Furry friends are great, but losing a pet can be absolutely heartbreaking. Just ask gay Olympian Gus Kenworthy. He recently mourned the loss of a pet — puppy Beemo, who he’d saved from a South Korean meat farm (yes, really) while in PyeongChang competing in the 2018 Olympics.
“[Beemo] wasn’t just a dog,” Kenworthy’s boyfriend Matt Wilkas writes. “She was our friend, she was our family, she was there in the morning when we woke up, she was so happy to see us every time we came home and she loved us unconditionally.”
Studies have shown that some people are as affected by the loss of a pet as they are by the death of a family member. Some are so saddened by the loss of a pet that they actually develop Broken Heart Syndrome, a condition of grief that mimics the pain and elevated hormone levels accompanying a heart attack.
Guy Winch, a psychologist and author of How to Fix a Broken Heart, says that some people feel ashamed for feeling so grief-stricken by losing a pet. Some don’t ask for time off from work to grieve a pet for fear of seeming emotionally immature, weak or overly sentimental.
As a result, Winch says, many people feel ashamed for feeling sad, which complicates and prolongs the process of grieving. But pets affect so many parts of our lives and daily routine, often offering emotional and physical support. So Winch and other mental health care professionals suggest the following steps when trying to get over the loss of a pet.
1. Find a supportive group that understands your pain.
Reach out to friends and family who will allow you to feel your pain over the loss of a pet rather than mock you for it. Some animal clinics, vets and pet stores also hold grieving groups for pet owners, so ask around. There are pet owner groups online where you might find sympathetic ears. You can also see a grief counselor or professional therapist if need be, particularly if you lost your pet in an accident, blame yourself for its passing or are having trouble eating, sleeping or functioning socially.
2. Reorganize your daily routine.
If you’re used to playing with your pet after work, socializing with other pet owners or sharing pet stories on social media, Winch suggests finding alternative ways to engage physically, socially or via social media. Creating new habits after losing a pet will help you find other ways to feel connected, involved and loved.
3. Allow yourself to experience your grief however you need.
Not everyone grieves the loss of a pet the same way, so your grief might last days, weeks or months. But a good start to processing your grief is to hold a funeral ritual that allows you to reflect on the life and love you shared, says psychologist Adam Clark. You might even want to write a eulogy that you read aloud with friends to help express your feelings and provide some closure.
4. Put away your pet’s belongings, but keep a memento.
Although this is a hard step, a friend can help you put away any reminders, like your pet’s toys, photos and special care items to donate or let go of later. But remember to keep a special momento of your pet, like a framed photo with their tags attached so you can remember the good times later on.
5. Stay involved with animals.
While it’s not always ideal to get a new pet immediately, you can pet-sit or schedule playdates with other pet owners, volunteer at the local shelter or make a donation to an animal group in your pet’s name so that your love and time with them lives on.