There are a lot of emotions that come along with losing a pet. One of the most common is guilt. Whether you’re second-guessing your decision to euthanize, your companion suffered an ailment that you feel partly responsible for, or your pet passed away as a result of an accident that you wish you could have prevented, guilt is a natural part of the grieving process. That being said, getting stuck in the guilt stage can hinder the healing process and keep you from moving forward. If you’re battling feelings of guilt and regret, here are a few tips for working through those emotions in a positive, healthy way.
Look at the big picture.
Getting through guilt often requires that you understand and accept the big picture. This is especially important if your pet died as a result of an accident that you feel responsible for. As an example, let’s say you let your dog outside, she managed to escape the yard and ended up being struck by a car. Instead of beating yourself up for opening the door, recognize the fact that there were a lot of other factors over which you had no control. For example, something that attracted your dog’s attention and enticed her out of the yard, or the timing of the vehicle coming down the road. When you look at the grand scheme of things, your role was likely just one small part of a series of unfortunate events.
Regardless of whether your pet passed unexpectedly or you made the conscious decision to humanely end his life, the feelings of guilt can seem overwhelming. Instead of replaying all the “what ifs” in your head over and over, try focusing on what’s more important: intent. If you had your pet euthanized, for example, focus on the fact that you didn’t want him to suffer any more. If the death was accidental, recognize the fact that you never intended to cause your pet any harm. By changing your perspective, it will become much easier for you to forgive yourself and move on.
Think quality, not quantity.
We all wish our pets could live forever. Unfortunately, these precious souls are only with us for a finite amount of time. What’s important is that those years are as happy and healthy as possible, even if that means cutting them a little bit short. If your pet was struggling with a chronic illness or was severely injured in an accident, for instance, what kind of quality of life would that be? As our pets’ guardians, we are charged with making decisions that they are not capable of making, and sometimes that involves making the difficult but humane choice to end their suffering.
Turn feelings into actions.
Many people find it helpful to outwardly express their feelings of guilt. For instance, you might feel better if you talk through the emotions you’re experiencing with someone you’re close to. If you’re a more private person, you might feel more comfortable asking your pet for forgiveness, whether by speaking the words aloud or writing them down. Creating or commissioning a pet memorial that you can use to honor your loved one’s legacy can also help you actively work through your emotions and begin the healing process.
Guilt is a natural response to grief and loss, and while it’s perfectly ok to experience those feelings, it’s important not to become trapped in an unhealthy cycle. By being intentional about acknowledging and working through your feelings, you’ll eventually be able to forgive yourself and focus on the positive aspects of your pet’s life and the role you played in making his or her existence so special.