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When an Animal Companion Dies

Grief is not just about human relationships. Grief is about attachments, and those attachments include animal companions.

For many individuals an animal companion can be an important part of their daily lives. Animal companions can fill many rolls – serving as dear friends, protectors, a source of caring and stimulation, and an impetus for exercise and conversation. And sometimes, the loss of an animal companion can be a link to earlier losses or poignant life experiences.

Unfortunately, because many people do not understand relationships that individuals have with animal companions, grief and extreme sadness associated with the death of a beloved animal companion may be minimized or worse, even ridiculed.

There are three keys to dealing with the loss of animal companion. The first is to recognize what has been lost. Think about the role that the animal played in your life. Sharing memories and understanding through remembering what has been lost is an important part of any grief. Second, cope with the present and acknowledge your right to mourn. Like any other loss, the grief may come in waves. You may want to reach out to others who can support your loss. You may want to have a quiet ritual – a memorial service or burial -- either alone or with family and friends.

Finally, look to the future. You may need to decide whether you want future animal companionship. Well-meaning others can sometimes push to obtain another animal companion quickly as a way to end your grief. Remember that you can no more replace an animal relationship than a human one.

Developed from Journeys with Grief: A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv., copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2012.