As we age, we experience many life changes including the loss of friends and family members. The death of a pet can hit a retiree even harder than younger people who can draw on the comfort of close family, or distract themselves with work. Many older adults live alone with a pet as their sole companion. Taking care of Fido gave a sense of purpose and self-worth. Following are some tips to help seniors deal with pet loss in a healthy and constructive way.>
- Grief can be complicated by the role the pet played in life. Was he a service dog? Did the pet have a catastrophic illness and expensive veterinary care was not affordable?
- Everyone grieves differently. Feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, and depression in addition to sadness and loss can all play a role in how people grieve.
- Some people grieve in stages as they experience some of the different feelings mentioned above.
- Some find that grief is cyclical with a series of highs and lows.
- It isn’t uncommon to have memories that trigger a sense of grief many years after a pet has passed.
- Intense grief is normal and natural.>
Coping With Your Grief
- Be open and honest about your feelings. Don’t deny your pain or any of the other emotions you experience. You will only be able to work through your feelings by examining and coming to terms with them.
- Don’t let others belittle your loss. People who have never experienced the loss of a pet don’t understand the intensity of the grief. Instead, seek out others who can empathize with your experience.
- Don’t lock away your grief. Express it. Cry, talk it out with a sympathetic friend, stomp the floor in anger, start a journal or write a poem or story about your pet. These activities and others will help you understand what your pet’s loss actually means to you.
- Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check online message boards for hotlines and pet loss support groups. Talk with family, friends and colleagues who have also experienced the loss of a pet.
- Consider having a funeral or memorial service for your pet. This can help you openly express feelings.
- Look after yourself. Grief can often cause a person to eat and sleep poorly and avoid exercise. Maintaining a normal routine can help boost your mood and avoid illnesses that often come when our immune system is under stress.
- If you have other pets, maintain their normal routine. Pets will know that something is different. They will even experience loneliness and grief too. By keeping to the normal feeding, exercise and playtime schedules you and your surviving pets will benefit.
- Try to find new meaning and joy in life. Consider volunteering, helping friends care for their pets, or picking up a long-neglected hobby.
- Stay connected with friends. Try to spend time with at least one person per day. Regular face-to-face contact can help you ward off depression and stay positive.
- Boost your vitality with exercise. Since your pet may have helped you to stay active it’s important to keep up this routine. Consider exercising in a group by taking a class such as yoga or swimming. This can also help you connect with others.>
Moving On After Pet Loss
When should you get a new pet? The answer will be different for everyone. The most important thing to keep in mind is to honor your grief. Give yourself time to mourn the loss of your old friend and follow your instincts. Never try to replace your pet with an exact duplicate. This will only result in frustration and disappointment. Instead wait until you are emotionally ready and then make a choice based upon the personality of the pets that you meet at the adoption center. Look for someone with whom you can build another long, loving relationship…this is what having a pet is all about.>