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When We Say Goodbye to Our Pets

July 23, 2021, Counseling & Support, Grief

Grieving the loss of a beloved pet often goes unrecognized but it is as real, honest and raw as it is for any loved one. 

Hilary Harrington, Gilchrist Grief Counselor
Hilary Harrington, Gilchrist Grief Counselor

The Role That Pets Play in Our Lives

These facts remind us that pets are an important part of our lives. Pets are often a source of comfort and companionship, and our relationships with pets are different than those with any family member or friend. Kaleel Sakakeeny, an ordained animal chaplain and prominent pet loss counselor, was quoted saying, “The relationship between us and our animal companions is less complicated and complex than that between us and another person. We seldom argue with our pet. We almost never resent them. We have few, if any, conditions on the love we and our pets share. Our pets depend on us totally, and their needs and personalities are imprinted on us.” 

Grieving the Loss of a Beloved Pet

The unconditional love that pets share with their owners makes saying goodbye upon the pet’s passing exceedingly difficult. Grief for our family members who are furry, feathered, scaly, big or small is as real, honest and raw as it is for any loved one. However, one’s grief after a beloved pet dies often goes unrecognized or becomes minimized by others. 

It is important for anyone to be able to express grief and have their story and feelings witnessed, acknowledged and validated. One brave member of the Gilchrist community shared that they had been dealing with grief brought on by the recent and sudden death of his family’s pet dog. Tears began to show up as he told the counselor the story and how he felt “no one cared.” He felt that everyone had forgotten about his beloved dog and experienced shame over feeling “sadder” about this loss than that of a recently deceased family member. 

Here at Gilchrist, we often remind people that grief is grief. No one loss is any “more deserving” of the grieving’s attention than another.

Sharing your story and finding comfort in the sharing is key to the healing process. Gilchrist offers grief support and can provide guidance if you are struggling with the loss of a pet. There are also support groups for those experiencing loss and various websites dedicated to the love that remains after we say goodbye. 

“The Rainbow Bridge”

“There is a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth. It is called the Rainbow Bridge because of its many colors. Just this side of the Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows, hills and valleys with lush green grass. When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this place. There is always food and water and warm spring weather. The old and frail animals are young again. Those who are maimed are made whole. They play all day. There is only one thing missing. They are not with their special person who loved them on Earth. Each day they run and play until the day comes when one suddenly stops playing and looks up! The nose twitches! The ears are up! The eyes are staring! And this one runs from the group. You have been seen, and when you and your special friend meet, you take him or her in your arms and embrace. Your face is kissed again and again, and you look once more into the eyes of your trusting friend, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together, never again to be separated.” – Author Unknown

To learn more about grief counseling at Gilchrist, visit gilchristcares.org/grief-counseling. To support our work, visit gilchristcares.org/give.

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