Mourning for an animal companion

el duelo por un compañero animal, urna personalizada
  • We know there are no universal recipes and that each mourning process is unique.
  • That the subject of death and mourning is for many a taboo.
  • But also that sooner or later, we are all confronted with it, and that information is a powerful tool in such a complicated, complex and necessary process. For the person in mourning and those who accompany her/him on that path.


Today's society, of the easy and right now, of the law of minimum effort and instantaneous result, avoids (speaking of) death and lives with its back to pain and suffering and is not (longer) prepared to handle those assumptions, nor to support a person in her/his grief. Rather it blocks the normal expression of pain and the flow of the natural process (for which, although in the early stages of your pain you do not believe it, we are all biologically prepared).



What is mourning?


There are deep processes that are unleashed naturally and involuntarily (emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations) with the death of a loved one, even in animals.


BUT ... it takes TIME, PATIENCE and INTROSPECTION, to stop, listen to pain, anguish, guilt and other emotions and connect with emptiness, loneliness and fear.


And the truth is, it's scary.


To assimilate the rational - (I know she/he has died and will not return) and emotional (I know she/he has died and I accept it) implications requires work. Avoiding this painful task doesn't protect you from the pain of living without the deceased loved one.

One of the most important tasks, if not the most, is to RE-LOCATE her/him emotionally.

It's not about forgetting, but about being able to do so painlessly, re-elaborating the bond with whom is no longer there.


And it hurts.


How already says its Latin root, dolus, which means pain.

Pain connects us with our most essential, intimate, fragile and vulnerable part, which is not easy to show to others, nor - sometimes - to ourself.


Mourning is a normal and necessary adaptation process after a loss (of a beloved one, a sentimental break, loss of employment, health, youth ...) or other vital changes in our lives (according to Bucay even changes for the better, because all enclose the loss of what was before).



Stages of mourning


Although theoretically several stages of mourning are differentiated, especially the first ones appear frequently mixed up.

Remember: It's no shame to fly off in the early stages of grief, it's something you can't control voluntarily. I still remember the show I must have made in the clinic when Miga perished sudden- and unexpectedly, and arriving at emergencies, they could only certify her death. Obviously in those moments I wasn't myself and I had no control over the avalanche of emotions that were assaulting me.


UNBELIEF - paralysis and denying of the obvious, protecting ourselves from the impact of pain ("it can't be ...")


REGRESSION - the shock gives way to intense pain and an explosion of feelings (compulsive crying, despair)


FURY - tantrum, angry about what happened and with others


GUILT - phase of "and if ..." fantasizing about different scenarios, even beyond our control and blaming ourselves for what happened


DESOLATION - realizing reality and our impotence in the face of it. It's usually the longest and hardest stage.


FECUNDITY - transformation of the pain into something useful for others, dedicated to the deceased (altruistic actions). Every act of kindness helps to heal the wound in our heart.


ACCEPTANCE - of what happened, knowing that the one who left will always have (a new) place in our heart, being able to remember without pain.



Mourning, as a vital crisis, breaks our schemes, and can be devastating, but also a driver of inner growth, when we re-learn to live in the present without renouncing the past.


It's a process of letting go. However, attachment is not to be confused with memory. Keeping a memory, even creating a small corner with a photo, candles and some object of the deceased, can help us in the journey of farewell and re-location - if we don't cling to what is no longer and what we are no longer (next to whom went away).


Our jewelry - unlike conventional memorial funerary jewelry for ashes - carries a part of your pet  (in fact the hair carries her/his DNA) - that will connect you to her/his life, not her/his death. It's a visible and palpable memory on the path of letting go and of turning the emptiness inside you into gratitude and love for the time shared.



Special dificulties in mourning for an animal companion


Respecting the mourning for the loss of a non-human loved one is still a pending issue for a large part of society.


Many are ashamed if they don't comply with the parameters of the politically correct. Grieving for the animal companion becomes unauthorized mourning, which socially isn't given space, assuming and / or demanding a quick recovery, being "only an animal". And doubts and guilt arise about the validity of the feelings, even in front of close friends, the own family or the couple. This lack of support (maintained over time) makes the task of mourning and the resolution of pain even more difficult.


In case of euthanasia this adds many times - against all rational logic to do what is best for our animal companion - the feeling of not being the one to decide on life and death. (As we have already seen, the appearance of guilt is inevitable, as part of the mourning).



Accompanying a person in mourning


First thing to keep in mind is that each grieving process is a unique and subjective experience and pain has no "levels".

A human isn't more important than an animal; it's not the species that matters, but the link with the deceased being.


It's common that, with the best intention, trying to distract (a) a person in mourning, avoiding thinking or talking about his/her loss. Protecting from pain and stirred emotions only achieves the opposite: Isolation and loneliness in the face of pain.

It takes space and time, where to put words to emotions and pain, with a sincere listening without evaluating, questioning and judging.

In some countries there are support groups and specific telephone lines from NGOs. If support and understanding of the surrounding environment fail, we recommend contacting other animal lovers who are going through or have been through the same situation.


The typical phrases such as "it's the law of life", "he/she was very old / sick", "don't be sad, she/he would not want to see you like that", "you have to be strong" ... do not help, but hinder the expression and development of normal grief (see above unauthorized mourning). Nobody "chooses" to feel the unpleasant emotional and physical sensations, inherent to the first stages of mourning. They arise and we must accept them and pass through them. Only from a certain point of the stage of desolation towards fertility are we capable to decide what to do with our pain and choose to transform it.

Each one at her/his own pace.



And ... time Does heal everything?


Distance between a painful event (the loss of a beloved one) helps to relativise and alleviate the pain (of the loss), but it doens't resolve it.



Blockade of the mourning


Signs of blockade are, among others: eluding to look at photos or talk about the deceased, taking refuge in activities or filling your time to avoid finding yourself, isolating yourself from the world, stopping to do things you enjoyed.

It happened to me after the death of my dear feline companion Charlie, which coincided with the beginning of my project. I took refuge in work, leaving aside pleasant activities and the only thing I achieved was feeling bad every time I stopped.


If the mourning gets stuck and we can't elaborate it correctly, the pain becomes chronic. The only solution is the acceptance of pain and it's resolution, going through all phases of grief.



Delayed mourning


The avoidance technique DOES NOT WORK.

There are people, who avoid connecting with that sensitive part of their interior and express and share their pain. But, if we don't express and are allowed to express what we feel and do the work of mourning, the pain does not disappear, it is delayed and appears perhaps years later. Pain always breaks through and can lead to physical signs such as headaches, back and chest.



Anticipated mourning


Confronted with the closeness of the death of an elderly or seriously ill companion animal, we often don't know how to manage our emotions and anticipated grieving arises, with all the initial phases of mourning, but impossible to resolve if the situation continues. Knowing how to accompany our cat, dog or other animal member of the family in the last part of their life properly, is not only positive for us, but for him. In addition, anticipated grieving doesn't free us from the mourning after her/his death. And even remorse may arise.


Not knowing how to react can be frightening (I testify from my own experience with India), but even so, if you "relinquish your mind and listen to your heart", how I finally did it, your intuition will guide you.




Mourning is a natural and necessary process after the loss of a loved one. Each mourning process is unique, with it's own rhythm. It consists of emotionally re-positioning who/what is no longer there. It doesn't depend on the species (animal or human), but the bond shared.



The mortal remains of our beloved Miga rest now in this original, personalized urn, created especially for her, according to our wishes. And with a part of her hair we created a jewel, mirror of her essence… unforgettable - with her strong presence, appearing in our life like a exclamation mark …