Companion Loss

November 16, 2022

I considered titling this blog pet loss, but I didn’t think that the word “pet” express the significance of the loss for some people. A pet can mean very different things to different people. I am focusing on the people that for them, a pet is a best friend, a fur child, a coworker, a confidant, a little light that shines so bright in a dark room. I recently lost my dog, partner in crime, and co-worker, Maybelle. She was my therapy dog in training. She did not live long enough to reach our goal of becoming certified. But to the clients whose paths she crossed, they have all said “she was the best”. Maybelle was not just a pet to me she was my support system. After I rescued her, to be cliche, she also rescued me. She taught me more things than I expected to learn in such a short time. When she started to feel safe and her personality began to blossom more and more every day, I too found safety in that. She was my sanctuary. She helped me grow and evolve as a person. I am more patient, more in tune with my body, and more stable emotionally. She also helped others, by grounding them with her instinctual way of knowing what they needed. At the very least, she was a bright spot in a difficult therapy session.

Why do I feel this way?

The grief you experience when you lose a companion is similar to the feelings one feels with any loss. The stages developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You may cycle through these feelings several times throughout the day, coming and going like waves or at times like a rip tide. The intensity of the feelings will vary from not bothersome to extremely bothersome. Grief can even be made worse when it is wrapped up in trauma from your past. It makes it difficult, even impossible, to grieve a loss normally.

How do I process the loss of my best friend?

Do your best to practice self-compassion or non-judgment toward the feelings that are coming up. Passing judgment on yourself for the intensity of your emotions or emotions themselves, makes it difficult to move through the grieving process.

Consider how to incorporate your mind, body, and spirit into the grieving process. Below are some questions you may ponder to begin to move through your emotions. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a place to start.

  1. Mind: Do I need to talk to a trusted friend, do I need to write out the thoughts and feelings that are coming up, do I just need to sit and let the emotions be?
  1. Body: Do I need to move and release the emotions in your body, do I need food or water, do I need a hug?
  1. Spirit: Do you need to write a letter to my loved one that passed to connect with them, do I need to connect with other safe people around me on a spiritual level?

Grief is going to look different for everyone. There is no time period in which it has to end. You do have to feel to get through it, but you do not have to suffer. Suffering occurs when we don’t process our emotions, we distract, shut down or ignore them altogether. Let yourself feel the emotions as they come up, leave room to cry. Sometimes, we suppress the urge, but crying releases feel-good hormones into our brains. It’s the body’s natural way of regulating emotions.

Good luck on your healing journey. Be kind to yourself. If you need further resources for companion loss, Lap of Love has a whole section of resources in their website I have linked here:

My colleague and fellow lover of animals is hosting a free support group at Be Embodied from November 19, 2022, through the holidays. This is not related specifically to companion loss, but she will be covering loss as a general topic.

With love and gratitude,

Angela Territo, LMHC