Mourners are in a state of exception which is very painful and stressful. Each person mourns differently and experiences grief in their own way. The grief for a beloved animal can be just as hurtful as for a loved one.
Especially pet owners, who had to make the decision to put their animal to sleep themselves, suffer from this additional burden. Whether skin, fur, feathers, scales or fins: For the loss of a beloved being, with whom one shared its life, there is no standard. It does not matter how long you spent your time together, because a short time of being together can also be very intense. Everyone deals with his or her suffering differently. It is mainly about the emptiness that the beloved being leaves behind in our lives after death.
What are the mourning phases and how can you deal with them?
Grief takes time
To be able to process and cope with grief well, it takes time and space. This only works if the loss is socially recognized. Many humans encounter little understanding with their grief for a deceased animal in their environment. The pain of loss is often trivialized, the grief over “only” a cat or dog is devalued as an exaggerated reaction.
People “without right” to mourn suffer in secret and feel left alone and excluded with their pain. Before this happens, one should turn rather to a psychological consultation or look for a mourning company particularly for keepers. Because it is completely normal, in order to mourn an animal companion and feel pain and grief!
Comfort and consideration
False comfort can make the grief of a mourner even worse. Words such as “It was only a cat,” “Why don’t you buy a new rabbit,” or “Just get a new dog from the shelter,” cause additional pain to those affected and are neither sensitive nor helpful. In the mourning for a human being such comments would provoke indignation. Such lack of understanding leads on the contrary to the fact that mourners withdraw themselves more and more and do not speak at all any longer about their grief. They may feel ridiculous or even think they are not “normal”. The grief is hidden from others instead of being processed. One speaks then of protract grief. Those who cannot get their pain off their chest and cannot process their grief properly can suffer from the loss even years later.
Shame and guilt
Nobody should have to be ashamed of tears for a lost animal. An animal can and should take up as much space in our hearts as a human being. The relationship to our beloved fur noses can fill us with just as much love and joy – and also sadness – as the relationship to a human being.
In addition to shame, the phenomenon of guilt often occurs in mourners. Especially when it comes to euthanasia. Questions like: “Was it too early?”, “Did I wait too long?”, “Did I try everything?” or “Did I torture my darling with the treatment attempts?” put a heavy burden on our soul. Unfortunately there is always room for doubt and self-reproach. If you decide on one option, you ask yourself whether the other option would have been better after all. An empathetic veterinarian can ease this burden of conscience a little through experience and medical expertise.
In the first time of the mourning also a bad conscience can arise, if one is merry and forgets the deceased friend for a few moments. Also to enjoy the regained freedom after having accompanied your sick darling for a long time can cause heavy pangs of conscience. In such cases, one should seek professional support in the form of grief counselling instead of feeling guilty. Love and compassion for a beloved animal is never a reason for shame.
Mourning phase model after Verena Kast
Grief is individual and very complex. One can jump from one phase to another and back again. How often one goes through these phases or how long a single phase lasts is also not determinable. Knowing about these phases of mourning helps us to better understand our feelings.
1st phase: Not wanting to know
Immediately after the loss, the mourner is in shock. Many animal owners then feel desperate or even deny their loss. This mourning phase forms the beginning of the mourning process. It can last a few hours, but also days or several weeks.
2nd phase: Breaking up emotions
Feelings such as anger, pain and rage now take the air. Aggressions against oneself, against the veterinarian or even against the deceased animal can break out. Many mourners are also plagued by feelings of guilt or the question whether they did everything “right”. Depending on how close the relationship was, this phase can last weeks, months or even years. The circumstances of death can also play a role in the course of this phase.
3rd phase: Search and separation
In this third phase of mourning an inner confrontation with the deceased animal and its death takes place. The mourners review their experiences together and consciously say goodbye to their beloved. This mourning phase can be beautiful, but also very painful. Also this phase can last differently long. In the further process the mourners decide, depending on how well or how fast the processing takes place, whether they want to take the next step.
4th phase: New self and world reference
In the final phase of mourning, inner peace gradually sets in. The pain recedes more and more into the background. The mourner has accepted the loss and can now begin to forge and shape new plans. However, the memory remains an important part in life.
Rituals for coping with grief
Mourning rituals and exercises can give support and stability in difficult times. They have an effect on the conscious, but above all also on an unconscious level. Such rituals can be arranged as freely and individually as one would like, because what helps is different to everyone.
- Lighting a candle
- If your animal has died at home or you have taken it home with you: Open the window so that the soul can “fly away” freely
- Take a paw print in plaster or have other souvenirs made
- To say goodbye: with words, a letter, certain actions
- Exchange memories, tell stories
- Grave goods (favorite toys, favorite food, …)
- Wear mourning color
- Carrying a symbol for mourning
- Screaming, lamenting, crying
- Plant a shrub or flower
- Wrap animal in his favorite blanket or similar
- Writing down thoughts and feelings, keeping a mourning diary
- Read funeral poems
- Mourning ceremony (also possible without burial)
- Create a memory book, keep mementos and hang up pictures
If you would like help in coping with grief, please contact a psychological counselor. Animal communication can also help to say goodbye in peace.
Some people develop problems in coping with grief especially when they encounter a lack of understanding and recognition in their environment. As a result, the grief work comes to a standstill and a step backwards occurs. Many then get stuck in earlier phases of grief. To work through the pain and sadness of the loss of your beloved treasure in peace and quiet, it takes time and patience. Remember that time is on your side. If you manage to admit your grief and integrate the painful loss into your life, you will soon be able to think back with love and joy to your four-legged darling and remember the beautiful moments with him.