“Our capacity to give and receive love is what ultimately defines us. Yet love inevitably leads to grief. You see, love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not – and cannot – exist without the other. Grief is predicated on our capacity to give and receive love. Some people choose not to love, and so, never grieve. If we allow ourselves the grace that comes with love, however, we must allow ourselves the grace that is required to mourn.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt
As human beings, we love. We love many different kinds of things. People. Places. Cherished memories. Keepsake items. Pets. As Dr. Wolfelt points out, because we love, we grieve when that which we love is lost to us. That is why we feel grief and pain when our pets die.
But why do we feel the pain so deeply? What is it that pets bring to our lives that is so essential to so many?
Pets are like family
In the United States, around 68% of families own a pet. According to a poll, 95% of pet owners consider pets part of the family. But why do we consider them part of the family? Because we love them and are concerned about their well-being. We want them to eat well and be healthy. But most of all, we look forward to their presence. Like a family member, we look forward to spending time with them, and they become part of our definition of “home.” Life isn’t quite complete without them.
Pets delight in our company
While it’s true that some pets delight in our company more than others, in the end, it’s all about companionship. Some people who live alone want a pet to bring life to the house. And for many, having a pet is about physical contact and comfort. As human beings, we want to be wanted, and pets do that so well. When we lose a pet that provided companionship and much-needed physical touch, it’s natural to feel a sense of loss and experience the emotions of grief.
Pets become part of our natural routine
Our lives center around routine to a certain extent. Wake up, eat, work, play, rest, repeat. Our pets become a part of that daily progression. Perhaps your pet is the first to greet you every morning as you eat breakfast. We spend time walking our pets, playing with our pets, and looking after their well-being. We become used to them and expect them to be a continual part of our lives. When our pets die, it can be a shock, disrupting the comfortable routine of life and creating a hole.
Pets give us unconditional love
One last reason why we feel the loss of our pets so deeply is because they give us unconditional love. Relationships with people are sometimes messy and complicated. On the other hand, our pets don’t care how lazy we are, if we make the bed in the morning, or if we forget to take out the trash. In fact, they love us even when we forget to take them on a walk or feed them an evening meal. Our pets love us unconditionally, and we deeply value that steadfast love in our lives. When it’s gone, it hurts.
Should I Grieve for a Pet?
Absolutely. Grief isn’t present only when we lose a person we love. It shows up when we lose pets, possessions, homes, jobs, all sorts of things. While the loss of a parent is, without a doubt, a much more significant loss to many, it may not be for all. For some, those who never knew their parents or had negative relationships with them, the loss of a beloved pet may be more impactful.
The point is, we cannot rank or compare the losses we face. We feel what we feel, and at that time and in that moment, it is normal and natural. If you have lost a beloved pet, know that your grief is not misplaced. It is the natural result of your love. Take the time that you need to grieve so that you can find healing, and perhaps someday, the love of another pet.