As a safeguarding consultant, my professional life often revolves around protecting and caring for others. But today, I want to share a deeply personal experience – the loss of my beloved cat, Misty. She wasn’t even 18 months old when she recently succumbed to a sudden and devastating virus. This experience has led me to reflect on how the loss of a pet can be underestimated in its impact on our lives and how, as a society, we should acknowledge and support those going through this painful experience. Many of us will work with young people who experience the loss of loved ones, perhaps the human or furry kind.
Grief and loss isn’t something I am unfamiliar with. Both my parents have died, as well as my grandparents, many friends and colleagues. I have previously lost pets too as our house and garden were filled with cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, pigs, axolotls, salamanders, mice, gerbils…………. I think that’s it!
However, losing Misty in the last couple of weeks has been tough and have forced me to reflect on what her loss means for me and for us as a family. My partner found a great Ted Talk that helped enormously. I would encourage everyone to watch this.
The Undervalued Grief
The loss of a pet can be a profoundly emotional and traumatic experience, yet it is often overlooked or undervalued by many. Here are some reasons why this loss can be so upsetting:
Our pets offer us unconditional love and companionship. Misty came into my life when I was working from home quite a bit and really valued the presence of having ‘something’ else in the house during the day.
Pets often serve as silent support systems, offering comfort during difficult times. They provide a safe space for us to express our emotions without judgment. Misty was definitely this as she unusually never made a single sound!
Routine and Stability:
Pets bring structure and stability to our daily lives. Caring for Misty provided me with a routine that I thoroughly enjoyed and what is hard to then adapt to not needing to do.
Pets communicate with us through their actions and body language. Their presence can be calming and reassuring, offering solace in times of stress or sorrow. So many of you will have therapy dogs or similar in your school settings and we know how important this can be to help so many children and staff.
Memories and Bonding:
The memories we create with our pets are often cherished for a lifetime. The bond between pet and owner is unique and irreplaceable. Losing a pet means losing a piece of that shared history.
Supporting Those in Grief
If you or someone you know is going through the loss of a beloved pet, here are some ways to provide support and understanding during this challenging time:
Listen and Validate:
Sometimes, all a grieving pet owner needs is a compassionate ear. Offer a listening ear and validate their feelings. Avoid minimising the loss by saying things like “it’s just a pet.” This Ted Talk will really help to understand how a pet is rarely ‘just a pet’.
Respect Their Grief:
Understand that grief is a natural response to loss, and it can take time to heal. Don’t rush the grieving process or expect the person to “get over it” quickly. For many children, the loss of a pet will be their first loss and experience of grief.
Offer Practical Help:
Grief can make even the simplest tasks feel overwhelming. Offer practical assistance, such as helping with burial arrangements, cleaning, or cooking. Just showing some kindness to someone is really thoughtful and can mean so much.
Create a Memorial:
Encourage the pet owner to create a memorial for their beloved pet. This could include a scrapbook, a memorial service, or planting a tree in the pet’s honour. We have a 9-year-old little girl who this is really important for. We are planting a tree for Misty, and we have also arranged for a few keepsakes for her.
Healing from the loss of a pet takes time. Be patient and understanding as the person navigates their grief journey.
Losing my cat Misty has shown me the profound impact that the loss of a pet can have on our lives. They come into our lives at different times and for different reasons and understanding that is the key to processing and managing grief and honouring the relationship. It’s a grief that often goes undervalued in society, but it’s a very real and painful experience for those who have loved and cared for their furry companions.
As a safeguarding consultant, I’ve learned that empathy and support are crucial during these difficult times. Let us remember that grief is grief, no matter the source, and extend a helping hand to those mourning the loss of their beloved pets.