The loss of a beloved pet can be the deepest heartbreak of our lives. With each article, we will address and answer a key topic with Certified Pet Grief Counselor, Pina De Rosa (APLB / AAVSB).
If you wish to send in questions for Pina, please submit them to Pina De Rosa through www.PetBereavementCounseling.com
In our last topic we looked at the impact of hearing “it was just a pet” and dealing with disenfranchised grief within the stages of grief.
With this topic, we get to look at “My pet died, what do I do?”
Often times people tell me that right after their pet died they had no idea what to do next. And friends of bereft pet parents wish they knew what to suggest, what to say, how to help?
When the human-pet bond physically breaks, the intensity of the pain can feel unbearable. We enter a state of shock and often times, we do not know what to do next. The fact is that the intensity that can characterize the human-pet bond can be one of the hardest thing to put in to words. Words are actually limiting to the experience as we entrust them with the deepest side of us. Those of us who experience it for the first time did not know that it could be so deep, soul-filling and even overwhelming. The human-pet bond can feel like the purest form of unconditional love, and one of the most spiritual love experiences of our lives. We feel a sense of loving safety, connection and intimacy with our animal that is like no other bond. They become our soul mates, so much so that we can become emotionally dependent on them. The depth of the soul connection we feel is matched by the intensity of the emotional distress we experience when our pet dies. When that happens, it feels like our heart constricts in our chest, and it physically hurts to breathe. That is how emotionally intense, complex and personal the human-pet bond can be. When that bond physically breaks, the intensity of the pain feels insurmountable. In time we realize that spiritual connection is an unbreakable bond that will continue to enrich us for the rest of our lives. As that bond lives in us, and as their spirit lives through us, we get to discover even more about love. That is yet another wonderful gift we receive, even well after they are gone. And, supporting us in learning to handle change is one of the many gifts that characterize the intense human-pet bond.
Aside from all the emotional layers that we have covered at length in prior articles as well, here is some input -and logistics- that I wish I would have known about well before my first pet died.
Depending on your religious or spiritual inclination, you may decide to either bury or cremate the body of your beloved animal companion. Deciding which pet mortician, or pet cemetery to pick, and having to make that choice right after your pet dies, at the time of such intense deep pain, is probably the least favorable time to make this final decision. After my first dog passed away, and how emotionally excruciating it was to deal with the grief itself, as well as the logistics, I realized that the best course of action for the future would be to have all the arrangements pre-made while the pet is alive and well (not unlike for humans). That way, when the day comes, the focus can be on being fully present with the beloved animal companion vs. being bogged down with logistics and details of painful, last decisions.
The fact is -as morbid as it may sound- that is ideal if the cremation or burial details are already in place while the pet is alive and well. It’s the same for people. Plan ahead. When it happens, it’s not the time to start making plans – I remember I was so distraught when that happened the first time, especially as it was a sudden and traumatic experience without a peaceful goodbye, that it was the last thing I wanted to do. I was already in a deep state of shock. Plus I was reading all these bad Yelp reviews and nightmare stories of a cat’s ashes being returned in a coffee tin, or warnings to not enter the side door of a mortician’s place of business or you’d accidentally see dead pets wrapped in cellophane, stacked high with limbs protruding! I got even more distraught – what if I made the wrong final decision? That is why, with every beloved pet I adopted after my first dog passed, I set up all the aftercare arrangements the same week they were adopted.
When my second dog passed away, the only relief was that all the logistical details of his cremation had already been pre-arranged. All I had to do was send a text to Scott Summerville founder of www.AtGardensEdge.com I could not recommend Scott more highly, and I strongly recommend that you Yelp a pet mortician in your area whom you feel confident will give your beloved furry companion the dignified last rites and respect they deserve.
When I lost my first beloved dog it was sudden, unexpected, and there was no goodbye. I was not prepared/able to make any decision in the state of deep shock I was in. A friend offered to help call a few cemeteries and cremation places and to send me a summary of costs / times / details of her top suggestions. A few days later another friend helped me make calls to the top 3 choices I had selected based on my friend’s suggestions, as well as Yelp reviews. That is how I selected Scott Summerville and he was, truly, a God-sent.
As you get through the decision of who will handle your pet’s aftercare, other next steps are what to do with their belongings. Then, writing a letter.
Friends want to help, but often times they do not know how. Ask a friend to help you with your pet’s belongings: specifically to help you by making returns, food & vitamins returns, any Amazon returns. As well as donating any left-over medication to your own vet who can then prescribe/donate it to families who would not be able to afford the cost of prescriptions. Ask a friend or two to come over and clean out the kitchen/house of all your pet bowls and personal items. It’s helpful if they clean what is washable and put everything away in a box so you would not have to look at it when you are home (especially if you live alone). At a later time, when you can bear it, you will be able able to look through it and decide accordingly.
In time, some of my dog’s personal items, as well as personal items that used to belong to the pets of all my grief counseling are chosen / donated to homeless pets living out in the streets as part of #MissionWellington and his www.TreatsForPups.com - There are other philanthropic organizations in your areas in need of donations of gently used items. I invite you to let another pet benefit from the special things your furry companion loved. Here is a photo of a homeless pet and his owner who inherited one of Wellington’s beds after his passing.
Before your pet is cremated or buried, a good next step is to write a letter. A letter to your pet that you will seal and give to the pet mortician so your pet can be either buried or cremated with it. This letter can be a testament of so much that you love about your pet; it can include what you are thankful for and what you miss about them…. In that letter/envelope, you can include a small little something that belongs to you so that it will go “with” your pet… I recommend staying away from any plastic or metal objects as they’d likely compromise the ashes in the cremation process, but a section of a special blanket, a lock of your hair, a photo would surely work. Tell the mortician to please include that envelope with your dearly beloved. Let them know there is nothing plastic or metal in it. They will say yes.
Also, in case of cremation, ask them if they will do something called a 90/10 (or 80/20)? That ensures the ashes being returned to you in 2 separate pouches, one large ouch of ashes and one smaller pouch in case you decide to spread the ashes at a later point. The reason behind the 2 separate pouches is so that you will not have to handle or disturb the ashes should you wish to have only a portion spread, while keeping another potion safely at home with you.
Next, ensure you have the following 3 things:
a framed photo of your pet, your pet’s collar (or favorite toy), and a new journal. The framed photo is so you can hold the frame, kiss it, and even use it as a “portal” to talk to you pet if you’d like to connect with him/her that way.
The collar (or favorite toy) is so you can squeeze it when you need to hold something that your furry companion loved.
And a new journal is so you can explore and express your thoughts and feelings, whether you are receiving pet bereavement counseling support, simply talking with friends, or going through your internal solo healing journey. There are several options for pet grief counseling that I recommend you Yelp (in person, on the phone, via FaceTime / Skype). www.PetBereavementCounseling.com offers an initial complimentary session, as well as sliding scale.
If you are not open to the personal support of pet grief counseling, I definitely recommend the following 2 books as it will help you to read them early on, and especially during the phase of grief that may push you towards isolation: both books will help immensely.
“The loss of a pet – a guide to coping with the grieving process when a pet dies” by Dr. Wallace Sife
“Until we meet again: From grief to hope after losing a pet.” by Melissa Lyons
I am not suggesting either book, I am suggesting both as they will help you navigate this harrowing heartbreak.
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