How to Grieve Pet Death

Is there a right and a wrong way to grieve after a pet dies? How do you cope with people in your life who are not sympathetic to your grief? What are your options when you feel like your heart will stay raw and lonely forever after you lose a soul pet? Is there a way to grieve and heal even if your grief process includes intense emotions like shame or guilt? Animal communicator Shannon Cutts of Animal Love Languages takes a deep dive into a sensitive and personal topic.

Chihuahua cuddles with man - animal communicator Shannon Cutts with Animal Love Languages talks about pet grief

I will say this first. The only “wrong” way to grieve is the way that brings you no results. And by “no results” I mean you feel stuck in whatever state you are in and see no way to get un-stuck.

This is not to say the grief process, such as it is, will not create ebbs as well as flows in the days and weeks to come. One day you may need to cry. One day you may need to rage. One day you may need to feel numb. One day you may feel all of the above and more.

But the key here is to FEEL. To respect grief for the powerhouse life experience that it is and to expect it to MOVE you. To allow it to move you. To allow the process itself to shake you out of the grips of your fight-or-flight system, which felt the raw pain in that moment of loss and instantly executed the Emergency Shutdown Protocol to keep you safe.

The grief journey is the process of letting yourself out of the bunker and back out into the world to resume your life both outwardly and inwardly.

Over my time thus far working as a professional animal communicator, I have been privileged to hold space for many pet parents grieving a huge loss of a soul animal. Some of these humans have come to me already highly evolved in their personal awareness and simply needing a little extra support and confirmation that their pet made it safely across the veil.

But other humans have come to me so gridlocked in the PAIN of their loss their ears were closed to any messages coming through from the other side.

Here is what happens in the moment your pet dies.

The pet’s body dies. That is what happens. And that is actually the least dramatic part of the process…..at least from the animal’s perspective. (To read more about this, I highly recommend you check out last week’s blog post.)

But from your perspective and my perspective – our human point of view – it can seem like a very VERY big deal. And there are all kinds of reasons for this.

The first reason is because very little about modern culture today (no matter where on earth you happen to live) encourages us to look beyond the body to the life contained within it. We get so focused on the costume, the suitcase, the set of wheels, the container itself, that we forget there is anything else to the ones we love.

So when the body goes, all the oxytocin that has been flooding our brain and body with good-feeling “I love you” vibes feels like it got killed off too. Our physicality goes into withdrawal. It aches. It heaves. It cries. It rages. It sulks. It feels numb nothingness. It doesn’t know what to do with itself.

And all that feels so terrible it (quite frankly) wears us down and out.

Now, this is where one area where the head knowledge of the traditional 5 Stages of Grief model can come in handy. It at least gives you, the grieving still-embodied soul, a sense of a timeline of sorts. If you know you will generally start at denial, move into anger, bargaining, depression or sadness and finally acceptance, you can give your anxious brain something to do.

And by something to do, I mean something to think about of course. You can give it the assignment to track your progress. Even the more recent awareness that this process isn’t as linear as Dr. Linehan might have first conceived still doesn’t take away the value of a brain busy thinking about something other than the sheer weight of your loss and how you will never, ever (you are absolutely sure) get over it.

Ever.

Now, let’s talk about the unsympathetic folks for a moment. The ones who will feel completely unable to restrain themselves from saying stupid and deeply objectionable things like “well it was only a dog – just get another one!” And the people who will want to “fix” you or cure you out of your grief by encouraging, bullying or even forcing you to get another pet right away. And the people who will attempt to empathize by telling you they know exactly how you feel because of (insert lengthy sad story of their pet loss experience here).

Do try to steer clear of these people if you can!

And if you can’t, for example if they live in your house with you, do not feel shy to tell them these types of comments and topics are off limits now and for the foreseeable future if not forever. Grief carries with it boldness. You are temporarily in too much pain to give one #%!* what kind of ripple effect your requests or demands might create. Use that to your aching heart’s advantage.

Moving along….because really, folks with this sort of antiquated mindset aren’t likely to change and certainly not at the pace your grief requires….what can you do to begin easing your way through the real stages of grief?

Cat gazes into the distance - animal communicator Shannon Cutts with Animal Love Languages talks about pet grief

Here I mean the awareness you have always had that your animal love will most likely die before you and you will one day have to face exactly what you are facing now…..and the love was so compelling you did it anyway.

The first thing to be aware of here is that something within you – the same something that did it anyway even knowing the grief that was inevitably up ahead – always knew you were strong enough to get through this time. If it hadn’t, your fight or flight system would have shut down the idea of getting a pet from the start.

Something very deep within you has always known this time would be a time of growth and transformation for you. A time of realizing the difference between the body and the life temporarily housed within it.

A time of calling forth in yourself a curiosity about matters less known, less experienced, yet shared by absolutely every living being on this planet.

Birth. And death.

“Where did my pet go?” becomes “where do I go?”

And you get to make a choice. The choice is A) to keep believing your pet’s body (and your brain’s oxytocin-laced attachment to that body) is the sum total of your options for connecting with your pet, or B) to begin your quest to reconnect at a level beyond what any body – your pet’s or your own – can offer you.

By the way, this is usually also the point when a grieving pet parent chooses to reach out to me, the animal communicator, for a little boost in that exact direction. But we will get to that.

For now, you have arrived at the place where the real grief work can begin. The first part of your real grief work is to tend to your grieving brain, which has suddenly lost its ready supply of its drug of choice, oxytocin, and is desperately seeking a quick fix. You can shepherd and comfort your brain through its detox process, as it rages and sobs and blames and rolls around in stinky guilt and shame and all that good stuff.

The second part of your real grief work is to seek beyond that missing pet body that is temporarily causing you so much grief, angst and pain.

Here is where you ask a simple question. “Do I still feel the love?”

Do you?

Right now. Do you still feel the love you have for your departed pet?

The truth is, if you don’t ask and answer this question, all you have left to lean on is belief. Or disbelief. Neither is a very sturdy or supporting ally when you are navigating a storm of grief.

In my experience to date, belief is basically something we can’t prove that sometimes or even often makes use feel better. Yet a belief is not a fact. So we can say we believe the soul continues on after we die. Or we can say we do not believe there is anything after the body’s death. But we can’t prove it – at least not in the empirical, factual, data-driven way of modern western science.

So the comfort we receive from believing whatever we believe tends to be sporadic and short-lived. Especially when something happens in our life that causes our belief to be tested! When we are grieving a loved one who has died, the belief that gets tested is whether it is possible to stay connected when one of us has a physical body and the other one of us does not.

And to prove or disprove that belief, we can’t turn to facts because there really aren’t any. All we can turn to for proof is our own feeling.

So how do you feel? How does your heart feel when you believe your connection with your pet is severed forever now that they don’t have a physical body? And how does – if it does – the feeling in your heart shift when you believe you are still connected exactly as you have always been, body or no body?

Do this right now. Notice what if anything changes.

If you are still not quite sure what I am getting at, and this is totally normal by the way, I always like to direct my human clients to a line from one of my all-time favorite movies, Contact. In this particular scene, Ellie, a scientist who does not believe in God, is debating with Palmer, a pastor who is writing a book about the impact of science on faith. Ellie tells Palmer she would need facts, proof, before she believes in anything like a higher power. Palmer asks Ellie one simple question. “Did you love your (deceased) father?” Ellie looks at him sharply and responds, “Very much.”

To which Palmer replies, “Prove it.”

We can’t prove love exists. But life feels a whole lot better when we believe we feel it anyway. And so we choose to feel the love, often in the face of unbelievable obstacles and even when it presents all kinds of difficult decisions or changes we might prefer not to make.

Facing pet death puts a big choice and opportunity right smack dab in front of us. And the choice and opportunity can be summed up in a single word.

Humility.

Will you allow yourself to be humbled enough to forget everything you think you know about death, dying and what is possible? Will you instead ask your pet to teach you something new that might just transform the rest of your embodied life for the better?

Will you drop back into beginner’s mind, which is the mind of wonder, of curiosity, of (as Einstein might say) everything is a miracle, and begin to seek the miracles that are already unfolding since your pet has passed?

Will you listen for and allow yourself to hear the barks or meows or chirps or the flutter of soft wings or pat-pat-pat of soft paws or the clunk of a shell sitting down on the kitchen tile? Will you witness the signs that aren’t at all coincidental that your pet – your REAL pet – the SOUL of your animal – is all around you? Will you acknowledge that a worn-out, expired body was always to be expected, but what happens to the body can’t touch or dampen the aliveness in your pet’s spirit in any way shape or form?

One of the greatest miracles in my work is the opportunity I get to help rekindle the pilot light in the hearts of my human clients – the light of hope, of ever-finer perception, of keener sensory experience that their pet is in fact with them just as they have always been. It took but a split second for your pet to exit their dead body and pop back over the veil to their spirit home.

Quicker than the blip of call waiting on your smart phone, you and your pet had the option to reconnect.

My question to you is, will you take it? Would you like to reconnect?

Published by Shannon Cutts

Animal sensitive and intuitive with Animal Love Languages. Parrot and tortoise mama. Dachshund auntie. www.animallovelanguages.com

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