Do you feel like you’re grieving alone for the loss of a pet? Are you struggling with a sense of physical, emotional or social isolation (or maybe a combination of all three)?
Sadly, isolation is a common consequence of a bereavement.
There are many different factors that feed into this. In today’s blog, we want to acknowledge them and also explore some steps you may be able to take to feel more connected.
Why losing a pet can leave us feeling isolated
Our pets don’t just share our homes with us, they share most aspects of our lives. They are likely to see us at our best and our worst, more than almost anyone else in the world. Losing this degree of intimacy is bound to be shattering.
If you lived alone with your pet, the reality is that you may have lost your main companion. If you live with members of your family, it could be that you all had very different relationships with the animal that has passed or that you have different ways of expressing your grief.
We can often feel isolated in grief because it’s impossible to find someone else who is experiencing the bereavement in exactly the same way as us.
Isolation due to disenfranchised grief
It doesn’t help that pet loss is a type of disenfranchised grief, which means it’s a form of grief that isn’t necessarily acknowledged by our wider society.
You may be feeling a sense of isolation because your friends and family don’t recognise how losing a pet can be as painful and traumatic as losing a human loved one.
Perhaps someone has thoughtlessly said to you, “It was only a dog/cat/horse/rabbit*” (*insert as appropriate) or “At least you can get another one”.
Although people mean well, these kinds of platitudes have an alienating effect. It’s a clear statement that the other person doesn’t understand or connect with our loss. This can make us feel alone in our grief and this sense of loneliness and disconnection feeds into isolation.
The different types of isolation
Isolation comes in different forms. If you did live alone with your pet (or you spent large portions of the day with just them), then you will almost certainly be experiencing some degree of physical isolation.
Grief can lead to social isolation too. Social isolation is best described as psychologically or physically distancing yourself from desired or needed relationships. You may be finding it too hard to be around other people at the moment, leading you to withdraw from social situations.
Equally, your pet may have been at the heart of your social life. Dog carers and horse carers, for example, tend to socialise with other dog or horse people. When a pet dies, you can end up feeling socially isolated due to a loss of routine and common ground.
Finally, many people who are grieving end up feeling emotionally isolated. We’ve already touched on this slightly.
Emotional isolation is feeling like you have no-one to talk to or confide in. If you feel that people don’t understand the depth of your grief for your animal companion, this can be a huge barrier to communication. You may feel that you can’t talk about your loss.
We should also acknowledge that grief brings up a complex range of emotions. Anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, sadness or even mistrust can all feed into isolation. You may be worried about expressing these emotions, while people around you may not know what to say to be supportive.
Every bereavement we experience in life creates a kind of ripple effect that causes secondary losses.
When a pet dies, we can suffer a loss of identity, a loss of our role as caregiver and provider, loss of purpose, loss of routine, loss of social activities or even a loss of self-confidence.
Each secondary loss will shape and layer your grief. This can feed into your feelings of isolation because no-one else can truly comprehend all that you lost with your pet.
Isolation and loneliness
Isolation in any form can make us feeling lonely.
Loneliness is best described as the perception that you don’t have the amount or quality of social interaction that you desire. This means you can be surrounded by people and still feel like you’re complete alone.
In turn, loneliness can chip away at your emotional and physical well-being and create a negative spiral that increases your sense of isolation.
Tips for coping with isolation and making connections
If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation due to a bereavement, then it’s important to recognise this.
You may be inclined to withdraw even further, believing that no-one understands your feelings and you are alone in your loss.
While the loss you have experienced is completely unique to you, please know that support is available.
The following tips may help you:
- Chat to a pet bereavement counsellor (the Blue Cross offers a dedicated service that helps many pet carers)
- Speak to other bereaved pet carers within The Ralph Site community, many of whom will be struggling with similar feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Stay connected to people who are supportive – if you have people within your social circle who are supportive, look for ways to spend more time with them, even if it is just through text messages or a platform such as Zoom.
- Explore ways to express your grief – it is important that your grief for your pet has an outlet. You might find it helpful to create a memorial or write about your feelings, especially if you don’t feel like talking to anyone close to you about your loss
- Hold one of your pet’s belongings and talk to them – this has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase a sense of connection in people who are grieving
- Find time for self-care – your physical and mental health can be affected by isolation, so it’s crucial that you prioritise your self-care by eating healthily, resting and getting some daily exercise
One of the main reasons that The Ralph Site exists is to offer a safe space for bereaved pet carers to express their grief and find support and acceptance. Just knowing that other people understand the depth of your feelings can help to ease isolation.
We are here for you. You are not alone.
Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support