by Sid Korpi, Animal Chaplain and author of Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss
In my work as an animal chaplain, I help people to prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss. Often, the pain of this loss is so acute, some people swear they will never again put themselves through the agonizing grief. While many say this in the early stages of grief and eventually change their minds, others will actually stay stuck in this mindset indefinitely and build walls of defenses around themselves. I feel very sorry for these folks, for their impulse to spare themselves grief in the short term is actually ensuring they remain trapped in a place of fear for far longer than if they’d allowed themselves to fully feel all the difficult emotions in the first place. Peace and acceptance follow on the heels of grief.
Of course, tears are a big part of our initial experience of grief. Shedding them is vital to our emotional and even physical health. But believing you will never move beyond that acute anguish is erroneous, causing you to deny your feelings altogether. This practice can lead to disease of the body and mind, as well as prove destructive to other relationships, as those emotions seek less healthy/honest means of expression.
Of vital importance in moving through, rather than denying, one’s grief is the act of memorializing our beloved animal companion and celebrating his or her life. This can be done by getting a personalized stone or urn and creating a sort of shrine, holding a memorial service with friends and family members who knew and loved your pet, or it can be a private act wherein you light a solitary candle and write a letter to your animal friend expressing your gratitude for all he or she brought to your life and allowing yourself to remember happy moments you shared. (Should you be in need of inspirational ideas, in my book, Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, I devote an entire chapter to methods of doing this.)
Our pets come into our lives as teachers of unconditional love, unbridled joy, acceptance of the cycles of life, and living in the moment. To say, “I will never have another pet,” actually dishonors the pet you just lost. In effect, you’re saying that you choose to ignore all he or she tried to teach you, all out of fear of pain. When the time is right and you’ve completed your mourning—please do not rush into this as another means of avoiding the pain of spending time alone with yourself—you will honor the memory of your dear pet by opening your heart and home to another needful animal.