The pain is real
Posted May 23, 2020
In this traumatic and unprecedented time of global pandemic, we are surrounded by so much loss of life. In the United States alone close to 100,000 people have died, and that number grows every day.
The loss of a pet may seem to pale in comparison to the death of a loved person, and people may think they don’t have a right to experience or express their heartbreak. But for many, pets are among their most loved ones, and saying goodbye can be devastating, even, or more so, during this time of isolation and widespread sadness.
Sports couple Hope Solo and her husband Jerramy Stevens recently talked about the loss of their dog, Conan, after he was tragically shot. Solo posted about it on social media, saying, “We’re broken-hearted to share that Conan passed away from blood loss last night. He fought up until the very end. We’re crushed. Just a dog running through the woods, trying to make his way home.” In the same way people wonder whether it’s alright to find things funny during these incredibly difficult times, many wonder whether they can mourn the death of a beloved pet without feeling guilty. Is it OK to grieve for an animal when so many people are suffering?
The short answer is a loud yes, and there are a number of reasons why. For many people, especially those who live alone, a dog or cat can be a lifeline and can sometimes be the only source of interaction with another living thing, particularly in a time of social distancing. Your animal gives you companionship and unconditional love, which can be so important and fortifying that its loss can feel like a huge hole has opened up in your home and heart. The pain you experience can be overwhelming. In the same way that life goes forward and it is important to continue to laugh, it is also important to make room for and acknowledge the sadness that comes with losing a treasured pet.
It’s important to avoid comparing your loss to those that other people are going through. All losses are alike in creating a sense of emptiness. Nobody knows how prominently your pet factored into your days—whether it was the feeding routine and the boost you got to your self-esteem from taking care of another living creature or the comfort you found when they jumped into your lap each afternoon or when they slept next to you every night.
The moments are now gone, and the loss is great. Furthermore, the animal shared a substantial piece of your life history with you. Maybe as a kitten he was your first roommate in your new apartment. Or maybe you got her as a puppy the year you were married. Perhaps it was your faithful dog that saw you through your first breakup and helped you survive. The animal was present and a touchstone of your life.
For some, the anguish can be so excruciating that they choose to never go through such a loss again and decline to get another animal. Others, though, feel that the way heal and honor the pet is by getting another and keeping the spirit alive.
Some get the same breed again or even use the same name as a token of love. If you aren’t ready to tackle the commitment of a new pet, the pandemic may be an opportune time to consider fostering an animal on a temporary basis, as dogs and cats are also losing their owners to the virus and are being abandoned.
The bottom line is that mourning the passing of a pet should not be minimized. It takes time to move beyond sorrow after the death of a beloved animal. Appreciating what you are going through is the first step.
Jane Greer Ph.D.
Dr. Jane Greer is a marriage and family therapist, sex expert, author, radio host, and creator of the popular celebrity sex & relationship commentary, “SHRINK WRAP with Dr. Jane Greer,” on what we can learn from the trials and triumphs of celebrity relationships (seen in Huffington Post, Psychology Today, HowDoIDate.com, and on air at OK!TV). Through her media collaborations and expert insights, Dr. Greer has become recognized as a leading national expert in sex, love, and relationships.