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Losing a pet can be emotionally hard. In my lifetime, I have lost six dogs, three guinea pigs, and one cat. As a result, I’ve found myself benefiting more and more from books about the grieving process. This spring, in the aftermath of my husband and I saying goodbye to our adopted silky terrier, my dad borrowed a library book for me called Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss by Russell Friedman, Cole James, and John James.
In the 186-page handbook, written by the trio who run The Grief Recovery Institute, covers both emotional and practical considerations. Much of the former can be found in the first four chapters. One chapter covers hurtful comments such as: “It was just a pet; you’ll get another.” Another chapter deals with major myths such as: “Time heals all wounds.” Yet another chapter lists short-term energy relieving habits and explains how they ultimately don’t work. For example, some ways pet owners try to cope is through shopping, working, exercise, or sex. The authors compare these solutions to that of pulling weeds, explaining that the habits might provide quick relief but don’t result in permanent peace. At times, I found the first four chapters over-analytical, as well as quickly dismissive of solutions that DO work for some such as support groups, but I also felt the authors made many valid points.
Chapters four to eight explain in great detail activities that grieving pet owners might try. Herein, lies the practical considerations, and comprises my favorite part. To start, the authors suggested graphing your pet losses. Next pick a single pet and create a timeline of your relationship with this pet. Then write a short narrative for every moment listed on the relationship timeline. Follow up with a list of the moments where you need to apologize or forgive your pet. Finally, write a letter to your pet. This letter should integrate positive memories, any instances that need apologies or forgiveness, and conclude with a goodbye. When done writing your letter, you should find a person to read your letter to who will both understand and offer comfort. If uncertain of what to include on a timeline, narrative, or letter, check out the multiple samples and idea prompts provided in the handbook.
The activities section is my favorite part. The authors rightfully point out that grief is emotional. It’s not enough to say, “I loved my pet. I’ll miss him.” One needs to find a way to work through loss to become emotionally complete. Otherwise, pet owners can risk enshrining their pets, become trapped in telling the stories of how their pet died, find themselves mired in guilt for all the ways they supposedly failed their pet, or even take legal action against their vet for not saving the life of their pet. The reality is there will never be enough time with the ones we love, whether animal or human. The handbook activities will help pet owners deal with the emotional impact of loss while also finding a way for life to have meaning and value without our beloved companion.
The purpose of Grief-Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss is to provide support to grieving pet owners. There are around 14 million pet deaths per year, yet pet loss can continue to cripple. Pet owners struggling with their loss often won’t join a grief forum for those who have suffered the loss of a person. So there needs to be other solutions. Besides the activities I already mentioned, the handbook also considers how to deal with your pet’s stuff after loss, special dates and moments that awaken new feelings, and whether to cremate or bury your pet. As such, the handbook provides a concrete way to deal with grief over pet loss.