If you’ve ever lost a pet, you’ll know how utterly heartbreaking it is, but when it comes to the grieving process, it can feel a little odd.
We form strong bonds with our pets – I definitely prefer mine to most people I know – but when one dies, people can feel as though they need to keep the extent of their sadness to themselves.
But, according to one psychologist, that is not the best way of dealing with things and people should do more to be understanding when people have lost their pets.
Psychologist and author Guy Winch reckons that, as a society, we need to change our attitudes and be more supportive of people who are grieving over the loss of a pet.
In his book How to Fix a Broken Heart, Winch explains that losing a pet is an emotionally devastating experience, but one that is often misunderstood.
Writing for Scientific American, he says that symptoms of acute grief after losing a pet can last from one to two months, while it can be up to a year – or longer – for the symptoms of grief to fully disappear.
He adds: “Although grief over the loss of a cherished pet may be as intense and even as lengthy as when a significant person in our life dies, our process of mourning is quite different.”
Winch goes on to explain that people don’t treat it the same way as they would any other loss.
He points out that people who have lost a beloved pet usually won’t ask an employer for time off work, as they fear they may be seen as ‘overly sentimental, lacking in maturity or emotionally weak’.
However, Winch mentions studies that show ‘social support’ is vital when it comes to dealing with grief, something which is lacking when people lose a dog or cat.
The other problem Winch identifies is that people will often keep their feelings to themselves in these circumstances, and by doing so they can add extra stress and pressure on to themselves when they’re already having a rough time.
So, the upshot is, if you know someone who has recently lost a pet check in with them, see how they’re feeling and be more understanding – and if you yourself have lost your beloved four-legged pal then don’t feel bad for feeling bad.