Monday, August 10, 2015

Losing a Pet Part 2: Resources and Recommendations for Coping

Part one of our story explored the pet loss support group held every third Tuesday of the month at Berkeley Humane’s shelter. Anyone who has lost a pet, or is preparing to lose a pet with failing health, is welcome to stop by and share (or simply listen).

Losing a pet can dramatically impact your life. If you’re struggling with the loss of a loved animal, here are some coping suggestions from pet loss support group founder and co-facilitator Jill Goodfriend, RN, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Grief Recovery Specialist for Pet Loss.

Jill’s advice for grieving pet owners:
  • Be aware that grief is very stressful on the body, so you need to take good care of yourself. Attend to good nutrition and adequate water, rest, and daily exercise (consider a walk in nature); get a physical exam; and minimize the use of substances to numb the pain. Contact your doctor if you lose your appetite, lose or gain weight, have difficulty falling asleep or resting, or feel anxious much of the time.
  • Honor your emotions and find ways to express them. Get into your parked car with the windows rolled up and weep, cry, scream, let the pain out. Breathe deeply and often.
  • Set aside some time each day for the specific purpose of grieving and remembering. Honor your feelings: talk, share, journal, write letters to your pet (and have him write back to you using your non-dominant hand); go out in nature and be open to all your senses.
  • Create an altar inside and/or outside your home to honor your pet. Include his collar, favorite toy, photo, a candle, and a flower.
  • Find some reason every day to smile and laugh. Recall amusing or funny memories of your pet.
  • Keep a journal, create a scrapbook or photo album, make a list of what you learned from your pet. Take up expressive arts: draw, paint, sculpt, dance, move. Sign up for yoga, tai chi, chi gong, dance class, or a martial arts course.
  • Attend and participate in support groups and workshops. Reach out to others who understand and care. Visit chat rooms online. Write a biography or obituary of your pet on a web site. Actively plan how you would like to memorialize your pet, such as planting a flower or a tree in memory of your pet. Create your own rituals.
  • Participate in the “Virtual Candle-Lighting Ceremony” on at 7pm on Monday nights.
  • Try to avoid making major life decisions for several months. Be patient with short-term memory problems and decision-making. Look around, focus, be aware, center yourself, feel your feet on the ground, and take a deep breath before driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Some people find prayer and meditation helpful. Talk with a pastor or priest or consider seeing a professional counselor. Don’t minimize the depth of your feelings.
  • Get involved. Volunteer at an animal shelter: walk dogs or socialize kittens, consider fostering, answer phones. (Check out Berkeley Humane's volunteer opportunities.)
  • Find one activity each day that brings you joy and pleasure. Avoid isolation: we are social beings who need to connect with each other.
  • Accept all of your feelings and know that they will likely change. Work toward letting go of self-recrimination, guilt, and anger. Practice gratitude and forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness.
  • Consider other losses, small or large, that you have experienced. Recall how you faced them and worked through them while discovering inner strengths, resources, and resilience. You can’t get over it, or around it, or over it, you’ve got to go through it — through the grief.
  • Accept that you will likely never stop feeling your loss, but you will learn to integrate it into your life. Trust that the holes in your heart, in your soul and in your life will eventually heal. Scar tissue is tough. In time you will feel stronger and more resilient. Your capacity to love and be loved unconditionally will be greater than ever.
Image courtesy of the Berkeley Humane website

If you can’t wait for the next pet loss support group, many websites and hotlines are available to help. Here are just a few options:

Jill has many additional resources and is glad to share them with anyone who attends the support group at Berkeley Humane

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