Everyone has different levels of attachment to their pets, and there is no right or wrong way to mourn the loss of an animal. The grief can depend on the type of bond with the pet, personality of the individual family member, how long you've had the animal and how it died. It's the loss of a valued family member and should be treated with respect and valued.
The Grieving Process
While this process is different for every single person even those within the same family, there are stages that are common with those that grieve over a loss. It's possible to skip over some steps or hit them in different orders too. They are all valid reactions to the loss of someone who was valued.
Immediately after the loss, this is the most common reaction. A sense of unreality and denial is a coping strategy that the mind uses to protect itself from the harsh truth. When the shock and pain will be especially horrible, the mind provides a cushion of security.
This is another way the mind has of coping with the loss so it doesn't have to feel the pain. It can be aimed at anyone from doctors to family members to the animal itself for leaving. It's important to understand that this will pass too.
Sadness and Depression
The overwhelming sense of sadness can come as a surprise to some people. Don't think of it as a weakness in yourself. The bond you had with your pet enriched both your lives, and there's nothing wrong with feeling the loss of that. It's important to understand that it's a normal reaction to any loss.
At some point, it's essential that you embrace some acceptance of the fate of your pet. It doesn't mean you won't miss him or her, but that it's time to move on from the overwhelming sadness and remember him with fondness and love.
Tips for Coping
Masking the Pain
Don't try to stifle the grief, cover it with false acceptance or ignore it. The pain will simmer beneath the surface, and you'll never heal or move on if it's still there. It'll erupt in other areas of your life. It's better to accept that the pain exists and is a valid reaction to losing a loved one.
A Child's Pain
If you're dealing with a child's grief over a lost pet, the same rules apply. Don't be dismissive of the grief they feel. It's very real and can last a very long time. It's healthy for them to express the sense of loss, and shouldn't be stifled.
Family and friends might not understand your grief over your beloved pet. It might become necessary to seek others who share your pain and understand the grief you feel. Support groups or professional help might be needed.
At some point, you'll want to celebrate the love and life of your beloved animal. You can have a pet grave plaque made that will express your love for your pet, how important he or she was in your life and how much he'll be missed. This legacy will give a concrete, permanent place for you to grieve and reflect on what was special about your animal, and the overwhelming sense of love you feel for him.
Some people who have lost pets like to create a scrapbook or add a plaque in their yard to remember their animal. This type of memorial helps a grieving family move on while still remembering the love and life of the pet. It can be especially important for children to see that when their animal dies, there is still an impact that is felt on the rest of the family over the loss.
A New Pet
This varies from one individual to the next. Some people never get over the loss of a pet. They don't want to ever replace the animal in their hearts or bond with a pet just to lose that animal in the future. Other people want to feel the joy and bond only experienced with a pet. The choice is up to you. Never run out and replace a child's pet until they are ready. Nobody should force their opinions on you. Some people want to share their life with a pet and others do not. Both decisions are extremely personal and neither one is wrong. When the time comes, you'll know whether you're ready.