Pet loss grief affects all of us differently, but alternative grief therapies can help you to cope, especially if you’re finding it hard to get support from your friends and family or you feel you need an extra level of support.
Research suggests that we can achieve what’s known as “successful mourning”, which is when we navigate our way through grief into a state of mind where we’re able to “imagine a satisfying future” without our loved one, if we have a good support network and healthy coping mechanisms.
Although it seems uncomfortable to think of mourning in terms of success, this definition just describes being able to re-engage with daily life and reconnect with others (animal and human), and to be “able to experience hope for a future with potential for joy and satisfaction”. In this state of mind, grief integrates with your reality and transforms into acceptance.
So, what are the alternative grief therapies that can help you to achieve this state? Here are eight suggestions that many bereaved people find helpful:
- Journaling and writing
We’ve written a few different articles about journaling and writing as a way to process pet loss grief. It’s such an effective therapeutic method that we feel it’s worth mentioning again.
Keeping a grief journal or writing letters to your deceased pet(s) can be a cathartic way to process your emotions and memories. It allows for reflection, expression of thoughts and feelings, and can serve as a private space to connect with your grief and find solace.
If you’re not sure how to get started, you can find 50 grief journal prompts here that will hopefully inspire you.
Also, Sue Ryder, a bereavement support organisation, has an online grief journal tool that you might want to use if you prefer typing to pen and paper.
- Art therapy
Engaging in art therapy can be a powerful way to express and process emotions related to grief.
Creating artwork, such as painting, drawing, or sculpting, allows for self-expression, reflection, and healing. You can use art therapy individually or in a group setting led by a qualified art therapist. It’s even something you can try at home.
It helps to give yourself permission to express your emotions freely through different artistic mediums. No one is going to judge your artistic skills – this type of therapy can be most effective when you let go of the idea that you must create “good” art and you instead allow yourself the space to explore what it is you want to express.
- Music therapy
Listening to or creating music can be another incredible therapeutic outlet for grief.
Music has the power to evoke emotions, provide comfort, and serve as a form of self-expression. Participating in music therapy sessions or creating personalised playlists of meaningful songs can be healing.
When writing our blog about how music can help pet loss grief, we found that music is proven to reduce anxiety, lower your blood pressure, improve your sleep quality and put you in a better mood.
- Meditation and mindfulness
Practicing meditation and mindfulness techniques can help calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote emotional healing. These practices encourage focusing on the present moment, acknowledging emotions without judgment, and cultivating self-compassion.
Most of us want to rush through grief, to come out the other side to a time when our loss doesn’t hurt as much. But the thing about grief is that it demands that we feel and experience it fully. There aren’t any shortcuts and, indeed, attempting to bury grief can actually prolong it.
Meditation and mindfulness practices can help you to sit with your grief and make peace with its presence.
There’s a wonderful piece of writing by Donna Ashworth called “Love Came First” that sums this up beautifully. Please do check it out.
- Nature therapy
Spending time in nature, whether it’s walking in a park, sitting by a lake, or walking in the hills, can have a calming and grounding effect. Connecting with the natural world can provide a sense of peace, solace, and perspective during the grieving process.
There’s something about seeing the cyclical patterns of the natural world; the changing seasons, the cycle of life and death, and even the resilience of nature can all serve as metaphors and prompts for reflection, potentially providing hope in the face of loss.
- Acupuncture and acupressure
Traditional Chinese medicine practices like acupuncture and acupressure can help restore balance and promote relaxation. These therapies involve stimulating specific points on the body to release blocked energy and alleviate emotional and physical distress.
Acupuncture Associates says that acupuncture and acupressure can help as an alternative grief therapy because grief is not solely a psychological experience; it creates a physical response too. Acupuncture can improve common physical grief symptoms such as pain, high blood pressure and low appetite.
- Animal-Assisted Therapy
If you feel ready and able, then interacting with animals, such as therapy dogs or cats, can offer emotional support and help alleviate feelings of grief. As you know from experience, spending time with animals can provide a sense of companionship, unconditional love, and a soothing presence during challenging times.
Of course, it’s important that you feel comfortable with being around other animals now. After losing a pet, many people find it too painful, so this might not be the right fit for you. On the other hand, you might find it cathartic.
If you do want to explore animal-assisted therapy, even if it’s an informal arrangement rather than a dedicated service, then there are a number of options open to you, such as volunteering at an animal shelter, connecting with an animal-assisted therapy organisation, borrowing a pet through an organisation like The Cinnamon Trust (and helping a pet carer at the same time), or even fostering a pet.
- Support groups and retreats
Participating in grief support groups or attending grief retreats can provide a safe and supportive environment to share experiences, receive guidance, and connect with others who are also navigating a loss. These group settings offer a sense of community and understanding.
Google is a good starting point for finding local groups. There are also online support groups and services, including The Ralph Site’s private pet loss community on Facebook.
It’s your grief
Hopefully, these alternative grief therapies will give you avenues for support and help you to create healthy coping mechanisms at this tough time. Many bereavement experts recommend approaching alternative therapies as complementary to traditional grief support and counselling.
You might find that consulting with a healthcare professional or therapist who specialises in grief and alternative therapies can help you determine which approach would be best for you.
It’s worth exploring different options to see what resonates.
More than anything else, know that you are not alone.
Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team.
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support