assumed Fido or Fluffy felt for us as deeply as we did for them, and our grief may rival what we would have for a dear friend. Over the years, we attributed thoughts, values, and even imaginary conversations to this pet. If we dressed our pet in little clothes, gave it a human name, and showered it with love and treats, then our grieving may be more pronounced than it would be for an animal that we treated like an animal. Overcoming that kind of grief may also involve admitting to the Lord that we sought consolation in an animal rather than in Him. We can ask Him to show us how to find true consolation and fill that void with His presence (Hebrews 13:5).
Grief can come in stages, even when we are grieving the loss of a pet. The sight of an empty food bowl or a half-chewed slipper might spark tears. Allowing yourself to be in the moment and experience that pang of loss is actually a healthy way to process it. We can pause for a moment and, through our tears, thank God for the years we had with our beloved furry friend. Many people think they don’t want another pet after the death of one, but the grief stage is not the time to make final declarations. It’s also not the time for well-meaning family or friends to shove another pet into our arms when we have not expressed a desire for that. Outsiders may conclude that all we need is another pet, but, for a pet lover grieving the loss of a faithful companion, there is not another one. The lost pet was unique, and it’s okay to spend time mourning the loss of that uniqueness.
As with any deep soul pain, God is our source of comfort. He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Who better to express our sorrow to than the One who created animals for our enjoyment? Jesus said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father knowing about it (Matthew 10:29). He created those sparrows and knows each one. He also created our pets and understands the place they hold in our hearts. Because He, too, cares about animals, He is a safe place to turn with our overwhelming feelings.
Death of any kind is always a reminder of the brevity of life. Life was not meant to die. Sin caused that (Genesis 2:16–17). When our pets die, our sorrow can be a sober reminder of the effects of sin on this world. It also reminds us that our own lives are short. We, too, will die and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). For those who belong to Christ, our judgment has already been satisfied by His death and resurrection on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). For those who do not know Christ, the death of a pet may be God’s wake-up call. He wants to get our attention. Far more serious than the death of a pet is the eternal death of a human soul.
Grief is a season and does not last forever. Healthy people give themselves time to grieve and then let the wound heal. Moving on does not mean the death didn’t matter. It means that life is for the living. We are benefitting no one—including the lost loved one—by continuing to mourn. Moving on after the death of a pet may mean getting another pet, discovering a new hobby, or entering a new relationship. The death of a pet can actually mark the beginning of a new season without the responsibility of pet ownership. We can embrace this new season, whatever it entails, and seek ways to focus on that which is eternal so that our lives bear fruit for God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:10).