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Strategies for Coping


Adjusting to our loss, and coping with grief takes time and effort. The following are ideas that may help grieving people as they learn to live with the loss of someone very loved and missed.

Rituals

A ritual can be anything we do to remember and honor a loved one. It can be done once or it can be something we do regularly. A ritual is simply a structured time of remembrance, and therefore can be whatever we need it to be. It can be done by an individual, a few people or a large group – there are no rules for rituals.

Rituals provide comfort as we consciously remember and honor our loved one. They can be structured around "letting go," such as the release of balloons, or the ritual can be about creating something that will serve as a continuing reminder of the loved one, such as planting a rose bush. A ritual can also be something that we do simply to rest our minds on the one who has died, such as the lighting of a candle or a silent mediation. It is the meaning that we give the activity that makes it a ritual.

Expression

Grief causes such a tumble of thoughts and feelings that we can easily be overwhelmed. For many people, expressing what they are thinking and feeling helps keep grief from becoming too overwhelming. Sharing our grief will not make it go away, but for many, it does seem to help.

There are many ways to express grief. Some people find comfort in talking about the animal who died and/or how they are coping with the loss. Others find it useful to express their thoughts and feelings in a journal, and some find art, poetry, prayer, and/or singing to be helpful. There is no one correct way to express the thoughts and feelings associated with grief.

Patience

Grief takes time, and it is hard work. Although the injury is not a physical one, the death of a well-loved animal is significant injury that will need time to heal. We need patience throughout the grief process. We need to be patient with ourselves when we discover that the usual activities are too much for us right now. We will be okay again, but not right away because healing takes time.

Knowledge

The experience of grief causes some people to worry that they are going crazy or losing their mind. It is true that many of the normal symptoms of grief are disturbing, but knowing that these emotions, thoughts and even behaviors are normal can help a grieving person. Learning about grief is the best way to understand the broad range of normal reactions, and this knowledge can be very reassuring.

A Day at a Time

Contemplating living a life without the presence of the animal who died can seem overwhelming and perhaps even impossible. It can be very helpful to live just for this day (or this hour or this minute), and not further burden ourselves by imagining the future without the animal we love. A focus on living just for today can help grief seem more manageable.

Learn from the Past

Most of us have experienced losses before and it can be helpful to reflect on our past experience with loss and consider what helped so that we can do similar things now. The experience we have had successfully handling loss in the past can guide us in the present.

Take Care of Yourself (and let others help!)

Grief is exhausting work and it is critical that we take care of ourselves in all ways. It is important to eat properly, get enough sleep and even to exercise, which can be very helpful in decreasing depression. Remember that the death of beloved animal is a significant emotional blow, and therefore our hearts need time to heal. This is not the best time to take on extra responsibilities and in fact, it is a good time to let others help us out as much as possible.

Create a New Normal

Some people have found it helpful to get back into the routine of everyday life. At first it seems terribly wrong to act as if things are normal when they are not but as one person reflected about her own grief experience, "when you start "acting" like things are normal, at some point your acting job becomes your new sense of normal."

Honor Your Animal

Many people find great comfort in doing something to honor the one who has died. For example, one woman started an educational campaign after her puppy was lost to a mushroom (http://bernese.biz/MushroomFlyer.htm), some create trophy funds, and others donate to causes or rescue organizations. There are endless ways to honor our animal, and finding a special way to do this is very comforting for some people.

Be Sensitive to "Firsts"

The first year after the death of a loved one is filled with "firsts." The first birthday, the first holiday and even the first anniversary can be challenging days for the bereaved animal owner. Preparing for these days can be very helpful. For example, an individual could decide in advance how to celebrate the birthday or adoption day of an animal who has died. Knowing that the "firsts" will likely be difficult provides an opportunity for us to prepare for those days in ways that best meet our needs.