Pets play a unique role in our lives. “They’re usually our ‘roommates’, part of the household, and they’re usually a source of pure warmth and positive experience,” said Ms. Harvey. “How we are able to cope with the temporary reductions in happiness and warmth from our missing roommate can be an important exercise in terms of resilience.”
This loss can, of course, have astonishing depth. “For adults in their upper 20s to mid-30s, it’s like losing their innocence as a new adult and being catapulted into reality,” said Dani McVety, veterinarian and founder of the Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, a national network of dedicated veterinarians exclusively for care at the end of life. “Often people in this age group got their dog or cat at the beginning of their adulthood. This pet has seen them go through college, boyfriends or girlfriends, marriage, children, career development, and so on. This pet was the only constant in her life during the greatest years of growth. “
How we deal with pet death “shapes how we deal with love and loss associated with emotions,” said Kaleel Sakakeeny, a Boston-based pet loss and grief adviser.
Building trust out of grief
But how does this growth come about? A study, Post-Traumatic Growth After Losing a Pet, conducted by Wendy Packman and others at Palo Alto University’s Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, found that many participants improved their ability to relate and relate to others after losing a loved one Feeling empathy for their problems, an increased sense of personal strength and a greater appreciation of life.
Lynn Harrington, who lives in The Plains, Virginia, lost her 15-year-old Norwich terrier Hap about a year ago. “I couldn’t get rid of the sadness for many months,” said Ms. Harrington. “And in those sad times, I finally remembered a lesson I learned many years ago with the loss of my first dog: Animals that come into our lives are gifts to us and can never be replaced. However, another animal can come to us and help us heal our hearts. “
Shortly after this revelation, a friend told her about an older dog who needed a home, and a match was made. “There is not a day that I don’t think of Hap through a photo, shared memory, or funny mannerism I see of him in my rescue dog,” said Ms. Harrington. “These moments remind me that I am grateful for the animals in my life – they teach me about love and that I am resilient even in times of great challenge or sadness.”
Memory itself – although photos and monuments – can heal. “The grief continues,” said Ms. Packman. “Keeping in touch with your beloved pet after death can improve the loved one’s ability to deal with loss and the changes in their lives that come with it. Our results suggest that those who take solace from continued bonds – holding onto possessions and creating memorials for their pet – may be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth. “