Dealing with the loss of multiple pets in a brief period

If you’ve experienced the loss of multiple pets within a relatively brief period, you may be feeling overwhelmed. 

It’s a surprisingly common scenario because many people have pets who are siblings or similar ages because of the companionship they provide to each other throughout their lives. Sadly, this means the pets reach old age together. 

Accidents and even unrelated events and coincidences can also take our animal companions from us in one fell swoop or one after the other. 

Dealing with multiple pet losses in quick succession is often confusing and distressing. You may feel like it’s hard to recognise which parts of your grief belong to which animal companion or that you’re doing a disservice to each pet because you can’t focus exclusively on mourning them.

This type of grief even has its own name (or several, in fact); it’s known as “cumulative grief”, “compounded grief”, or “grief overload”.

You may also experience compounded grief if you have to deal with other losses (e.g., a relationship, job, person, etc.) as well as losing a beloved pet. Although it was in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2020 study found that multiple losses within a relatively short timeframe can be harder to deal with than a single loss because of the cumulative impact.

If this is something you’re struggling with right now, we’ve put together some proven strategies for dealing with the loss of multiple pets, as well as ideas to help you honour their memories individually and collectively:

  • Allow yourself to grieve

It’s natural to feel a deep sense of loss and grief when saying goodbye to multiple pets. If you’re familiar with the ball in the box analogy, you’ll know that each new bereavement can trigger pain from earlier bereavements too – and this is even more disorientating when each loss is fresh.

Give yourself permission to mourn and acknowledge your emotions. You might feel you have to throw all the loss into one box and deal with it as a single entity, but this is rarely possible. You had a unique bond with each of your pets, and it’s OK – and perhaps even essential – to grieve them individually. 

You may find that one pet is on your mind more than another. Remember, this isn’t a measure of love. Many factors will affect your thoughts, including how each pet lived and died, their age, your relationship with them, their relationship with each other, and so much more.

You may also find that each pet steps in and out as the focus of your grief in the weeks and months ahead. Again, this is to be expected and not an indication about who you cared about most.

  • Seek support

Dealing with multiple pet losses is a lot to process in one go, so it’s important that you have support. 

If you’ve gone from living in a busy, multi-pet household to a home that’s much quieter, it can have a massive impact on your daily routines, which people outside of your home may not realise. This is just one example of the impact of multiple losses and why it’s important to share what you’re experiencing.

As well as talking to your friends and family, you may want to reach out to pet loss support groups (such as The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook), online communities, or counselling services specialising in pet bereavement. 

Connecting with others who have experienced similar losses can provide comfort, understanding, and validation during this challenging time.

  • Create individual memorials

When dealing with multiple pet losses, it can be helpful to dedicate space or create individual memorials for each pet. This could be in your home or garden, and can include personalised photo frames, memorial stones, or planting a specific flower or tree that symbolises each pet to celebrate and commemorate them in their own right. 

Another idea is to write letters or create memory boxes filled with cherished items and memories for each pet.

  • Share their stories

Although you may always think about your pets’ deaths as intertwined, time will eventually enable you to talk about each animal for their individual merits.

Consider writing or sharing stories and anecdotes about each pet’s unique personality, quirks, and cherished memories. You could do this through a blog, social media posts, or in private journals, letters, or photobooks. 

Sharing your pets’ stories helps keep their memories alive and allows others to connect with the joy they brought into your life.

  • Create a collective memorial

If your pets were connected to one another or you see them as sharing a specific chapter in your life, you may want to create a special place or memorial that represents the collective memory of all your pets. 

This could be a designated area in your home, a dedicated section in your garden, or even a customised piece of artwork that incorporates each pet’s name or photo.

  • Volunteer or donate

A fantastic way to honour the memory of your beloved pets is to give back to the animal community in their name. 

There are a few ways to do this. You could volunteer at local animal shelters, rescue organisations or veterinary clinics, for example, or make donations in your pets’ names to animal welfare organisations. 

Alternatively, you could sponsor an animal or foster one who needs time and space to decompress before they find their forever home.

  • Organise a commemorative event

When a human dies, we have rituals and rites to commemorate their passing. In the same way, it can be helpful to organise or participate in a commemorative event that celebrates the lives of your pets. 

You might decide to host a memorial service or gather with close friends and family to share stories and memories. You could also organise a fundraising event or participate in activities that support animal-related causes, especially something that relates to your pets in some way.

  • Seek professional help

If you find yourself struggling with the grief of losing multiple pets, consider seeking support from a professional grief and/or pet bereavement counsellor. They can provide guidance, coping strategies, and a safe space to process your emotions.

  • Be kind to yourself

It’s helpful to be aware that cumulative or compounded grief can share similarities with complicated grief. Often this is because each new bereavement pulls you back into the early stages of grief, prolonging the overall emotional journey to find acceptance and be able to move forward in your life.

Of course, this isn’t inevitable but it’s something to recognise so that you’re able to ask for support if you feel you’re struggling.

The grieving process is unique to everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to honour your pets. Find what feels meaningful and comforting to you and allow yourself time to heal and adjust to the new reality of life without them.

Just know that you are not alone.

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

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