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Seniors and Pet Loss – How to Cope and How to Help

dog portrait

The death of an animal family member is something that affects most of us at some point during our lives. And although it’s something we become more familiar with as we age, it doesn’t get any easier. For older adults, losing a pet can be particularly difficult. That’s because many seniors say they’re closer to their pets than any other person. Understanding that deep connection can help make the process of grieving the loss of a pet a little bit easier to navigate.

Why is pet loss so difficult for seniors?

In many cases, by the time a person reaches their golden years, the relationships they’ve forged over the years have changed. Whether it’s the fact that their children have grown and started lives of their own or a spouse has passed away, seniors often seek to fill that void in their lives by adopting a pet.

For many older adults, having a pet makes them feel productive and needed, enables them to engage in a more active lifestyle and experience companionship that helps ward off loneliness. This thereby creates a much stronger and more meaningful bond, which can make grieving the loss of a pet a much more deeply emotional and downright devastating experience.

For Senior Pet Owners: How to Cope

If you are an older adult who has recently said goodbye to your animal companion, there are a number of things you can do to get through this difficult and emotional time.

  • Stay connected with friends and family members. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk about what you’re going through. The feelings you are experiencing are normal and, though it’s difficult to imagine it now, you will begin healing when you’re ready. In the meantime, lean on those who love you.
  • Try to find joy elsewhere. One of the biggest reasons grieving the loss of a pet hits seniors so hard is because animals take up a significant part of one’s daily life. Finding other ways to occupy your time, whether it be starting a new hobby, taking a class or joining a local group, can fill some of that void.
  • Pay tribute. Finding a way to memorialize and honor the life of your pet can be a very comforting and healing experience. For instance, you could create a scrapbook, plant a tree or commission a piece of tribute artwork (it’s much more affordable than you may think).
  • Consider adopting again. You can never replace the pet you’ve lost, but welcoming a new animal companion can prevent loneliness and give your life meaning once again.

For Loved Ones: How to Help

Seeing a loved one suffer through the grief of losing a pet can be incredibly difficult. If you know of a senior who recently lost his or her animal companion, here are a few ways you can help.

  • Be there for them. Chances are, your friend or family member is struggling with loneliness. Be present in their time of need, even if it’s just to offer a shoulder to cry on.
  • Be patient and understanding. Losing a pet can be much more devastating when that pet was someone’s sole companion. Keep this in mind as you offer support and condolences. Let your loved one grieve in their own time.
  • Get them a gift. Remembrance pieces are a great way to help a grieving loved one keep their beloved pet close to them always. For instance, memorial jewelry or glass art infused with cremains can make a personalized and touching gift.

Losing a pet can be difficult for anyone, but for seniors, grieving the loss of a pet can be downright overwhelming. Knowing how to cope or help a grieving friend or family member can make navigating this challenging journey a little bit easier.

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