It was a cold icy morning when I lost my beloved border collie Casey right before my eyes at the age of 8 years old. The school bus had some treacherous roads it had to travel at the time when I was living on a farm in northern Canada. On that fateful morning when the icy road conditions caused dog and school bus to collide, my good companion met his fate.
Fast forward 40 years and the memory of watching that accident occur and the memory of holding my dying hero’s head on my lap still brings a bit of a tear to my eye to this day. You see, growing up at that time in the wild rural north had its challenges and some of those were of the life and death variety. Having a trusted pet was more of a necessity than anything, from herding cattle to protecting a small farm kid from unsuspecting danger; it was all in a day’s work for my good friend Casey. He was my friend, my companion and my hero and losing him that morning did something to me that affects me still to this day.
Grieving the loss of a pet was somewhat misunderstood by my parents at the time, as an hour later I still found myself sobbing my loss while sitting in my classroom in our small rural school, and is something that is somewhat still taboo for many people to this day. Fortunately, as the number of domestic animals as companions has increased in both rural and city settings alike, and as we better understand mental health issues surrounding grief, pet loss grief is becoming more acknowledged and respected. When my Casey died that morning something inside me died with him, and to this day it sits as one of the most impactful memories I have of my early childhood.
Now I grew up with a healthy understanding of God’s creation and the difference between man and animal and my understanding and respect for the difference is solid. But, although so different in many ways, grieving the loss of a pet can be as impactful to some as grieving the loss of a person. From my experience a couple of reasons for this might be:
1. Pets are existent reliant
Unlike humans, pets never enter a phase where they are independent. From the time of entering and the time of exiting the lives of their masters, they are totally reliant. This total dependence and reliance causes the relationship between both pet and pet owner to become something quite unique, and when this relationship comes to a close, the pet owner’s need to be able to be free to grieve and mourn the loss of their relationship in an effective and appropriate manner is very important.
2. Pets are companion reliant
The companion relationship between pet and owner never does fade. The reliant friendship between a pet and their owner and vice versa continues indefinitely. Pets don’t get married and have families of their own, and they don’t form friendship circles outside the home. From the day a pet is received to the day they die, the pet dedicates its entire life to the home in which it lives. This relational reliance is unique and answers some of the reasons as to why losing a pet can be so difficult.
For many pet owners grieving and mourning the loss of a pet is met with guilt and often we don’t know what we are supposed to do. Often when we talk to our family and friends about our loss, there is a disconnect as to how important this loss is, and there can be a lack of understanding and compassion from them as to what our mental state may be in the next few weeks or months.
It is important to understand that grieving the loss of any relationship that is near and dear to us is a necessary function that needs to be journeyed through. Honoring and remembering your relationship with your pet are important steps to be walked through as you process your loss. Some ways you can effectively do this is by talking about your lost pet or maybe by having a special ceremony that commemorates his or her memory. Maybe you want to wear a simple mourning symbol which outwardly displays to others that you have lost something close to you and that you may be in need of a bit of grace from them for the time being. In whatever way you choose, take time to remember this special relationship – acknowledge the significance of your loss and grieve together with others who understand your precious loss. FBA
Cam Clarke is the Co-founder of Grieving Together Inc, a company that supports the funeral profession with contemporary mourning products. Cam can be reached by phone at 855-723-6395 or by email at [email protected].