Grieving A Pet: How To Cope Without Your Soul Mate By Your Side

grieving a pet

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You probably know that when someone significant in your life dies, you have to give yourself time to grieve. But when that loved one happens to be a cherished pet, it’s common to feel completely lost about what you’re supposed to do.

You may be asking yourself,

“How am I supposed to fall asleep, let alone get through the day, without my pet by my side?”

“Is it normal for me to miss them this much?”

“My pet was one-of-a-kind – will I ever find love like this again?”

“How am I supposed to grieve when I feel like I’ve lost a part of my soul?”

I understand these feelings completely, because I recently lost my own pet-best-friend and soul-creature, Squiggles. And have been trying my best to figure out how to cope while grieving my beloved pet.

My Bond With Squiggles

A photo of me with Squiggles when I was just 16-years-old.

I had Squiggles since the day she was born, after my other cat Flopsy gave birth to her. I was right there in the room, and watched as she entered the world!

For almost 22 years, Squiggles was the light of my life. My anchor. My greatest source of comfort and joy. 

As she aged, her increasingly expensive vet bills motivated me to work hard and start my therapy private practice. Because I wanted to make sure I could afford her medical care and keep her alive as long as possible.

But as you know, all the money in the world can’t change the fact that your pet’s body will not be able to keep up with its soul forever. And that one day, you’re going to have to say goodbye.

And if you’re here, then you know that saying goodbye isn’t the worst of it. Because the aftermath awaits, like a dark cloud looming over you every day that your pet is gone. 

That, my friend, is the grief. 

My Experience With Pet Grief

For the past 9 months, I’ve been grieving the tremendous loss of Squiggles.

The therapist in me has applied different concepts and tools to the grief process. I’ve tried to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t.

But the human in me has wanted to reject it all – to avoid the pain, distract myself, and bury any intense emotions so they can’t bubble to the surface and completely overwhelm me.

If I’ve learned anything about grief, it’s that there is no right or wrong way to do it. And although understanding the stages of grief can help you know what to expect, there is little else you can do to prepare yourself.

But if you’re here, you probably want something – anything – to help you get through this impossible life event, of losing your pet-best-friend. 

So I am going to try my best to share some insights that you can use on your grief journey, that will hopefully make the road a little more manageable. 

Or at least help you feel less alone as you traverse it.

Guide To Grieving A Pet

First, I want to acknowledge that grief is both universal, yet incredibly unique to each individual. Your experience will likely look different from mine. And if there are people in your life also grieving your pet, the way they process their grief won’t be the same as you.

Take what you need, and leave anything that doesn’t resonate. 

1. Remember your pain is valid. 

When grieving a pet, you are experiencing a unique kind of grief, called disenfranchised grief. What this means is, society doesn’t see it as “serious” a loss as other losses.

This is FALSE! Many people have told me that when their pet died, it hurt more than when humans in their life had died.

When you try to cover up how you truly feel, it can create another level of suffering on top of the sadness you’re experiencing. Because not only will you be devastated, you might feel like something is wrong with you for feeling that way.

Trust me when I say, the pain and loss you feel after losing your pet is significant. There is nothing wrong with you.

A pet is not just an animal – it is a family member, and oftentimes, a part of your soul. The hole you feel in your heart from losing them is appropriate and valid. You can give yourself time to heal.

2. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions.

Have you ever heard the saying, “the only way out is through?” 

When it comes to grief, that means you have to let yourself be sad about the loss in order to get to the other side.

So how do you do that? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Check in with yourself now. Close your eyes, and see if any sensations are running through your body. Be open to whatever comes up.
  2. Schedule grief time every day (or once a week to start) to let yourself be with your emotions. 
  3. Sob in the shower.
  4. Talk to a friend or therapist about how you feel.
  5. Listen to music that resonates.
  6. Download my free Feelings Guide to help you process emotions in a healthy way.

You might be afraid that if you start crying you’ll never stop. Or that it will feel too painful if you allow yourself to “go there.”

In reality, when you let yourself cry, you’re releasing stress hormones through your tears. So although it’s painful at first, crying can bring relief.

3. Throw the word “should” out the window.

When grieving your pet, self-care looks different.

Because when you lose a pet, your daily routine is completely disrupted. Activities that normally help you relax, like taking a walk or watching TV may not nourish you in the same way. Especially when your greatest source of comfort is no longer around to do those things with you.

Some days, a good work out is what you might need to feel a little better. Other days, you may not be able to get out of bed. 

That’s okay. 

When your grieving, especially in those first weeks and months, throw any “shoulds,” out the window.

Here are some examples:

“I should feel better by now.”

“I should get a new pet soon.”

“I should donate my pet’s leftover food.”

Whenever you notice yourself saying, “I should…” replace it with “would like” to see if it is something you do, in fact, want. 

And if you don’t know where to turn to practice some self-care right now, download my free guide, Self-Care After Losing Your Soul-Mate-Pet.

4. Practice self-compassion.

Grief is hard work! It’s draining and it’s painful. It’s perfectly okay to take breaks. And to even laugh again. To feel angry at the world. Or for sadness to rise out of nowhere. 

The last thing you want to do while grieving is shame yourself for moving through the process “imperfectly.” Especially because there is no right or wrong or perfect way to grieve.

These are the 3 components of self-compassion, coined by Kristin Neff. Remember:

  1. Be kind to yourself.
  2. You are human going through a very human experience. You are not alone in how you feel.
  3. Practice mindfulness.

Self-compassion is a great practice to cultivate while grieving, but also in your day-to-day.

5. Take your time.

You might be wondering how much time you’re going to have to spend grieving your pet. And as you can probably guess, I do not have an answer for you. 

However, having some information about “expected” timelines for grief can be helpful, so I want to share some findings from a study conducted back in 2019 on pet bereavement.

About 50% of participants in this study experienced “intense grief” for about 12-19 months after their pet died. And 25% of the participants experienced intense grief 2-6 years later, and another 25% experienced it for less than a year. 

To make a long story short, “intense grief” after losing a pet can last anywhere from less than a year, to 6+ years or more. 

And really, the amount of time it takes you to grieve may be influenced by past experiences of grief, current mental health conditions, and other life circumstances.

I find this ball and box analogy to be more helpful than any strict timeline. Because it demonstrates the reality of grief – that it isn’t linear.

And touches on the fact that you will likely spend the rest of your life grieving your pet. The pain may not be as constant or as intense as it is right now, but you will always miss them. That is normal. It’s how grief works.

Again, there is nothing wrong with you. 

6. Connect with others who get it. 

One of the more common experiences you might go through while grieving a pet is lack of validation and understanding from others. Which can make you feel incredibly alone.

But believe me. If you’ve lost a pet, you are not alone.

Since writing my article on the Unique Stages of Grief After Losing A Pet, I have had countless people contact me about the grief they’ve experienced after their pet-best-friend died.

When you have lost a soul mate pet, it’s important to connect with other people who get it.

And if you feel alone in your grief or want to share photos and cherished memories of your pet, I invite you to join my Facebook group, It’s All The Same Forest: Pet Grief After Losing Your Soul Mate Pet.

7. Embrace healthy distractions.

It’s perfect okay when grieving a pet to find some respite through healthy distractions. The best way for me to describe what I mean is by sharing my own story.

One of the things I was most fearful of about Squiggles dying was how I would be able to fall asleep without her by my side.

And let me tell you – those first few nights were rough.

A few nights after she passed, I decided to download Tiktok on a whim.

The algorithm somehow knew exactly what I needed. It introduced me to 2 types of content that helped me fall asleep in those first few weeks after Squiggles died.

The first was gardening videos. Which is basically people going into their garden, picking veggies and herbs, and creating a lovely harvest basket out of the things they gathered.

And the second, was videos of slime.

I know it sounds bizarre. But something about those slime videos were so soothing to me when I needed to fall asleep. I find slime ASMR to be truly relaxing.

Before Squiggles died, would I have thought to use Tiktok to help me fall asleep at night? Definitely not.

Did it help me and provide some much needed relief from my pain? Absolutely.

I share this because you may not be aware of the things out there right now that could help you cope with your loss. And I want you to be open to the random ideas that pop in your mind, even if you think they are silly or foolish.

As long as it doesn’t put you at risk of losing your job, or hurting yourself or someone else, lean into it.

It could bring you more peace than any advice out there.

8. Honor your pet.

Continuing to remember, honor, and celebrate your pet may be really hard at first. And that’s because you’re still moving through some of the most difficult stages of grief.

But my hope is that one day, you will find a way to honor the love you have for your pet.

There are endless ways to do this.

It could be as simple as taking time to look at photos of your pet. Or writing a tribute to them on social media.

You can honor your pet by holding a memorial or gathering with loved ones to say your goodbyes.

You can get a stuffed animal made of your pet. Or sprinkle their ashes in your garden. You can light a candle in remembrance.

You can also create art inspired by your pet, which is what I have turned to as I grieve. And it’s turning into an entire book! If you’d like to be notified when I finish it, sign up here.

When you honor your pet, you are able to continue to integrate them into your life, even after they have left their physical form. And cherish the memories you made with them, always.

9. Make friends with your grief.

In Jungian Psychology, there is a concept called “Embracing The Shadow,” where you open yourself up to the parts of yourself that you don’t like or you feel ashamed of. Because when you do, you start to feel more grounded and whole.

This concept works well with grief too.

Because at first, grief is terrifying to think about. For me, it’s like a black void of pain and sorrow. I don’t want to get near it, let alone touch it. And become friends with it!? Heck no!

But if you start by letting yourself get a little closer, you might get a glimpse of the beauty that is also mingling with the darkness and sorrow. And you’ll see that the pain you feel is so intense because it mirrors the intensity of the love you have for your pet.

When you’re ready, invite your grief in. It doesn’t have to stay forever. I like to think about having it over for a cup of tea. 

10. Keep helpful mantras in your back pocket.

When it comes to grieving a pet, I find these 2 concepts most helpful for me.

  1. Grief is simply love in another form.
  2. The way you feel will not last forever.

If you have a quote or an idea that has resonated or helped you while grieving, keep it close. Turn to it when you need it. Use it as an anchor to get you through the toughest days. And always remember – you are not alone.

I hope you found some of the insights about pet grief in this article helpful. If so, please share it with anyone else you think might benefit.

I invite you to like it below, and leave a comment with your pet’s name, and a special memory you shared with them.

Here is one of me with Squiggles, when we traveled cross-country together for 4+ months during Covid. But really, my favorite times we shared together were the simple moments of snuggling with her in my lap.

After traveling from NYC to Florida, San Francisco and back, Squiggles ended up feeling perfectly at ease in the car.

Take good care of yourself during this time, and don’t hesitate to reach out. My email is hello@paigerechtman.com.

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2 Responses

  1. May I just say thank you for two things you have said in two articles.
    In your article “Losing a pet after 15+ years” you said “the grief is so painful because it’s the unexpressed love you still have”.
    In this article you say “Grief is simply love in another form”.

    I had my wonderful dog Filou put to sleep yesterday as a kindness to her and as my way of returning the unconditional love she had given me. I promised her I would let her go when the time was right for her, not me, as the time would never be right for me.

    Today I have been trying to work out why despite the pain, I don’t want it to go away, I just want to know how to cope with it. In a sense I wanted to fully understand what this sense of grief was all about as, when in extreme pain, all I can feel is this overwhelming love for Filou. I now get it and understand its worth and in an almost masochistic way understand now why it is so intense and that simply crying is insufficient, but wailing as well helps to release the pain. Yes, I loved my dog beyond words and always knew it. I consider myself the luckiest person alive to have had her in my life and to have been able to recognise, from very early on, how special she was to me. Thi si snot a case of realising too late – I always knew there was going to be a very heavy price to pay for having a dog as your only companion and best friend and being content with that. I needed no more out of life as she never allowed me to feel lonely or alone, simply by always being there by my side – I was fortunate to work from home so we were seldom apart, though we would each ‘do our own thing’ in the house or outside.

    You asked me to share an anecdote, and this was the most humbling experience of my life. I live in France and a year ago, for the first time in 15 years, I was due to go back to the UK. It was impractical to take Filou, which meant our first time apart in eleven years. I walked her across town to a lady and gentleman who had a couple of dogs themselves and who Filou was going to stay with. Seeing that the dogs got on fine, I was quite happy and I walked back home, which was a good forty minute walk. Bear in mind We had never walked along these streets before and the journey also involved crossing a long bridge.

    Anyway, the next morning at 6. a.m. when it was dark, I locked up the house and opened the front Gate, ready to set off for the UK, only to be rather enthusiastically greeted by Filou who had been sat there patiently waiting for me to open the gate. I have no idea how long she had been there as she had not announced her arrival, and the people where she was staying were even more shocked when I phoned them. Seems the only way she could have escaped was by climbing up onto the outhouse roof and leaping over the fence, which was six-foot high! I am still amazed that she managed to find her way home across totally unfamiliar territory and I can only assume that as she came back in the dark, is he had a ‘smell map’ of the route. Anyway, to find your dog loves you that much they are that desperate to be with you is just the biggest gift you could ever be given. Needless to say the holiday was cancelled and I discovered a love for my dog that was even more profound.

    1. First and foremost, I am SO sorry for the loss of your beloved Filou. <3 My heart breaks for your during this extremely difficult time of grief. I understand everything you're saying - I too, didn't want to be happy. Or cheered. I wanted to be in my truth, which was a broken heart that my Squiggles was gone. I loved reading your anecdote about Filou returning to your home - nothing in this world can compare to the loyalty and love of a soulmate pet. <3 (PS - I was just in France. It's one of my favorite countries to visit!). Thank you for leaving a comment. Sending you hugs as you grieve your beloved Filou.

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Hi! I'm Paige

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I’m a Licensed Psychotherapist based in NYC. 

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