I have called this ‘The Devastation of Losing a ‘Non Human’ Family Member’ because ‘pet’ or ‘animal’ didn’t feel right. Within this post, I’m thinking about dogs, cats, rabbits, guineas, mice, hamsters, gerbils, horses, reptiles, fish, arachnids… any non human life form that you have a relationship with, a connection with and an attachment too.
For some people though, animals are ‘just’ pets, or animals. Some people see them as lower class, or an entitlement, or disposable, or a status symbol, or something else that misses all they can be.
For other people those animals that live in the home are family, are best friends, are soul mates, are a life line, are their everything or something else equally as important. The important point is that it is impossible to have a deep and important connection with a non human being.
When you have the complete pleasure of having such a strong bond with an animal, it can be a complete joy (even when they are being a pain). You can experience such intense emotions during that relationship you have.
In some ways, the bonds with animals can become even stronger and securer than attachments and connections you have with people. After all, animals don’t judge, they just accept. Animals don’t answer back, they just listen. Animals don’t take their day or their feelings out on you, they are just who they are. Animals don’t have motives, they just have needs. Animals give the gift of unselfishness, of devotion, of being there, of loving you, no matter what, of accepting you in your completeness. They can greet you enthusiastically every time they see you, they can love you unreservedly and unconditionally, they will show you how they feel in an uncomplicated way, they can offer you comfort and company when you need it, they can give you physical touch (which is known to benefit emotional health). Sometimes, when there is no one else, when you have no one else to turn to, you have your non human family member to turn to- and to have all of that within a family member is a really special experience. A unique experience.
Sadly, when loving an animal that completely, you’re also loving with the knowledge that, most likely, that animal’s life will end before yours.
Animal deaths can happen in a variety of ways, just like human deaths, but, even in the calmest, most expected, most peaceful death, there is great devastation and loss. There can also be trauma. There can also be the added factor of having to choose when that loved ones life ends.
The accepting nature and the unconditional relationship you have with an animal can mean that that grief and loss cuts really, incredibly deep, and can spread everywhere. It can be made worse because it can be such an isolating experience. Most people understand what it’s like to lose a loved person, but, for people who haven’t had that connection to an animal, it can be hard to comprehend the massive hole left in your life. Some people may not understand, but still have empathy, others may respond with the typical ‘it’s just a X’. ‘No, it’s not just a X, that’s my best friend, my family’. It’s rare to be able to say that though, often that feeling is internalised and you may find yourself fighting back the tears of grief, and loss, and loneliness. It is also be implied that you can ‘replace’ your friend by getting a new one. Yes, another non human friend can add more love into your life, but no one can or will ever be a replacement. No one ever suggests you replace a human family member if someone dies, but it can be implied you can do it with an animal. Often, these things are said with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t change how much it can hurt.
Your non human family member is a family member, or friend, or soul mate, or whatever you class him or her, and that’s ok. It’s also expected, therefore, that the journey through grief and loss will be long and painful. Typically, an average pattern of grief lasts around 2 years (although some bereavements will be longer and some will quicker), and it’s perfectly ok and expected that the path of loss you travel will not be over quickly. How could it be when you have lost someone so very precious. Please be kind to yourself, and give yourself that time and space.
Also remember, that if it feels too overwhelming, or you are struggling to cope, or you’re feeling very alone and isolated or you just want to talk, then do please reach out. Maybe to a doctor, a therapist, a friend or whoever you feel comfortable talking to. Please reach out. You’re not alone with the pain you feel.