Coping with the Loss of a Familiar Author: Lady Abigail Welcher

 Lady Abigail Welcher

 

*Recently I was asked a question: how do you cope with the loss of a beloved familiar? I hope this helps any who might be dealing with this painful time in life.

Given the intense bond each of us share with our familiar, it’s natural that we will feel devastated by feelings of grief and sadness when a familiar dies. While some people may not understand the depth of feeling we have for our familiars, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend.

Here are some healthy ways to cope with the loss, and how to comfort yourself and others, and begin the process of moving on with love. Do not apologize for your grief. For the grief for a familiar is the same broken heart you would have for any family member or loved one.

For many people, our familiars are not “just a dog” or “just a cat” or even “a pet.” Familiars are beloved members of the family and, when they die, you feel a significant, even traumatic loss. The level of grief depends on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief you’ll feel.

Grief can be complicated by the role the familiar played in your life. For example, if your familiar was a working dog or a helper animal such as a guide dog, then you’ll not only be grieving the loss of a companion but also the loss of a coworker or the loss of your independence. If you cared for your pet through a protracted illness, you likely grew to love him or her even more. If you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with his loss can be even harder. If you were unable to afford expensive veterinary treatment to prolong the life of your pet, you may even feel a profound sense of guilt.

Accept your Grief

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. Some people find grief comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.

The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed. Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk with others about them.

Sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death. Like grief for humans, grief for familiar companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Here are some suggestions:

Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.

Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends, family members, therapist, or clergy do not work well with the grief of pet loss, find someone who does.

Rituals can help healing.

A passing ritual like a funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you. Have a small ritual of love and releasing. Let each family member explain how much they loved and cared for the familiar. Release their spirit unto the Goddess/God you work with and let them know you will welcome them home with love if they wish to come.

Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your familiar, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your familiar, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your a familiar companion.

Look after yourself. The stress of losing a familiar can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.

If you have other familiars, try to maintain your normal routine. Other pets and familiars can become distressed by your sorrow as well as by the absence of their soul mate. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving familiars but may also help to elevate your outlook also.

Try to find new meaning and joy in life. Caring for a familiar previously occupied your time and boosted your morale, spiritual optimism. Try to fill the time by volunteering, picking up a long-neglected hobby, taking a class, helping friends care for their pets, or even by getting another pet when the time feels right.

Stay connected with friends. Familiars, can help you stay regularly connect with friends and neighbors while out on a walk or in the dog park, for example. Having lost your familiar, it’s important that you don’t now spend day after day alone. Try to spend time with at least one person every day. Regular face-to-face contact can help you ward off depression and stay positive. Call up an old friend or neighbor for a lunch date or join a club.

Boost your vitality with exercise. Our familiars help us especially older adults stay active and playful, which can boost your immune system and increase your energy. It’s important to keep up your activity levels after the loss of your friend. {Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program and then find an activity that you enjoy. Exercising in a group—by playing a sport such as tennis or golf, or taking an exercise or swimming class—can also help you connect with others.}

Loss is

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