We wish they would live forever. Sadly, none of us has control of when we will need to say goodbye. What we can do is to offer our pets a calm, peaceful death with the dignity they deserve.
Animals reflect our energy. Therefore, preparing yourself for the inevitable loss will not only ease your pet’s suffering, it will reduce the guilt, remorse and regret you might suffer later. This is, after all, your final gift of love.
I recommend and encourage people to seek preparatory counseling before their pet dies, and not wait until they feel devastated over the loss that was predictable. Most of us live in denial about that final goodbye.
But please remember: you will say goodbye, you just don’t know when. We only have control of now. Understanding that every day you have together is a gift, your lives can be filled with love and gratitude. There is a great deal that you can do while your pets are here that will help you deal with letting them go when the time comes. You can help your deserving pet to a “good” death without fear or hysteria.
Grief Counseling for Children
As a teacher, School Psychologist, Educational Psychologist and Family Therapist, I was involved in child guidance and crisis counseling issues. Later working with my canine partner in Child Psychiatry units at UCLA Medical Center, I again had the opportunity to deal with adjustment and behavioral issues.
Dealing with loss (death, divorce, abandonment, abuse etc.) I found that asking children to put words to their feelings was difficult for many. Even adults have difficulty with that. For kids I always used drawings, puppets, play therapy type of activities where they could draw, or act out their feelings.
Children who have been traumatized by the death of a companion pet do not have the verbal ability to express their grief. They may suffer silently in a depressed state. This often goes un-noticed at home and in school. Kids typically blame themselves when “bad” things happen, thinking they did something wrong and are being punished. Most pet loss counselors do not offer grief work for children.
I have found that kids are willing to talk about their drawings, give them titles, or “talking circles” where the parts of the drawing can talk to other parts. This is actually gestalt therapy. Kids of all ages love it. For very young children, I use scribble drawings. These drawings also take shape and can serve as a way to express feelings.
Individual Grief Counseling
Many of the clients who contact me do so after their pet has died. In some cases, the death was sudden and unexpected. In those cases, they are often in shock and denial. “This isn’t really happening.” They feel lost, unable to sleep or function normally. They are surprised at the intensity of the pain, many saying that they couldn’t go through this alone. The grief process begins with this awareness and willingness to ask for help.
For everyone who has lost their beloved animal, whether suddenly or after a prolonged illness, this is a time of mourning. At the first stages of grief, I recommend private sessions. I provide a safe sanctuary where they have permission to cry, talk, let the feelings out without apology or censure……no judgement.
These workshops are recommended after the initial acute pain has lessened. The mourners are able to be in a group setting sharing the stories closest to their hearts and relating to the stories of others. This is a time of remembering and honoring the special bond they had with their pets. They are in a safe and supportive environment that does not minimize or trivialize their loss. They are given writing exercises that highlight and celebrate their relationships. They may be guided through gentle meditations that help in releasing regrets and guilt. They will receive tools and techniques for coping with their grief through this time of bereavement.
For on-going support through the stages of grief, I recommend this type of group. It is geared for those who have done their acute initial grieving and had private sessions or group workshops. They are more functional in their daily lives and feel ready to move on…but still enjoy the support from others taking the same journey.