For many people, the death of a pet is comparable in almost every way to the loss of a loved one. Which makes total sense in your head and your heart, as YOU know they are a loved one. For some reason society finds it hard to quantify though. There is research to back this feeling of the "loss of a loved one" up, yet there are virtually no cultural standards to help us cope.
When a human passes away there are obituaries, eulogies, religious ceremonies, and gatherings of family and friends. We are given time off work, some employers even offer bereavement pay. There are so many ways in which we are encouraged to mourn and express our emotions. Some cities have pet cemeteries, and some families observe private ceremonies, but on the whole pets are treated differently by people from outside the pet's family. After all, that is what you are. Family.
When a pet dies, we often have none of these traditions or sympathetic supporters to turn to. Most people are expected to return to all of life’s responsibilities right away, with little or no closure. The house is strangely quiet and filled with bittersweet memories. We have lost a best friend and faithful companion, but the depth of that pain goes almost unacknowledged.
Silent echoes of silenced barks. Leashes and collars by the door, never to be filled again. Not just humans affected, but Labrador partners looking and looking for their playmates.
Pet owners are made to feel that their grief is dramatic, excessive, or even shameful. After all, “it was just a dog.” Stupid people. They just don't get it. No empathy. Who stole your toys as a kid? You know, you could really do with a Labrador at home, dumbass.
The incredible human-animal bond we have formed with dogs is ignored as trivial. Our pups provide us with constant positive feedback. They adore us simply for being “us.” They lower our blood pressure and elevate our mood. How could we not be devastated when that is lost?
There is also the matter of the sudden life changes that occur when a pet passes away. There are no more 6 AM wet-nosed wake-up calls, daily walks, or warm greetings after a long day at the office. For many people, their pets give them a sense of purpose, even a reason for being. When that suddenly vanishes, it is understandably life-altering. You actually finally know what an empty house ACTUALLY feels like. It's not peaceful. It's lonely and desolate. Painfully sad.
Another interesting factor pointed out by Business Insider magazine is a phenomenon known as “misnaming.” It describes our tendency to accidentally refer to a child, partner or loved one by our pets’ names. This indicates that we place our dogs in the same mental category as our closest family members. When they die that is essentially what we have lost. A cherished family member.
I know that when my kids were smaller that all of the dog's names were added to the kids names when someone had done something stupid, or broken something. ALL names were yelled, not just the kids. Well, actually, yes. All of the kids names WERE yelled. Just not only the two legged kids.
In addition, you are not the only one affected. If you have children, then in essence they have lost a sibling. I am sure that your Labrador has been referred to by YOU to your children, as YOUR BROTHER, or YOUR SISTER, on numerous occasions. It hits them as well.
The one who may seem least affected, but is just as affected as you is the head male in the house. Men typically don't wear their heart on their sleeve when it comes to love, loss and grief. Especially when society indications that he should be macho and that these are less than masculine traits. YOU know better, but he won't show nearly as much as he feels, so bear that in mind. Allow him space and allow him to share in your grief, in private.
It was mentioned earlier that research has proven that the death of a pet is comparable in almost every way to the loss of a loved one (human). This was carried out by the Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom. The abstract of the key points are:
- Items indicating initial numbness or disbelief, preoccupation with the loss, a loss of part of themselves and being drawn towards reminders were endorsed by half to four-fifths of the sample.
- About a quarter reported the urge to search, avoidance or mitigation strategies, anger, anxiety and depression.
- The questionnaire showed high internal reliability, and total scores were significantly positively correlated with the degree of affective attachment to the pet, the suddenness of the death and whether the respondent lived alone; but not with the type of pet, the time since it had died, and how long the owner had been with it.
- Factor analysis of the questionnaire revealed one main factor accounting for about a third of the variance, described as emotional distress associated with the loss; two lesser factors involved items representing personal importance of the loss and a feeling of continued attachment.
- Overall these findings indicate a parallel reaction to that following a human bereavement, but with a lower frequency of affective distress.
- Moderator variables were also comparable with those known to be important for grief following a human loss.
The death of a pet means the loss of a source of unconditional love, a devoted companion, and a provider of security and comfort. Our dogs are part of our day to day lives. So yes, it hurts. It hurts like hell. Sometimes even more than the death of a friend or family member. And there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed of that, after all they are "Man's Best Friend"
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye
Dedicated to all of Man's and Woman's Best Friends that have moved on to another place.
If you liked this article, please share it with your friends and family, and consider reading it to your dog. They won't understand the words, but they will feel the emotion in your voice.
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing, and thanks for loving dogs.