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The Ralph Site - pet loss support

Welcome to The Ralph Site Blog

Hello, and welcome to The Ralph Site Blog.

We celebrate the unique place that pets have in our lives through regular features and practical advice on pet bereavement and other animal-related matters.

Pet loss support

The Ralph Site is a non-profit online pet loss support resource which provides support to pet carers coping with the loss of a beloved companion. There are a website and an active Facebook community with a public page and a private group.

Pet carers’ community

The Ralph Site aims to provide a non-judgmental and supportive place for those pet carers who have lost a much-loved member of the family. We know all too well the pain and heartbreak that accompanies the passing of your pet. And whilst these pets can never be replaced, we may find room to enrich our lives further with others when the time is right.

At The Ralph Site, we understand the special bond between you and your pets.

Thank you for your support.

 

Why forgiveness is so important to the grieving process 

Pet loss grief is deeply personal and can include an array of emotions and feelings such as anger, regret, guilt, sadness, and anxiety.  

Wanting to apportion blame can be part of the grieving process, too. 

This is because it’s human nature to want to find a reason for why something happens, especially if there’s an unhappy or tragic outcome. It’s a protective mechanism, too. If we can understand what caused a death, we can prevent it from happening again.  

But, of course, this is futile. All living things must die eventually, and that can be hard to accept. 

It’s easy to get trapped in the mindset that someone or something must be to blame for your pet’s passing. Indeed, maybe a mistake was made, or with different information or resources, the outcome could have been different. 

Unfortunately, focusing on who or what to blame can take you down a lonely and difficult path, and may keep you frozen in this difficult time. As harsh as it sounds, thinking about what could have been done differently won’t change the reality that your animal friend has gone. 

We understand that this is difficult to accept. 

This is why many bereavement experts believe that forgiveness is a vital component in learning to manage the difficult emotions associated with grief and find some peace moving forward.  

We’ve talked about the importance of self-forgiveness in a previous article, but today, we want to look at the idea of forgiveness more broadly. This might include forgiving your vet, a friend or family member or another of your pet’s caregivers, or even your pet themselves.  

What is forgiveness? 

The Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, defines forgiveness as “a conscious, deliberate position to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness”. 

They further say, “when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of the offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you or release them from legal responsibility”. 

Forgiveness is about letting go of corrosive anger and other deeply held feelings that can damage your wellbeing. It’s about recognising your pain without letting the pain define you. 

Understanding the role of forgiveness in grief 

When a pet dies, it’s common to harbour feelings of guilt or regret.  

You might find yourself grappling with “what ifs” and “if onlys,” questioning decisions made and actions taken. You might think your vet made a mistake or feel angry that a family member forgot to shut the front door. Maybe you’re angry with your pet for eating something that harmed them, for not responding to treatment, or even for getting old. 

These thoughts can become a heavy burden, intensifying the pain you’re experiencing. 

Blame is one way to shift these difficult feelings to an external cause. However, when we focus on placing blame, it can prolong our sense of anger and injustice, turning to resentment or even a need for revenge. 

These feelings can take root, hurting our relationships or changing how we see the world. Plus, by keeping us focused on the moment of a pet’s death, we lose touch with the wonder of their life. 

In this context, forgiveness is not about absolving anyone of responsibility or minimising the significance of one’s loss.  

It is about finding the compassion and understanding to begin to release the weight of guilt and regret and make space for healing and acceptance. 

What forgiveness isn’t…. 

You might be struggling with the idea of forgiveness.  

People often talk about how it’s important to “forgive and forget”, but it’s understandable if you don’t want to forget mistakes that were made or lessons that can be learned from your pet’s passing. 

You might find it more acceptable to explore how you or the people involved can learn from your loss and then forgive.  

For example, if your pet ran into the road because the garden gate was left open, there’s a lesson to everyone you know to always lock the gate or check where a pet is if they’re free roaming in any way. Forgiveness comes from recognising that all it takes to leave a gate open is a moment’s lapse of judgement or concentration, and what human doesn’t experience those? There was no malice involved. 

If someone did intentionally harm your pet, you may feel that giving forgiveness lets them “get away with” their bad behaviour. Here, it’s important to remember that forgiveness isn’t for the offender – it’s for you, the griever. Being angry or wanting justice or revenge won’t change what’s happened, but it may prevent you from grieving. 

As appealing as that may sound, grief is a natural reaction to loss and an expression of love. It might not feel like it now, but making space for your grief is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself.

Where forgiveness and acceptance meet 

Acceptance is a key part of the grief journey. In this context, it’s understanding that your pet is no longer here without trying to change the outcome or fight that reality.  

However, acceptance can be challenging to reach if we are mired in self-recrimination or focused on blaming someone or something else for what happened.  

Forgiveness serves as a bridge to acceptance, allowing us to move from a place of blame to one of understanding and peace. 

For instance, after the loss of a pet, many people struggle with the decision to euthanise. Questions like “Did I act too soon?” or “Could I have done more?” often plague the grieving mind.  

Forgiveness in this scenario involves recognising the love and care that guided such decisions and understanding that the intent was to alleviate suffering and provide peace.  

By forgiving, we acknowledge the compassionate motivation behind an action, facilitating a more profound acceptance of the loss. 

Practical steps towards forgiveness 

Forgiveness, while essential, is not always easy. It requires introspection, empathy, and, sometimes, professional guidance. Here are some practical steps to incorporate forgiveness into your grief journey: 

  1. Self-reflection: Take time to reflect on the circumstances of the loss and your feelings about it. Journalling can be a helpful tool to articulate these emotions and understand them better. 
  1. Seek support: Engage with supportive communities, whether through friends, family, or bereavement support groups (e.g. The Ralph Site’s private Facebook group). Sharing your story and hearing others’ experiences can provide perspective and comfort. 
  1. Professional guidance: Consider seeking the help of a therapist or counsellor who specialises in grief. They can offer strategies to navigate complex emotions and facilitate the forgiveness process. 
  1. Mindfulness and meditation: Practices like mindfulness and meditation can help you stay present and manage overwhelming emotions. They offer a space to cultivate compassion for yourself and others. 
  1. Rituals and memorials: Create rituals or memorials to honour the memory of your much-loved animal companion. These acts of remembrance can provide a sense of closure and peace. 

Embracing forgiveness  

Forgiveness is a powerful tool in the grief process. It helps to acknowledge the love and intentions behind our actions and to release the hold of negative emotions.  

Navigating grief is never easy, but with forgiveness as a guiding principle, we can find the strength to heal and the courage to move forward. Remember, it’s a personal journey, and it’s OK to seek help and take your time. Healing is possible, and you don’t have to face it alone. 

Shailen and The Ralph Site team 
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support 

Using human mourning rites and customs as inspiration for honouring your pet 

Throughout history, every culture has created mourning rites and customs to provide structure, support, and solace while navigating the journey of grief. But in many ways, these rites and customs are missing from pet bereavement (our blog about unrehearsed grief covers this in more detail). 

You may find that you’re looking for some meaningful way to mark your pet’s passing or memorialise their life. If so, you’re not alone. 

People are increasingly recognising how important mourning rites can be for bereaved pet carers, both immediately after the loss of a pet and in helping to create continuing bonds with an animal companion who has died.

Drawing inspiration from cultural traditions 

There is no right way to mourn your beloved pet, only what feels right for you.  

If you have strong traditions relating to bereavement in your family, then you may draw from them as you grieve. Similarly, if you have a strong sense of religious faith or belief, this may be where you turn for comfort. 

Alternatively, you may find it helpful to find out more about the diverse cultural traditions relating to mourning and bereavement around the world to draw inspiration and find comfort on your grief journey. 

Mourning rites and customs 

Mourning rites and customs often involve ceremonies, gatherings, and symbolic gestures designed to help people express their grief and find support. 

In Hinduism, for example, the ritual of Antyesti involves cremating the deceased and scattering their ashes in a sacred body of water, symbolising the soul’s final separation from the body. Family members come together to perform these rites and offer prayers for the departed soul’s peace. This occasion also enables them to provide one another with support. 

If you decide to have your pet cremated, you may want to scatter their ashes somewhere that is meaningful to you in the company of your loved ones. 

It can be helpful to have a plan for what you want to do with your pet’s remains, from a burial in your back garden to creating a special place for their ashes in your home. The important thing is to do what provides you with the most comfort. 

Expressing grief 

Mourning rituals offer an outlet to express grief openly and authentically. With our human loved ones, funerals, wakes, or memorial services provide an opportunity to share memories, emotions, and stories about loved ones, validating our grief in a supportive environment. 

Creating a similar ceremony for your pet may help you to talk about your loss. 

Rituals don’t have to be sombre. In Mexico, the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a vibrant celebration where families gather to remember deceased loved ones. Altars adorned with photos, candles, and the departed’s favourite foods are created to welcome their spirits back to the earthly realm, providing an opportunity for joyful remembrance amidst grief. 

In Ghana, the Akan people celebrate death with a ceremony called Adowa, which includes drumming, singing, and dancing to honour the person who has died. 

Perhaps you could hold a similar celebration of your pet’s life and the relationship you shared. It could even be an annual event where you and your loved ones come together. 

Social support and connection 

As we’ve already touched on above, mourning rituals bring us together to provide comfort, empathy, and solidarity during a time of loss. Whether we’re the bereaved person or the person giving solace, it’s a reminder that we’re not alone. 

In Irish culture, for example, the wake tradition involves keeping vigil over the deceased’s body before burial, allowing friends and family to pay their respects and offer condolences to the grieving family.  

The wake itself is usually a mixture of mourning and celebration, reminiscing, sadness, music, laughter, and reconnection. This communal gathering fosters a sense of unity and support during times of loss. 

Of course, we understand that your friends and wider family may not have known your pet. Even in a household where everyone is grieving, people may have different reactions. Still, you might want to invite the people closest to you to an event dedicated to your pet. This could be a small, informal gathering at home or a meet-up somewhere special. You can explain to them that you need social support and connection. Friends and family don’t need to share your loss; they just need to be present for you.  

Symbolism and meaning 

Symbolic gestures play a significant role in mourning customs. From wearing clothing of a specific colour to lighting candles or displaying certain flowers, there are many ways to represent your grief journey. 

When there isn’t a funeral or memorial service to attend, symbolic gestures can be especially important to the grieving process. Acts like planting a tree, listening to a specific song, writing a letter, or lighting a candle can all help you feel connected to your pet. 

In Japan, the Buddhist ritual of Obon honours the spirits of ancestors through various customs, including lighting lanterns to guide their souls back home. Families visit ancestral graves, clean and decorate them, and offer food and prayers to remember their departed loved ones, symbolising the continuity of familial bonds beyond death. 

You might want to use these symbols to mourn your pet. You could light a candle to light the way for them or decorate their grave or memorial. Alternatively, you could use the tradition of offering food as inspiration but donate some food to a rescue centre in your pet’s name instead. 

Adapting mourning rites for pet loss grief 

The more research we’ve done into grief, mourning, and bereavement since launching The Ralph Site, the more we’ve seen that loss is a universal experience despite its deeply personal nature.  

While the rites and rituals of death vary from one culture to another, there is the shared experience of wanting to honour the dead, connect with their memory, and find support from the living. 

We think that bereaved pet carers have the same needs. After all, you have boundless love for your animal companion, and grief is part of that love. 

As there are no societal rituals for pet loss, we’re free to create our own. 

Our advice is to do something that is meaningful to you and your family. Creating a pet memorial garden, for example, can be a therapeutic way to remember a beloved pet. Planting flowers, shrubs, or trees in their memory and dedicating a space for reflection and remembrance can provide a peaceful sanctuary.  

Alternatively, you might want to create a memory book of photos or a memory box, take a trip somewhere special to scatter their ashes, light a candle on special occasions, or donate food to a rescue centre in honour of your pet. You get to decide. 

Conclusion 

In times of pet loss grief, mourning rites and customs offer a healing path. If you feel you need to mark your pet’s passing, then it can help to draw inspiration from diverse cultural traditions and adapt them. 

Sometimes, the most powerful thing we can do is talk about a cherished pet and celebrate the life they had before they died. Rituals can provide a map to help us do this so we can find comfort in the enduring bonds of love and companionship. 

Shailen and The Ralph Site team 
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support 

What is pet bereavement counselling and how do you know if you need it? 

Losing a beloved pet can feel like losing a part of yourself. The pain, the emptiness, the overwhelming sadness—it’s a rollercoaster of emotions that can leave you feeling lost and alone.  

If you’re experiencing this rollercoaster, you may be wondering if pet bereavement counselling could help you navigate this difficult journey.  

Let’s explore what pet bereavement counselling is, how to recognise if you might need it, and other ways to find comfort and healing amidst the grief. 

What is pet bereavement counselling? 

Pet bereavement counselling is a specialised form of counselling (a ‘talk therapy’ where you talk to a trained professional about your emotions or problems) aimed at helping individuals cope with the deep grief and emotional turmoil that comes with losing a cherished animal companion.  

In these counselling sessions, trained professional counsellors or therapists provide a safe and understanding space for you to express your feelings, process your grief, and find ways to move forward. 

Pet bereavement counselling services may be available over the phone, online, or in-person, depending on the individual counsellor or service provider. 

Some counselling services focus exclusively on pet bereavement, while others look at bereavement more broadly, recognising that loss is loss, whatever form it takes. 

Counsellors and therapists are usually qualified and/or certified mental health professionals with the expertise to help you manage your grief through the more structured process of counselling. 

This is a step on from seeking support from trained volunteers through a service such as the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Helpline (more about this below) or through a peer support group such as The Ralph Site. 

Many bereaved people benefit from support, but not everyone needs the more formal support provided by counselling. 

Would you benefit from pet bereavement counselling?

You might be wondering if you could benefit from pet bereavement counselling.  

Many experts say that you should give yourself time after a bereavement before seeking professional support. In the first days, weeks, and months, you will find that your emotions feel very raw, and getting through the day can be challenging. This is completely natural. 

With time, you may find that your grief starts to co-exist with other thoughts and feelings, sometimes in the foreground and sometimes taking more of a back seat.   

One key indicator that you might need counselling is the intensity and duration of your grief. It’s normal to feel profound sadness – as well as a wide range of other emotions – after losing a pet, but if those feelings linger and interfere with your daily life, counselling could be a helpful option.  

Feeling overwhelmed by guilt or regret, struggling to cope with your responsibilities, or feeling isolated in your grief are all signs that reaching out for support might be a good idea. 

Some research suggests that counselling can be a good option for anyone who is experiencing high levels of grief-related distress six months after their bereavement. 

But remember, pet bereavement counselling isn’t the only way forward.  

Grieving is a deeply personal journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. Perhaps you need to find comfort in the support of friends and family or connect with others who have experienced similar losses through support groups or online communities. 

Other ways to manage pet loss grief

Engaging in creative outlets can be incredibly healing. Whether it’s writing about your feelings in a journal (here are 50 prompts to help you get started), creating artwork, or participating in rituals to honour your pet’s memory, these acts can provide a sense of acceptance and connection.   

You may find that spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, or volunteering at an animal shelter are also ways to find moments of peace and purpose amidst the pain. 

And let’s not forget the bond you share with your remaining pets if you have them. They can offer unconditional love, companionship, and comfort during this difficult time. Simply being in their presence can remind you that you’re not alone in your grief. 

Self-care is important  

Taking care of yourself is essential as you navigate the grieving process. Remember to eat nourishing foods, get enough rest, and engage in activities that bring you joy and comfort. Practice self-compassion and allow yourself to experience and express your emotions without judgement. 

Grieving is a process that can be extremely difficult at times, but it’s also part of life, which means we tend to be surprisingly well-equipped to journey through it, given enough time.

Where to find pet bereavement support or counselling 

If you believe that you would benefit from pet bereavement support of some kind, your next step is to explore the services available to you. 

For those of you based in the UK, you might want to contact the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service. This offers a free and confidential helpline, web chat or email support. Trained volunteers provide empathetic listening and support to help anyone navigate their grief. However, these volunteers are not qualified counsellors. 

The Ralph Site itself was created to be a place of support and reassurance. Although we’re not able to offer our own pet bereavement counsellors, many people find that talking to other bereaved pet carers in our private Facebook group gives them the space and emotional support that they need to eventually move forward. 

If you have decided to seek counselling you may find a suitably qualified counsellor or therapist via the Counselling Directory. Again, this is a UK-based service. If you are outside of the UK, Google and other search engines are a great starting point to find pet bereavement counsellors near your location. We also have some details of pet bereavement counsellors here on The Ralph Site that you may want to explore further. Some veterinary practices can also provide recommendations for local counselling services that specialise in this area. It’s worth reaching out to your vet to enquire about available support options. 

Do what feels right for you 

Ultimately, the decision to pursue pet bereavement counselling is yours to make. If you feel like it could be beneficial, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. But know that there are other paths to healing as well.  

Whether you choose counselling, support groups, creative outlets, or simply spending time with your loved ones and furry friends, the important thing is to honour your feelings and find what works best for you. 

By exploring different avenues of support and practicing self-care, you can navigate grief with compassion and resilience. Healing is possible, and you don’t have to face it alone. 

Shailen and The Ralph Site team 
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support 

The language of loss 

As a bereaved person, how we talk about the death of a pet, and how other people speak to us, can have a major impact on whether we feel supported or even able to express our grief. 

Despite its universal nature, there doesn’t seem to be an agreed language of loss. It’s wrapped up in euphemisms, metaphors, analogies, symbolism, agreed social and cultural messages, and our own experiences.  

This can make conversations about loss extremely hard to navigate. Sometimes, words may fail us altogether. 

People often don’t know what to say to a bereaved person for fear of saying the wrong thing or causing more harm. They don’t want to remind us of our loss. Silence from our loved ones can feel extremely isolating but, equally, sometimes words intended as comfort don’t land the right way. 

When we’re grieving, emotions run high. Then there’s the fact that we all have individual preferences about language. Good intentions can get lost in translation. 

Our hope with today’s blog is that we can highlight some of the nuances around the language of loss and grief.  

If you’re the person who’s grieving, this may help you to understand more about what you find helpful and supportive. If you’re supporting a bereaved person, it may help you feel more confident about talking to them about their grief. 

Direct language vs. abstract language 

You might prefer to use direct language when talking about the death of your pet as it acknowledges the reality of the situation and allows you to confront it head-on. Direct language can provide clarity and avoid confusion.  

On the other hand, you may prefer softer, more abstract language, as it can feel less harsh and more comforting. Abstract language can provide a sense of distance from the finality of death and may be preferred if you find direct language too confronting or upsetting. 

Here are some examples of direct or abstract language: 

  • Direct language: Dead, death, died, euthanised, deceased 
  • Abstract language: Passed away, transitioned, departed, didn’t make it, isn’t with us anymore, slipped away 

Concrete terms vs. metaphors 

Concrete terms describe death and its aftermath in literal and straightforward terms, leaving little room for interpretation. They tend to be quite practical in nature, for example, describing what has happened to your pet’s physical body.  

Metaphors, on the other hand, use symbolic language to evoke emotions and provide comfort. While concrete terms offer clarity, you may find them too stark or clinical, preferring the gentleness and poetic nature of metaphors

It is important to recognise that many metaphors for death have religious connotations. The idea of being called home to heaven or to a better place can be incredibly comforting for someone with religious or spiritual beliefs. However, for someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, religious metaphors can be jarring. Suggesting, for example, that there’s a better place for an animal than their loving home may upset pet carers, so it’s always advisable to tread carefully. 

These are examples of concrete language vs metaphors: 

  • Concrete Terms: Dead, cremated, buried 
  • Metaphors: Resting in peace, returned to the earth, released from suffering, gone to a better place, sleeping with the angels, beyond the veil, lost their battle, was called home 

Closure vs. continuation 

When you’re grieving, believing that you must move through clear stages of grief until it’s over can set unrealistic expectations and pressure (here’s why it’s fine to ignore them). Grief rarely comes to a definitive end, never to be seen again. Rather, it tends to mellow or change with time, staying with us, albeit at a more manageable level.  

The concept of closure implies an endpoint or resolution, suggesting that one can neatly tie up loose ends and move on from grief. You may find solace in the idea of closure as it offers a sense of finality and the opportunity to start anew.  

However, it could be that you prefer to view grief as a continuation, recognising that the memories and impact of your pet will endure beyond their physical presence. Continuation language emphasises your ongoing relationship with them and the importance of preserving their memory. 

It can help to take the pressure off and make you more able to ignore questions such as “Haven’t you finished grieving yet?” or “Don’t you think it’s time you moved on?” 

In addition, continuation language can be helpful if you hit a rough patch in your grief or if you feel that stronger emotions associated with your loss are re-emerging. This is because grief doesn’t tend to be linear. It ebbs and flows. Anniversaries and milestone dates can trigger powerful feelings of loss, even years after the event. 

Continuation language encourages us to accept this, which can be empowering because we understand what’s happening when we hit a low patch. However, if we expect closure, it can be overwhelming when grief resurfaces. 

Again, here are some examples of closure or continuation language: 

  • Closure: Finding closure, moving on, the five stages of grief, finished grieving, get over, move past 
  • Continuation: Moving forward, honouring their memory, carrying on their legacy, integration/integrating the loss, grief journey 

Healing vs. coping 

There’s arguably some crossover in the language of loss between coping and healing. After all, many of us hope to cope until we can heal. 

Language related to healing suggests a process of recovery and restoration, implying that one can eventually overcome grief and return to a state of wholeness. You may find comfort in the idea of healing as it offers hope for the future and a sense of progress. On the other hand, the idea of complete healing can feel a lot like a point of closure, which, as we saw above, can create unrealistic expectations.  

An alternative is coping language, which acknowledges the ongoing nature of grief and the need to develop strategies for managing it. Coping language can be empowering, emphasising resilience and adaptation in the face of loss. 

  • Healing: Healing from grief, finding healing 
  • Coping: Coping with loss, learning to cope

Why words matter when we’re grieving 

While there are no words that will ever fully soothe the pain of losing a much-loved pet, it’s clear that the words we do have at our disposal can be incredibly powerful. When someone speaks to you using your preferred language of loss, it can provide: 

  • Acknowledgment of the relationship 

People often struggle with how to acknowledge the depth of the bond between an individual and their pet. Some may dismiss an animal companion who has died as “just a pet,” while others may fully recognise the pet as a beloved family member. Finding language that validates the significance of the relationship is essential. 

  • An antidote to the stigma surrounding pet loss 

Despite the profound grief experienced by pet carers, there can still be societal stigma around pet loss. If you feel pressure to downplay your emotions or rush through the grieving process, it can be helpful to hear language that validates and normalises the grief you’re experiencing, as well as helping to combat this unfair stigma. 

  • Space for mixed or confused feelings 

Pet loss can bring up complex, confused, and even ambiguous feelings. This often occurs when there is uncertainty or lack of closure, such as when a pet goes missing or when euthanasia is chosen. Language that acknowledges the ambiguity of your loss and allows space for a variety of emotions can be comforting. 

  • Inclusive language 

Not everyone experiences grief in the same way, and the language used to discuss it should reflect this diversity. Some individuals find comfort in spiritual or religious language, while others prefer more secular terminology. Using inclusive language that respects different belief systems and coping mechanisms is essential because there is no “right” way to grieve. 

  • Permission to grieve 

Receiving reassurance that our grief is understood can be incredibly validating. You may take great comfort from language that acknowledges the depth of your emotion and honours the unique bond you shared with your pet. 

Avoiding cliches and platitudes 

If you know someone who is grieving, be wary of platitudes such as “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”, “They’re in a better place”, “At least they’re not suffering”, “At least he went quickly”, or “You were lucky to have her for as long as you did”. 

Although well-intentioned, these expressions can feel dismissive to the bereaved person. It’s important to be mindful of the language used and offer genuine empathy and support instead of relying on empty phrases. We have some pointers here to help you, as we understand that talking about loss is hard. 

Conclusion 

The choice between direct and abstract language, concrete terms and metaphors, closure and continuation, and healing and coping can vary greatly depending on individual preferences and cultural beliefs.  

Some people prefer language that directly confronts the reality of death, while others find comfort in softer, more abstract expressions. There’s no right choice, only what feels right for you.  

If you find a certain type of language unhelpful, it may be a good idea to calmly point this out by saying what you prefer. It’s completely fine to say, “I don’t find the idea of them going to a better place or being called home” helpful! Equally, if there is language that resonates, you can model this to your loved ones by using it when you talk about your grief.  

The most important thing is that your unique way of processing grief is respected and that your loved ones can offer support and understanding regardless of the language used.  

The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group offers a safe space to talk about your grief, whatever your preferred language of loss. 

Shailen and The Ralph Site team 
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support 

When you feel you waited too long to say goodbye to your pet

Losing a beloved pet is an incredibly difficult experience, whatever the circumstances, but how do you come to terms with the belief that you waited too long to say goodbye?

People often talk about their worries around euthanasia, but it’s generally in the context of wondering if it’s the right thing to do or whether they’ll make the decision too soon. A common saying, “Better a week too early than a day too late”, provides reassurance about this.

But what about those of us who feel we were too late – be it a minute, an hour, a day, a week or longer? How do we come to terms with our feelings of guilt and regret? How do we move forward when we believe that our loved one suffered because we didn’t act soon enough?

Guilt and regret often accompany pet loss

The first thing to say is that guilt and regret are often present with pet loss grief.

One of the reasons for this is that our animal companions can’t tell us how they feel or what their dying wishes are. 

Our pets are utterly dependent on us. We determine how they live and, in many cases, how and when they die. This comes with a huge amount of responsibility.

What would our pet choose if they could tell us? Would they prefer a “natural” death without intervention? Would they prefer to say goodbye while they still have some good times in amongst the bad, or would they want to wait as long as possible?

Without definitive answers, we must act on instinct and our knowledge of our pet’s behaviour. After a pet has died, this can leave us feeling guilty that we made the wrong choice or got the timing of our choice wrong.

Euthanasia gives death a time limit

Euthanasia (meaning “good death”) is a deliberate intervention to end an animal’s pain or suffering. 

When offered, euthanasia is intended to be in the animal’s best interests. If most of the animal’s good days are behind them, the intention is to bring about a calm and peaceful death without prolonged suffering.

In this article, we’re assuming that you considered at some stage whether to euthanise your pet (i.e. have them “put to sleep”). It’s knowing that euthanasia is an option that puts death on some sort of schedule and leads to the feeling of waiting too long. 

In the end, you may have decided not to choose euthanasia, or maybe you wish you’d opted for it sooner. If this doesn’t reflect your experience, we hope you will still find valuable advice and support below.

Euthanasia is both a gift and a curse

People often refer to euthanasia as the last “gift” or “kindness” that we can give to our pets. But many of us would agree that euthanasia is both a gift and a curse (at least, for us as pet carers). 

Yes, euthanasia enables us to prevent an animal companion from enduring needless suffering (many humans are currently campaigning to have the same right over their own lives and deaths). However, knowing that euthanasia is an option means that we may feel more pressure to ensure a well-timed “good death”.

This creates an illusion that death is something we can control, that there is a “right time”, but the truth is that this isn’t always possible.

The death of any living being is a strange contradiction – completely inevitable and yet utterly unpredictable. 

Because our pets can’t talk to us, most of us desperately hope for a definitive moment when we know euthanasia is the right choice. Other people might have said to you, “You’ll know when it’s time” or “You’ll see in your pet’s eyes when they’re ready” but, often, this isn’t the case.

Sometimes, it takes an emergency for euthanasia to be the only choice.

It’s more common for an animal to move slowly towards the end of their life, either through ill health or old age. When this happens, it isn’t always obvious when euthanasia is the “right” decision or in the animal’s best interest.

Your pet may have had good days in with the bad. Just when you thought you were clear about it being the right time for euthanasia, they may have rallied. You may have been waiting for a sign or for your pet to give you permission to say goodbye.

In the absence of these things, perhaps you waited longer than you believe you should have done. But you only ever waited with good intentions.

You’re not alone

As we mentioned earlier, you’re not alone if you feel responsible for your pet’s suffering or the timing of their passing. With such a heavy responsibility, it’s normal to question if you made the right decisions regarding your pet’s treatment or euthanasia.

Many bereaved pet carers believe they should have acted sooner or differently. 

You may find yourself dwelling on “what if” scenarios and imagining alternative outcomes. It’s also natural to struggle with the circumstances surrounding your pet’s passing, especially if you feel that you somehow waited too long to say goodbye.

We hope we can offer you some comfort.

Guilt and regret often accompany grief

Feelings of guilt and regret are normal reactions to loss. There’s a good chance that you would wish for a different course of events or outcome, regardless of how or when your pet died. In part, these thoughts are about helping you make sense of what has happened. They also enable you to draw on your experience in the future. 

Recognise the good intentions behind your decisions

You provided love and care for your pet throughout your time together. If you feel in hindsight that you waited too long to say goodbye, you only did so from a place of love and good intentions. You would never have chosen to let your pet suffer.

Sadly, there are cruel people in the world who cause animals immense suffering, but you are not one of them.

As we’ve already highlighted, we’re often led to believe that animals somehow communicate when they are at peace with dying, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, death approaches slowly, and we must decide what a good quality of life might look like to our pets based on what they loved when they were well.

Of course, this is subjective – talk to ten different people, and they may all have differing opinions about what constitutes a decent quality of life. This is one of the reasons why end-of-life decisions on behalf of our pets are so challenging. Yes, there are quality-of-life scales that can help, but even these are subjective.

Every pet or situation is unique; you also have a unique perspective based on your life experiences. You made the decisions you did – even decisions to wait before acting – with the information you had available to you at the time, and based on what you could live with in the moment.

You couldn’t have done more.

It can be hard to see clearly when we’re in the middle of a situation. Even if people you know urged you to act sooner, remember that they had the benefit of distance and a more detached perspective.

Be kind to yourself. You did your best in impossible circumstances.

Although it’s difficult to think about anything other than how or when your pet died right now, remind yourself of the good memories and the bond you shared. This will be what your pet carried with them, and it’s in these memories that you’ll find them again.

Death from your pet’s perspective

Because we share such an intense bond with our animal companions, it’s easy to anthropomorphise them (i.e. attribute human behaviours, thoughts, or characteristics to them). However, we must remember that other animal species may not approach death in the same way as humans.

Do they fear or despair at the thought of dying? Do they wrestle with or understand the choice between a future life of suffering or a quick death? Do they want to stay alive to be with us, even if it means that their suffering will continue?

Even people who have studied the animal species we keep as pets for decades can’t answer those questions.

Many would say that while animals are sentient beings with rich emotional lives, and some species undoubtedly mourn and recognise that the dead are gone for good, it is possibly only humans who understand that death will come for us all. This means that your pet wasn’t reflecting on their mortality or even the cause of their pain. More likely, they were inhabiting their physical body with a complete focus on the moment, not the past or the future. 

When any suffering did end for your pet, just know that the relief was instantaneous.

Find ways to mourn, honour and celebrate your pet

If love could have saved your animal friend, they would have been with you forever. Sadly, though, no one is immortal. 

It’s understandable that you want to reflect on how your pet died and that you might have regrets. It can be helpful to sit with your feelings, acknowledge them and express them, but it’s also important that you don’t stay in this place of loss and guilt forever.

Your pet died, and there are things you wish you could change about this, but crucially, they lived too – and it’s their beautiful life that deserves to be remembered.

It can be helpful to find ways to honour and celebrate your pet. This can include creating a memorial, writing to your pet, planting a tree in honour of them, sponsoring another animal in their name, or any other act that feels meaningful to you.

Talk about your pet loss

The Ralph Site exists because we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to talk openly about their feelings when a pet dies.

It can be comforting to seek the company (online or in person) with people who have experienced something similar. If you post in The Ralph Site pet loss support group, you may be surprised by how many people believe they waited too long to say goodbye.

These conversations can encourage you to exercise self-forgiveness. What would you say to someone who is wrestling with the same thoughts as you about waiting too long?

If your guilt and regret are becoming overwhelming, you might want to seek guidance from a bereavement counsellor or someone who specialises in pet loss support. 

Healing from the loss of a pet takes time, and everyone responds differently. When you feel you should have acted sooner to end your animal companion’s suffering, it can stir up complex feelings.

Be gentle and compassionate towards yourself. Focus on your intentions towards your pet – they were only ever good.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support