Author Archives: TheRalphSite

Guilt or regret? How the differences affect your pet loss grief

We’ve talked in the past about how guilt is often something we feel after a pet dies or goes missing. It may be an emotion you’re experiencing yourself, which is what’s brought you to this site.

However, are you sure that you’re experiencing guilt and not regret? The two emotions are often talked about as though they’re interchangeable but there are actually some subtle but important distinctions that can affect how you process your grief and begin healing.

Guilt vs. regret: What’s the difference?

Look in various dictionaries and you’ll find a range of definitions for guilt and regret.

Broadly speaking though, guilt is defined as ‘the fact of having done something wrong or committed a crime’ or ‘a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person’.

Regret, on the other hand, is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better’. Another definition is ‘to feel sorry or unhappy about something you did or were unable to do’.

The distinction between the two feelings comes down to intent.

Guilt is the feeling that comes from consciously choosing to do something that is morally wrong and knowing at the time that it could potentially cause harm.

Regret, however, is about wishing you could change things retrospectively but not knowing that something was wrong or could result in a mistake at the time.

Guilt or regret? Does it really matter?

There is an argument that, as guilt and regret can both make you feel awful after pet loss, the differences between the two emotions don’t really matter.

Our brains can trick us into feeling guilty even when what we’re really experiencing is regret, so sometimes it’s hard to recognise the emotions for what they really are. As difficult as it is, it’s worth spending some time reflecting on whether you feel guilt or regret. It could give you valuable insights into how you can move forward in your grief.

Guilt requires forgiveness

Ask yourself whether you intended to cause your pet harm?

The fact that you’re on a website aimed at pet loss grief suggests that you’re probably someone who cares a great deal for their animal companions. It would be hard to imagine such a person deliberately going out of their way to hurt their loved one.

But if there is something you did that you genuinely feel guilty about, there are steps you can take to come to terms with your feelings:

  • Accept responsibility for your actions
  • Take steps to make amends, if possible – even writing a letter to your deceased pet can help
  • Explore what you have learned and how you have grown since your pet passed
  • Decide to let go of your feelings of anger, resentment or your desire for retribution, whether these feelings are aimed at you or someone else
  • Allow yourself to feel remorse
  • Commit to not repeating the same behaviours again
  • Offer yourself forgiveness

Self-forgiveness is not about ignoring your grief or the reason for your guilt. Instead, it requires you to accept what happened and to show compassion towards yourself. Guilt comes from knowing that something you did wasn’t morally aligned with your values. But the fact that you feel guilt shows that you care.

Recognising regret

As a loving pet carer, it’s much more likely that you need to make peace with regret rather than berating yourself with guilt.

In fact, there’s probably not a person alive who doesn’t feel some form of regret following a bereavement.

Decisions we made, signals we didn’t pick up on, time we didn’t find can all haunt our thoughts.

Again, ask yourself that important question – did I ever intend to cause my pet harm?

Even in the most tragic of circumstances, the chances are that you never intended anything bad to happen to your pet.

Perhaps you left the garden gate open and your cat escaped into the path of a moving car. Maybe you took your dog for a walk and they were fatally injured playing with a stick. Or perhaps your hamster wriggled out of your hands as you were lifting them out of their cage and died as a result of the fall.

In each of these scenarios, you would only have had good intentions for your pet – to let them play in the garden, to enjoy their daily exercise, to experience a loving cuddle. You could never have known that your pet would die.

Sadly, accidents happen. As humans, we make mistakes. We don’t have the ability to see into the future. Sometimes different events collide to create a catastrophe, whereas they would have been harmless in isolation (a stranger driving their car, a stick laying on a forest floor). Regret is about wishing we could change things, even though we know it’s not possible.

Regrets after bereavement

Unfortunately, regrets that come about because of the death of a loved one are probably the hardest to come to terms with.

There’s no way to explain our regrets, do and not do things differently, or make amends because the opportunity has gone.

In this situation, the only option may be to make peace with yourself:

  • Acknowledge your regrets
  • Accept your limitations – as a human, you are destined to make mistakes
  • Reframe your loss by looking at what you can learn from it – what has your pet taught you? What would you want to do differently in the future?
  • Express forgiveness

Recognise that you only have regrets because you love your pet so much and that the beauty of that love will continue.

Euthanasia – where guilt and regret meet

Euthanasia is something that causes many pet carers a huge amount of regret and guilt, with the two emotions often overlapping.

It’s a decision that we know will result in our pet’s death and, therefore, it feels like we’re complicit in causing harm.

But, again, it’s important to think about your intentions.

The reality is that you’re complicit in ending harm, not causing it.

You would have agreed to euthanasia because your pet was suffering in some way. Your intention was to end their pain and give them peace. It’s natural to regret that you have had to make this decision but, hopefully, with time, you will be able to absolve yourself of guilt. You only ever had your pet’s best interests at heart.

Only you can let go of guilt

People often go to great lengths to tell someone who’s grieving that they shouldn’t feel guilty. Your loved ones won’t want you to feel bad and, in most cases, guilt is truly misplaced.

But guilt or regret, you can’t help how you feel.

An article telling you not to feel guilty won’t make your guilt vanish in an instant.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is sit with your emotions and acknowledge them. The distinctions between regret and guilt outlined in this blog may help you to find a way to grow beyond your grief, but it’s okay if they don’t.

There is no right way or wrong way to grieve, only your way.

Just know that you’re not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Pet Memorials Dos and Don’ts

Whether a precious pet has just died or you have a terminally ill or elderly pet that you know is coming to the end of their life, you may be thinking about aftercare options for their body or planning a memorial. We’ve put together a list of dos and don’ts that should help you make some decisions at this difficult time:

Pet memorial dos

1. DO explore the different options for your pet’s memorial and aftercare

None of us wants to think about the day when a beloved pet isn’t with us anymore. Sadly, if that day has already happened for you or you know it’s fast approaching then there will be decisions to make.

What would you like to do with your loved one’s body? Would you like them to be cremated or is there a suitable place for a burial?

In the UK, it is legal to bury a deceased pet in your garden if you own the property. However, it’s illegal in the garden of a rented property or a public space. An alternative option is burial in a pet cemetery or cremation, after which you can choose what to do with your pet’s ashes.

2. DO plan ahead if you can

It isn’t always possible to know when a pet’s life is about to come to an end. However, because most animals have a much shorter lifespan than us humans, the reality is that we will face end of life and aftercare decisions for our pets at some point in the future.

Knowing this, it’s a good idea to plan ahead as much as possible. Explore aftercare options in advance and make a note of what you would prefer to happen when your pet dies. Although it’s a tough thing to think about, planning in advance can help you navigate important decisions when you’re grieving.

3. DO give yourself time with your deceased pet if you want or need it

It’s okay to take some time with your deceased pet if you want or need it. Many of us take comfort from spending some time saying goodbye.

A good vet, either in their practice or performing euthanasia in your home, will offer you a chance to spend some time alone with your pet.

If your pet dies at home, you can decide to keep their body for twenty-four hours before arranging for them to be collected by a representative from your veterinary surgery or the local pet crematorium, or before carrying out a burial at home. If you do decide to keep your pet’s body overnight, it’s important to place them somewhere cool. Also, do be aware that rigor mortis – the stiffening of the joints after death – will set in after three to four hours.

4. DO ask the rest of your pet’s immediate family what they would like to do

If there are other family members living in your household then try to talk to them about all of the issues above while your pet is alive and well. It will help if you all feel like your wishes are being respected and that you’re all comfortable with aftercare decisions being made for your pet.

5. DO recognise that your other pets may grieve

If you have other pets in your home that spent a lot of time with your deceased companion then you may find that their behaviour changes as they come to terms with their loss. It’s widely accepted that many animals are capable of grief and it’s often present in a multi-pet household. Just like you, your grieving pet needs time to adjust to life without their friend. You may notice that they’re subdued or they want to eat less, for example. Naturally, if you’re at all concerned about your remaining pets and any aspect of their behaviour, it’s always advisable to get them checked over by a vet.

6. DO allow yourself to feel all of your emotions

There is a growing acceptance that losing a pet can be as devastating as losing a human friend or family member. Those of us who love animals have sadly lived the truth of this.

Unfortunately, though, many people still feel that they can’t talk about their bereavement or openly show their grief.

As we’ve explored in past articles, bottling up your feelings can lead to incomplete grief.

Do try to allow your different emotions space to exist – it’s natural to feel sad, angry, guilty and much more. It’s also natural to have happy moments. If you don’t feel able to talk about your loss with your friends and family, you could speak to a pet bereavement support service or chat to other bereaved pet carers in The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook.

7. DO encourage your children to grieve

If you have children, it’s important that they know that it’s OK to grieve for their much-loved pet. Encourage them to express their feelings, talk about your pet and create their own memorial.

It’s helpful if you can be open and honest about your own feelings as this will show your children that it’s natural to feel a whole host of emotions. Of course, their grief may look different from yours. The best thing to remember and to share with them is that there is no right or wrong way to feel.

8. DO keep your pet’s memory alive

It will probably be hard to think about the happy times with your pet for some time ahead.

Many people in The Ralph Site’s Facebook group talk about constantly reliving how their pet died and finding it hard to remember the good times. You might try not to think about your pet because it makes you too upset.

We promise you that there will be space in your memories for the happy times one day. Most of us reach a point where our pet’s life becomes bigger and more vivid than the moment of their death. It takes time though. A memorial such as a scrapbook, photo album or memory box is a powerful way to keep your pet’s memory alive.

9. DO give yourself time to grieve

Grief doesn’t have a set timeline. For many of us, it never fully goes away, although it does change over time. There are many analogies that help to explain this change.

The important thing is that you don’t put pressure on yourself to stop grieving. Equally, you needn’t berate yourself if the worst of your grief passes quicker than you expected.

Everyone is different. The most important thing is that you allow yourself to mourn your pet. You love them and they were your family – it’s natural to grieve their absence.

10. DO personalise how you memorialise your pet

Your pet had their own unique and wonderful personality that makes them wholly irreplaceable. A great way to honour this is to choose a memorial that has personal meaning and that reflects your pet’s character. There is now an incredible range of urns and caskets for pet’s ashes. You can also choose beautiful plaques, stones, grave markers and headstones. Alternatively, some people memorialise their pet with cremation jewellery, paintings, stuffed toys that look like their pet, plants and much more.

Pet memorial don’ts

1. DON’T assume your pet will have to go to the vet for euthanasia

If the circumstances allow, it may be possible for your pet to spend their final moments in the comfort and security of their own home.

Many vets are willing to perform euthanasia in an animal’s home environment. This is especially desirable if you have an anxious pet who hates visiting the vet. If is this is something you might want to happen when the time comes, it’s worth asking your vet about it in advance.

2. DON’T feel pressure to memorialise your pet in a certain way

It is entirely up to you how you memorialise your pet, even if your friends or family have uninvited opinions about the costs or your choice. Sadly, people will often say things like, “I can’t believe you’re going to pay for a cat/rabbit/guinea pig to be cremated! Why not bury him/her in the garden?” You don’t need to justify what gives you comfort.

3. DON’T bury your companion in a shallow grave

As we’ve mentioned above, it is legal to bury a deceased pet in your garden if you own the property and it’s the home your pet lived in.

The only exception is if your pet’s remains are deemed to be ‘hazardous to human health’. However, it’s fairly unclear what would be considered hazardous so if your vet does refuse to release your pet’s remains, you should ask for a written explanation before making any decisions.

Once you’ve found a suitable plot in your garden, you should aim to have at least two feet of earth above your pet in heavy soil and three feet in light soil. It’s also recommended that you cover your pet’s plot with a plant pot or some other item that can’t be easily moved. This will save you from the distress of seeing your pet’s plot disturbed by local wildlife.

4. DON’T use things like Chinese lanterns or balloons to mark your pet’s passing

As stunning and poignant as a sky full of Chinese lanterns or balloons can look, they pose a significant threat to wildlife, both on land and in the sea. An eco-friendly alternative would be to blow bubbles into the air or to release a handful of leaves on the breeze, symbolising your pet’s passing from this life.

5. DON’T feel that you’re alone in your grief

Forty per cent of households in the UK include a least one pet. That’s 40% of homes where the inhabitants will face pet loss at some point in the future if they haven’t experienced it already. You are not alone in your grief.

More than 42,000 people have connected with The Ralph Site’s Facebook page and more than 4,000 are members of the private Facebook group. This is a beautiful community of people who understand just how devastating it is to lose a pet.

Although no-one can ever step into the unique individuals and circumstances of your loss, they can sympathise and empathise with your feelings. Please reach out if you need support.

You are not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Seven things not to say to grieving pet carers

The Ralph Site was created to offer bereaved pet carers a safe space where they could talk about their lost pet whenever and as often as needed. Our lovely community is united by the shared experience of grief, making it full of people who ‘get’ what it’s like to say goodbye to a beloved animal companion.

One of the things that make the community so special is that no-one attempts to minimise the loss each member has experienced.

Sadly, in the wider world, this isn’t always the experience of bereaved pet carers.

While our friends and family mean well, we can often feel like they are minimising our grief.

This can be deeply hurtful and lonely. If you’ve come to The Ralph Site today because you want to know how to support a friend or family member who’s grieving a much-loved pet, please remember these seven things that grieving pet carers wish you wouldn’t say:

1. “He/she was just a dog/cat/horse/rabbit/budgie*” (*insert as applicable)

Most bereaved pet carers have this supposed gem of ‘comfort’ offered to them at some point after their pet dies.

But this one sentence can have a hugely negative impact on the grieving person.

What is says is that there’s a hierarchy for grief and that the loss shouldn’t be as painful because they have lost a non-human companion and not a person.

This statement assumes the pet’s importance, the word ‘just’ minimising the animal’s significance in their own right. It also downplays the relationship between the carer and their pet.

The truth is that when someone has lost anything they love – be it a person, a pet, a job, a dream for the future – it’s not our job to say whether or not their pain is valid.

Nothing is comforting about this sentence. Your intention might be to reduce the person’s grief but that isn’t possible.

What grieving pet carers would like you to say instead:

“I know how much he/she meant to you and I’m sorry for your loss”.

2. “When are you going to get another one?”

People often ask bereaved pet carers this question or a variation on the theme like, “Well, at least you can get another one”.

The implication here is that one animal is interchangeable with another – they don’t even have to be the same species!

But it’s a bit like asking someone if they plan to replace a lost sock as if the pet is a generic item that you can pick up in the local shop. Or as if the person is grieving what they have lost (i.e. the type of animal) rather than who they have lost (i.e. the personality of their loved one).

To someone who is grieving their pet, this question is as horrific as saying to a bereaved parent, “So, are you planning a new baby straight away then?”

If you’ve never had the kind of human/animal bond that leaves you heartbroken when the pet dies or goes missing then, of course, it can be hard to understand the nuances of that relationship.

Yes, the person may decide to get another pet at some point, but it will never be a replacement for the one they’ve lost. Each pet has a unique personality, quirks, likes and dislikes. They are no more replaceable than you are.

What grieving pet carers would like you to say instead:

“He/she was such a character. I will always remember when…”

3. “It’s not like losing a child/parent/sibling/friend*” (*again, insert as applicable)

This is another statement that people often believe will help a bereaved pet carer by putting their loss into perspective.

It’s a way of saying, “Things could be worse”.

But, again, this makes assumptions about the hierarchy of grief – i.e. that some losses are more legitimate than others – and about the relationship the person shared with their pet.

Who’s to say that things could be worse for the person who’s grieving?

Do any of us have the right to tell someone else how much grief is appropriate?

While we each have our own beliefs and expectations around grief, these are very much rooted in our individual experiences. But everyone’s perspectives are different. It’s not fair to compare.

Research shows time and again that losing a pet can be as hard, and sometimes even harder than losing a friend or relative.

People will often say that they grieved more for their pet than for one of their parents or when a sibling died. Other people see their pets as very much fulfilling the role of a child within the family dynamic.

Pets offer unconditional love and non-judgmental presence – no wonder we miss them so much.

What grieving pet carers would like you to say instead:

“I can see how sad you are and I’m sorry for your loss”.

4. “He/she was really old anyway.”

A sad truth of life is that most companion animals have much shorter life spans than their human companions. When we bring an animal into our home, it’s with the knowledge that – in most cases – we will outlive them.

So, in that respect, pet bereavement is never fully unexpected.

People will often try to comfort a bereaved pet carer by saying, “But he/she was really old anyway”.

The intention is kind. It’s a way of saying, “They lived a good, long life”. And in some ways, maybe it is a comfort to know that a pet has lived for many happy years and has died with no questions left about what their life could have been.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.

What grieving pet carers would like you to say instead:

“I know you had XX years together, but I also know that forever wouldn’t have been long enough.”

5. “Are you really going to spend money on a cremation/memorial/casket?”

When a pet dies, you may assume that they will be buried in their family’s garden. This was often what happened by default in the past unless the pet was a larger dog or horse.

However, times have changed.

An increasing number of people choose to have their pet cremated and then keep their ashes in a beautiful urn.

There are lots of reasons for this – not everyone has a garden or plot of land suitable for a burial; people move more often than before, or perhaps they prefer the thought of cremation.

Disposing of an animal’s physical remains can be a surprisingly costly business but, for many pet carers, it’s also an important rite, a way to say goodbye that we take for granted when a human passes.

While you may see pet cremation in terms of its monetary costs, the value to your bereaved loved one is knowing that their pet has been cared for and well-treated even after death.

What grieving pet carers would like you to say instead:

“What a beautiful memorial and a way to honour your friend.”

6. “You’re not still upset, are you?”

Sadly, many pet carers are asked this question or a variation like, “Aren’t you over it yet?”

Something we emphasise at The Ralph Site is that grief doesn’t have a set timeline or expiry date. It’s not something you get over or close the book on.

Grief is a process, a journey with lots of highs and lows, U-turns and diversions. And everyone experiences in their own time.

When you care for someone who’s grieving, it’s natural to want to see them come to a point at which they’re free from pain. But grief isn’t something you can fast forward to completion.

Asking someone why they’re still upset or telling them they should be over their loss can be hurtful. It suggests that how the way they feel isn’t normal or that it’s too indulgent.

What grieving pet carers would like you to say instead:

“Take all the time you need. I’m here for you if you want to talk. Is there anything you would like to do to commemorate him/her?”

7. “Let me know what I can do.”

Although this is a lovely sentiment, the truth is that people rarely follow-up on a vague offer of help. This is especially the case with pet bereavement as people often feel that they shouldn’t make a ‘fuss’ or that they should be able to carry on as normal.

Also, this kind of offer is just so open-ended that people don’t want to take liberties by asking too much.

But the reality is that when someone is grieving, they may need practical help while they learn to adjust to life without their pet. If you can offer support, it will be appreciated.

What grieving pet carers would like you to say instead:

“Let me pop some meals round later or pick the kids up from school as I know you probably don’t feel up to that at the moment.”

Finding the right words

Bereavement is a tough topic for many of us to talk about, especially when the departed loved one is a pet.

We won’t always get it right.

It’s natural to want to make a loved one’s grief smaller or to hope that you can take it away altogether. Sadly, that isn’t possible.

When supporting someone who is grieving, the most helpful thing that any of us can do is to listen unconditionally.

And, please, remind your loved one that they’re not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Frozen in time: Understanding incomplete grief

At The Ralph Site, we will always reassure you that there is no right or wrong way to grieve for a lost pet. Our only hope is that, with time, the nature of your grief will change and make room for happy memories of your furry, feathered or scaly loved one.

If this doesn’t happen, it could be that you’re stuck in a state known as ‘incomplete grief’. Incomplete grief is when someone isn’t able to or decides not to express, confront or even experience the feelings caused by a loss. It’s sometimes described as an emotion ‘frozen in time’.

Pet loss and incomplete grief

After a pet dies, people often feel they can’t talk about their grief because their friends and family won’t understand.

Phrases such as “I can’t believe you’re still upset. It was just a cat/dog/guinea pig…” or “At least you can get another one” diminish the right of the pet carer to grieve.

With no bereavement leave for pet loss, we have to go straight back to work with no funeral or other rituals to mark our precious pet’s passing.

Life moves on. It’s common to feel grief has to be pushed to one side or that it isn’t ‘normal’ (whatever that is!) to grieve for long after losing a pet. These are just a few of the many reasons that pet loss grief often remains incomplete.

The symptoms of incomplete grief

Arguably, it can be difficult to distinguish incomplete grief from so-called ‘healthy’ grief at first.

Most grief experts agree that the symptoms of intense grief following a bereavement can still be experienced for up to two years after a loss.

It’s if they continue for longer that you might be dealing with incomplete grief.

So, what are the symptoms you might experience if your grief is frozen in time?

  • Sudden bouts of tears
  • Hypervigilance (always on the lookout for bad things happening)
  • Depression or numbness
  • Bursts of rage
  • Anxiety
  • Reliving your pet’s final days on a loop
  • Denial of your loss or minimising your feelings or their validity (“I know I shouldn’t still be upset” or “I’m not sad, I’m just tired”)
  • Guilt
  • Blame
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Being afraid to lose anything related to your pet or, conversely, throwing away every single reminder
  • Responding excessively to other people’s trauma as if it were your own

Incomplete grief can cause physical symptoms too – it’s most often associated with some chronic pain or illness (e.g. back pain, migraines, tics, muscle stiffness), obesity or eating disorders, digestive or bowel problems.

Six of the most common signs that your grief is blocked

In an article for Psychology Today, clinical social worker Bob Taibbi discusses six of the most common symptoms of incomplete grief:

1.      Irritability or explosions of anger

If you find yourself feeling constantly on edge or irritated by the smallest of things or you occasionally explode with anger over something that normally wouldn’t bother you, it can be a sign of pent up grief.

It’s a lot like a pressure cooker with no safe release – at some point, it has to let off steam.

2.      Continued obsession or missing your loved one

Of course, it’s inevitable that our thoughts will continually go to our lost pet when we’re grieving. But most people find that, with time (and it’s different for everyone), good memories eventually creep back in too. The grief remains but it gives space to other emotions.

With incomplete grief, however, your thoughts can get stuck in the moment of loss. You experience your pet’s final moments on a loop without reprieve. You can’t think of the life they lived or begin to create a life without them – all you see is the moment you last saw them.

3.      Hypervigilance and fear of loss

After a bereavement, it’s natural to feel fearful and vigilant about potential threats. You have experienced something so distressing that your brain goes into overdrive to protect you.

The problem with incomplete grief is that the sense of impending doom, that something awful is about to happen, can persist for months or even years.

If you feel constantly afraid, even though the worst has already happened and your pet has gone, you might need support to express your grief.

4.      Behavioural overreaction

When struggling with incomplete grief, people often go to one of two extremes, either becoming overly dependent on other people – or another pet – for reassurance and security or pushing everyone away.

Both responses are about self-protection and preventing future loss and pain. The problem is that these extremes can affect your relationships with people and with animals.

5.      Self-harming or high-risk behaviours

Many people turn to self-harm or high-risk behaviours to push away having to deal with feelings of grief. This can manifest as overeating, drinking too much, drug use, becoming a workaholic, not caring about your safety, or even doing high-risk sports in an unsafe way.

6.      Apathy or numbness

Another symptom of incomplete grief is a low-level but ongoing state of depression, apathy or numbness. It’s like someone has laid a heavy, muffling blanket over all of your emotions in an effort to suffocate the grief.

How to cope with incomplete grief

If you think you might be suffering from incomplete grief, you might want to try the following:

  • Say what you wish you could have said to your pet

When a pet dies, we don’t always have the opportunity to say goodbye or to tell them what they mean to us. We don’t get to say that we’re sorry or that we would have saved them if we could.

But just because your pet is no longer here doesn’t mean that you can’t speak to them.

Many people find it helpful to write a letter to their pet, telling them everything they wish they could have said at the time.

  • Acknowledge and move towards what you’re avoiding

Incomplete grief often involves avoidance, of emotions, of memories, of topics of conversation, or even of people and places.

For example, you might feel that you can’t face looking at pictures or videos of your pet. You might avoid places you loved walking your dog or the sunny spot in the garden where your cat used to hang out in the spring.

If other family members try to talk about your pet, you might go silent, change the conversation or walk out of the room.

It can be helpful to name the things you are avoiding out loud, either to yourself or to someone you trust. Even better, think about ways that you can start moving towards that you’ve been trying not to face.

  • Look at how you can break your current thought or behaviour patterns

If your thoughts have been stuck in a loop since your pet died or went missing, it’s important to try to break the cycle in some way.

You can do this by challenging your thoughts. With a thought like, “He wouldn’t have got out of the garden if I had checked the gate was locked”, remind yourself that “I did not let him into the garden with the intention of harm. I let him into the garden to have fun and enjoy the fresh air. I let him in the garden because I wanted him to have a good quality of life”.

Similarly, if you’re using certain behaviours to manage or avoid your grief, you will need to look at how you can break the patterns.

If you spend the evening bingeing sweets and biscuits in front of the telly, for example, could you swap your treats to a healthier alternative or increase your activity by going for a walk before you sit down for the evening?

It can be really tough to do this alone so how about enlisting the help of a friend or family member as an accountability partner?

  • Consider counselling

Overcoming incomplete grief isn’t easy. Many people find that they are better able to manage all aspects of grief with professional support such as counselling.

There are dedicated pet bereavement counsellors throughout the UK.

The Blue Cross also runs a fantastic Pet Bereavement Support Service and helpline. Alternatively, most regions have self-referral counselling services or support that is accessible via your GP.

Your grief can change

Your pet would not want you to be frozen in the moment of their death.

You shared so much that was good and joyful when they were alive. Believe it or not, that positive relationship can continue even though they’re gone. Your pet can continue to enrich your life through the memories you made together.

Although you may be experiencing incomplete grief right now, with time and support it will be possible for your grief to evolve and thaw so that it’s free to be expressed.

Until that time, know that you’re not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Feeling happiness during grief (and then feeling bad about feeling good)

“I feel so guilty for feeling happiness during grief.”

Most of us experience this thought at some point after pet loss or, indeed, any bereavement. You may be struggling with it yourself.

Grief before we experience it

Before we experience grief for the first time, most of us have a fairly rigid expectation of what it should look like.

We believe that grieving people are constantly sad. We might even expect a never-ending stream of tears or feel slightly horrified when the bereaved person smiles.

Immediately after a bereavement, many people do find themselves in a constantly sad state of mind. In the moments after your pet died or went missing, you may have felt like you would never feel anything but sadness again.

Until you laughed for the first time.

Happiness during grief comes as a shock

The first time you laugh after a bereavement can knock the breath out of you and even make you feel a bit queasy.

It can be a complete shock.

You might ask yourself, how can I be laughing when he’s gone? Does this mean I’m getting over him?

The same goes for looking forward to something or feeling a moment of peace or joy.

The guilt that you felt something other than loss can be overwhelming.

Once it rears its head, you may feel like you need to hang on to your guilt because it will pull you back to thinking about your loss. Many people believe this is the only way to keep their loved one present.

The problem with guilt is that it keeps you stuck. And in the case of bereavement, it keeps you stuck in the exact moment that your pet left your life.

Happiness – even just small flashes of it – is perhaps our mind’s way of trying to unstick us.

Grief forces feelings to co-exist

As we talk about time and again on The Ralph Site, grief isn’t a linear emotion or experience, which is why it’s fine to ignore the five stages of grief.

In his book A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis wrote, “For in grief nothing stays put. One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs.”

In other words, you will bounce between many different emotions – often repeatedly – as you process your bereavement and begin to make sense of your loss.

And the thing with the human brain is that we can experience multiple feelings at the same time.

It’s entirely possible to feel heartbroken and happy or sad and relieved. The existence of two or more emotions at the same time doesn’t cancel any one of them out – they’re all valid, real and appropriate.

Grief, perhaps more than any other experience, forces emotions to co-exist. People often feel two completely opposite emotions in a single moment.

For example, if you have a living pet companion, you may find yourself appreciating and laughing at their antics more because your sadness about your deceased pet has highlighted how precious each moment is.

Of course, dealing with conflicting emotions can be hard. For most of us, the biggest fear about feeling something positive after a bereavement is that we’re beginning to ‘move on’ and leave our lost loved one behind.

Let yourself feel all of your emotions

It may not come easily but there’s something very liberating about accepting that happiness and grief can exist at the same time.

This means that you can feel all of your emotions, good as well as bad, without worrying that you’re betraying your pet in some way by ‘letting go’.

In reality, your grief will probably stay with you forever, even though it will evolve and reshape many times. But life, with its relentless forward motion, will push you to move with it and gradually experience more than just sadness.

Your pet would want you to be happy

As we’ve often said, one of the most wonderful animal traits is an ability to live in the moment.

Your pet wouldn’t want you to stay stuck in sadness. They would want you to be happy.

Another perspective that you might find helpful is that your pet deserves to be remembered through your happiness too. When they were alive they bought you joy, comfort, companionship and so much more. That’s why you miss them so much. It seems unfair perhaps to wrap their memory in sadness – at least long-term – when they only ever gave happiness.

If the roles were reversed and your pet had had to go on living without you, I’m sure your one wish would be for them to live a full and happy life. It’s what they would wish for you too.

Happiness during grief can be a gift

Many people are eventually able to find strength from pet loss. A pet’s passing is a sharp reminder that life is short – there is no shame in finding happiness in the time we’re here.

All being well and with time, you will stop feeling guilty about laughing and feeling joy.

Hopefully, you will be able to smile at your happy memories of your pet and they’ll suddenly feel present again – a loved one who lived, not just the loved one that died.

Until that time, know that you’re not alone.

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support