Death is always a difficult topic to talk about, and grief is often such a personal journey. When the time comes to say goodbye to that loyal friend who’s been by your side for a number of years, it can be heartbreaking. It’s often hard to describe to others what you’re feeling and dealing with the practicalities can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Ultimately, you could be making that final decision for your pet to end their life, and that responsibility weighs heavily on many of us. There are some steps you can take to prepare yourself, although we can never fully prepare for the complexities of grief. Here we explore some ideas to help you get ready for that most difficult moment in you and your pet’s relationship:
Just as with human death rituals, there are various ways to say goodbye to your pet. Have a chat with your vet ahead of time to find out what options are available and try to decide what you’d like to do when the time comes. When you’re grieving it can be really hard to make practical decisions, so it’s better to do it with a clear head. Check if there are local laws about burials or scattering of ashes. Find out how much each option costs so as to prepare financially as well. You can usually opt for a communal or private cremation, and there may even be a pet cremation service provider nearby who can offer a memorial service too.
Some pet insurance plans cover euthanasia, cremation and burial expenses, but many don’t. Check your insurance plan carefully so that you’re prepared for any expenses when the time comes. When you bought your insurance, it may have stated that it included these expenses but some companies invalidate this after the dog reaches a certain age, so be vigilant when looking at your policy. Especially if you have a larger breed of dog, the costs of euthanasia, cremation and burial can add up. Again, it helps to think this through ahead of time so that you’re not shocked by vet bills, nor making big financial decisions when you’re grieving a loss.
You might have children in the family and the death of a pet can be a very upsetting experience for them. Try to find the right words to express what’s happened. Death is a natural part of life and for children, having a pet pass away may be their first exposure to this harsh reality. Be honest with them, but allow them to express their love and affection for their pet in any way that feels right to them. Organise a small memorial service in the garden or in the deceased pet’s favourite spot. Share all your good memories and some words or songs that remind you of your family member who’s gone. It’s important to mark the passing, for children to understand what’s happened and to come to terms with it.
When your best friend leaves this world, there’s nothing more compassionate you can do for them than be by their side. It’s hard. There may even be feelings of guilt cropping up because you’ve ultimately had to make the decision to euthanise. But, try not to let that overpower your decision to be with them. It’ll comfort them and quell their fear to know you’re beside them, reassuring them, stroking their fur, just as you’ve always done. Let them hear your voice as they slip away. Of course, the death may occur naturally in which case there’s no way to know the moment is coming, but if you feel it might be soon try to make the effort to stay close.
The death of a much-loved pet can be (and usually is) utterly heartbreaking. In many cases, it’s said to be more painful than a human death. We all know pets are incredibly special and there’s a close bond that forms over years. We don’t argue with our pets, we purely receive unconditional love. And then it’s gone. So it’s no surprise that many of us can struggle with the grief. If you find that you’re not bouncing back after the bereavement, there are specialist services you can contact to seek some help and advice. Often we just need someone to talk to who isn’t going to brush it off; it’s frequently dismissed as less valid than grief for a human. Coincidentally, pet bereavement services also provide advice for animals who are grieving the loss of their owner.
The loss of a pet is always heart wrenching and thinking through the practical and emotional tools for dealing with it ahead of time can help ease the pain. It might not mend your broken heart completely, but it’ll provide a slight cushion through that hardest of times.