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Losing a friend: How to deal with the death of a pet

Anyone who loves a senior understands the importance of being informed on senior issues, and so do we. Our News You Can Use posts are meant to help seniors and their families as they learn and transition together through the physical and emotional changes brought on by aging.

Dealing with the loss of a pet can be a very difficult time, especially for seniors. Many seniors are reminded about their own mortality or lose their sense of purpose when their pet passes away. And, if they live alone with their pet, losing their sole companion can trigger a downward spiral of loneliness and depression, especially if their spouse has recently passed away.
Here are four suggestions on how to deal with grieving the loss of a pet in a positive, emotionally healthy way.

1. Give it time
Grief doesn’t run on a strict timeline. Feelings of grief and sadness may take weeks for some and years for others. Try to let your emotions run their course without feeling the need to rush them or worry about if their timing is on track with anyone else’s.

2. Avoid comparisons
Logically, our minds tell us that there should be a direct correlation between grief and relationships, but emotionally this just isn’t true. Asking yourself things like “I feel worse about my dog passing away than I did my next door neighbor. Does that make me a bad person?” is a great example of this logic vs. emotion disconnect. So, remember: if you feel as if you’re grieving more deeply than you did a friend or family member, it doesn’t diminish your love for them.

3. Realize there’s no need to defend yourself
Non-pet owners might have a hard time understanding your grief, but that does not make your grief inappropriate or insignificant. Sadness, fear, and loneliness are all natural responses to losing a pet, and defending these emotions to others is both frustrating and exhausting. Instead, accept your feelings and let the grieving process run its course.

4. Don’t go it alone
Expressing your feelings about the death of your pet is normal, healthy, and encouraged. For most people, close friends and family are the best go-to, but, if you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, or if they can’t fully sympathize with your loss, don’t hesitate to look for online support groups, or pet grief support hotlines. If you’d rather speak to someone in person, some branches of the Humane Society host local support group meetings as well.

For more information on how to stay physically and emotionally engaged after retirement, visit