Perhaps surprising to some, but many people find their grief after the loss of a family pet is worse than the passing of a friend or relative. As Washington Post editor Joe Yonan writes, research shows that many people experience the loss of a pet with greater intensity.
Dealing with the loss of a pet is hard enough, but a pet owner who feels intense grief—more than they felt for a relative—may feel guilty about that. They may think that it is not right that they feel worse than when, say, a sister passed away.
Bill Clinton and Buddy
Many who feel this way don’t talk about it, because they feel they are silly, weak, or defective. But some prominent people have spoken about the depth of their loss. Former President Bill Clinton said in 2002 that the death of his dog Buddy, who was hit by a car, was “by far the worst thing” he had experienced since leaving the White House.
Do not feel guilty
The first thing to do if you feel this way is to acknowledge that your grief is normal. You are not a bad person because of how you feel. Everyone responds differently, both in intensity and duration of grief. Do not feel guilty, and here is why:
The relationship between you and your pet is different than any relationship with any person. Your dog or cat or other pet was probably a constant and loyal companion. They may have shown unconditional love. And they were totally dependent on you; only having a young child would compare. No human relationships are like that with your pet.
Many family relationships are difficult, and relationships with our pets are often so much simpler. Joe Yonana notes that his bond with his dog was “especially simpler than that with my father, with whom I had constant conflicts over religion and sexuality, and whose love and support seemed to always have strings attached.”
When you lose a pet, you may have lost many simple but meaningful rituals that marked your day. We have written here about how pets help keep you healthier, and one reason is that a pet offers a lot of protection from loneliness (which is dangerous to your health).
Healing from loss of a pet
First try to lose any guilt you hold. Express your grief. Find sympathetic friends; best those who have owned pets as well. Click on the links in this text or the link below for more hints on what you can do to help you heal. If there is demand from you, our readers, we will write a post specifically about that topic as well.
Remember that if you think you need to, find a sympathetic psychologist or therapist. Your veterinarian may be able to suggest one. If you can’t do that, try to find a good online forum to talk out your feelings. They are normal, and you will get better.
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