Losing an animal companion can be profoundly emotional. An increasing body of research attests to the pain, starting with a landmark study in 1990 by pet bereavement pioneers Laura and Martyn Lee. The Lees surveyed 1,000 readers of pet magazines and published the results in their book Absent Friend: Coping with the Loss of Your Pet. Over 70 percent of their respondents indicated they were “devastated” by the loss. Yet only 10 percent spoke with someone. Most people white-knuckled it alone.
In the three decades since the Lees’ survey, the study of companion-animal loss has increased. A systematic review of research from 1970 to 2015 revealed that pets are commonly labeled as family, and that strong bonds are not limited to cats and dogs but include a range of species. These relationships matter to us, yet are sometimes not understood by other humans around us.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone living with an animal that people describe pet loss as being as painful as grieving a human. They often quantify the grief as “intense” or “profound.” Pain is particularly acute for people who live alone. And while most people receive support for dealing with a pet’s body from a veterinarian, they are commonly left to navigate grief on their own.
If you’ve found yourself reeling from losing a companion animal, here are some helpful affirmations to help you honor your interspecies friendship and start healing your broken heart.
Four Affirmations for Pet Loss
1. May I remember the joyful moments with my animal alongside the heartbreak I feel right now.
When navigating grief, it’s easy to get stuck in the last few minutes or days of an animal’s life. The image we may be left with is one of our dog or cat in pain. In the case of an accident, we may replay the events of that tragedy over and over. If you find yourself stuck in a loop, use this affirmation to remember joyful moments, such as playing catch, running on the beach with your companion, or a funny antic they got up to. Remembering joy isn’t meant to push away or invalidate our sad feelings. Instead, it is intended to help us balance our emotions and recognize the entirety of our animal companion’s life rather than reduce their rich lives to the events of a few specific days.
2. May I understand that grief will come and go. May I become a flexible surfer of emotions.
One of the most common experiences careseekers share about pet loss is the unpredictability of emotions during bereavement. You can feel fine one moment and then collapse into tears the next. Know that this is normal and natural, and that you don’t need to apologize when you show emotion. Your loss is real, and your feelings valid. Try to imagine each hit of grief like a wave. Feel yourself surfing on top of it, a little wobbly, but know your head will stay above water. The wave will run its course, and then you’ll be returned to calm waters.
3. May I be open to enduring connections.
While early recommendations for dealing with loss included seeking closure, research now suggests that creating enduring connections can be beneficial. We call these “continuing bonds.” We recognize that an animal has left their body, but at the same time, we might feel called to talk to them sometimes or write them a letter and leave it on an altar. We might create a memorial garden to offer prayers for a departed cat or dog. We leave up photographs and delight in sharing memories of our pets. Overall, we transform the relationship with them into one that leaves room for the mystery of what happens at—and after—death.
4. May I not rush into adopting a new animal companion immediately to avoid the pain I feel. Instead, may I allow enough time for healing.
It’s entirely too easy to rush out and want to fill the hole we feel by bringing a new animal into our home as soon as possible. This can create “incomplete grief” that can cause problems down the road. And it may not be fair to the new animal, who can be confused by our emotional outbursts. Instead, for a little while, spend time volunteering with a local animal shelter, sanctuary, or dog-walking business. You’ll get time loving up animals while you also provide yourself time to heal.
Seeking Support From Others
Research suggests that both social support and talking about our pet’s death are essential to the bereavement process. So, in addition to working with affirmations, consider attending a pet loss support group or speaking one-on-one with a support hotline, pet bereavement specialist, or animal chaplain. Here are some of my favorite resources:
Find an animal chaplain: Search this directory of chaplains who can provide grief support and facilitate animal funerals and memorials. Many can meet with you locally in your area or via a Zoom, Skype, or phone conversation.
Utilize the Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline: Available Monday through Thursday from 6-9 p.m. ET at 1-508-839-7966.
Attend a support group: Check out this state-by-state support group list. Some meet in person, and others virtually.
Speak with a therapist: If grief is consistently overwhelming you, you feel suicidal, or you are unable to cope with the daily activities of living, you may be experiencing what we call “complicated grief.” Seek a therapist who can ensure that you get the support you need during this time.