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Remembering your beloved pet

The bond that we form with animals is unique so it's not surprising we feel a whole range of emotions when a beloved pet dies.

The loss of an animal can have an impact on you that is as great or even greater than the loss of a family member or friend. This bond is what makes our interactions with animals rich and rewarding, but also what makes the grief process so complicated.

After your animal has died or been lost, it is natural and normal to feel grief and sorrow. Although grief is an internal and private response, there are certain stages of grief that most people experience. By understanding the process, you will be better prepared to manage your grief and to help other family members and friends who share your sense of loss.

The stages of grief
There are many stages of grief, but not everyone experiences them all or in the same order. You may experience denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance, and resolution.

Your first reaction may be denial - denial that the animal has died or that death is imminent. Denial may begin when you first learn the seriousness of your animal's illness or injuries. Often, the more sudden the death, the more difficult the loss is to accept.

Anger and guilt often follow denial. Your anger may be directed toward people you normally love and respect, including your family and your veterinarian. People coping with death will often say things that they do not really mean, perhaps hurting those whom they do not mean to hurt.

You may feel guilty or blame others for not recognising the illness earlier, for not doing something sooner, for not being able to afford other types of or further treatment, or for being careless and allowing the animal to be injured.

Depression
Depression is also part of the range of emotions experienced after the death of a special animal. The tears flow, there are knots in your stomach, and you feel drained of all your energy. Day-to-day tasks can seem impossible to perform. Sometimes you may even ask yourself if you can go on without the animal. The answer is yes, but there are times when special assistance may be helpful in dealing with your loss.

Eventually, you will come to terms with your feelings. You can begin to resolve and accept your animal's death. Even when you have reached resolution and acceptance, feelings of anger, denial, guilt, and depression may reappear. If this does happen, these feelings will usually be less intense, and with time will be replaced with fond memories.

Although the stages of grief apply fairly universally, grieving is always a personal process. Some people take longer than others to come to terms with denial, anger, guilt, and depression, and each loss is different. If you understand that these are normal reactions, you will be better prepared to cope with your feelings and to help others face theirs. Family and friends should be reassured that sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death.

They may not understand
Sometimes well-meaning family and friends may not realise how important your animal was to you or the intensity of your grief. Comments they make may seem cruel and uncaring. Be honest with yourself and others about how you feel. If despair mounts, talk to someone who will listen to your feelings about the loss of your animal. Talk about your sorrow, but also about the fun times you and the animal spent together, the activities you enjoyed, and the memories that are meaningful.

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