​Experiencing the death of a pet is a profound experience of hardship and loss. In our modern era of technology and what can feel like an increasingly fast living pace, grieving a companion animal can quickly be overlooked. Grief doesn’t “come in a box” and cannot be easily ignored. In fact, ignoring or repressing our grief can impact our psychological and physical health.

Below are a few guiding steps that may help directly after experiencing the loss of a pet. These steps are meant as a guide and portray what some experiences could look like. Most grieving individuals would benefit from a combination of these steps even before body care and support.

Step One: Allow yourself to respond to the grief you feel and breathe.

Your adrenaline has kicked into gear. Chances are, you’re experiencing high levels of varying degrees of emotion. Some people jump into “high gear” and avoid feelings of helplessness or hopelessness at all costs. People who express their grief in this way are commonly asking, “Are you sure they have passed?” and “Check again.” Or, they drive their beloved pet to the veterinary office just to make sure their pet has passed.

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This stage is considered the stage of acute grieving, or the period directly after experiencing a loss. Your body cannot contain the emotional pain that it feels. Some people immediately cry, uncontrollably. Some people will immediately feel anger or look at “placing blame” upon someone else (in veterinary medicine, this can easily be projected at the veterinarian and his or her support staff). Some people tend to naturally withdraw and begin to bottle their emotional state.

It’s important to allow yourself initial shock reaction and expression of grief. If feelings of suicide emerge and you begin to feel unsafe, please know there is always help available and people that care at the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


Step Two: Focus on what the immediate next step is, and don’t forget to keep breathing.

There are thousands of reasons why people experience the loss of their beloved companion animal and pet. Sometimes, the disease is at fault. Other times it can feel unjust and unexpected, such as their animal being hit by a car. All of these situations deserve their own supportive discussion, but everyone has to decide on the very next step.

If your pet has been experiencing decline, whether age or disease-related and you’ve been preparing for their passing, it can be helpful to have a “next steps” plan written down and posted somewhere that takes little effort to recall. In this acute phase, a lot of “easy” things to remember become much harder to recall, as our body is experiencing an intense emotional change and we struggle to grasp the new reality before us.

It’s important to recognize that your mind may want to jump forward with an immense and gut-wrenching “to-do” list and propel your anxieties forward. At this moment, only look at the immediate next step. Is it to call your veterinarian? Is it to get a blanket to cover your beloved pet? Do you just need more time to be with them before any action is taken? You get the right to decide. Breathe.

Step Three: Utilize support systems and call an understanding friend, if needed.

Grief can make us feel very, very alone. It is very true that grief is a highly personalized, unique experience for everyone. Even nuclear family members who spend every day together will grieve in very different ways. In fact, not every grief experience will look the same, they rarely do.

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Integrate understanding friends or loved ones early on and notify them of your grief. Since grief is fluid, there are times that you may want to be alone with your emotions, and that’s ok. People may even say unhelpful things in an attempt to comfort you at some point such as, “we can get another one” or “at least they are in a better place.” Sometimes even our closest friends can feel helpless at our grief and at times, suffering, and will try to comfort us in any way that they can.

In the acute phase, the most helpful thing is a calm presence and support. Even if there’s nothing more to be said, knowing that you can express your grief and are supported in your pain can make a world of difference.

If there is an unhealthy support system, or living location that limits access to understanding support, there are online communities such as Pet Loss Grief Support Community at Rainbow Bridge or the Pet Loss Grief Support Message Board.

Step Four: When you’re ready, take that next action step.

It’s crucially important that we allow the feelings and emotions that arise within this acute phase of grief and understand that there is no linear timeline within the experience. Acute feelings of grief are powerful and important, as it already starts the process of healing after experiencing a loss.

At this moment, it can be excruciatingly hard to pick up the phone and notify your veterinarian of your pet’s passing. It can be even harder to transport their body yourself if needed. Some people find hope in remembering that we can give back to our pet’s end of life in this small way, to serve them through this moment in love and respect, even though it is hard.

Our pets provide us with so much unconditional love and companionship, and we immediately recognize the pain and absence of it upon their passing. Some people say grief is the pain of loving so much.


Many times when people hear the words grief or grieving the natural assumption is that we are grieving due to physical death. Grief, however, impacts us on many levels and presents in many different forms. We grieve for dreams we cannot achieve, abilities that we once had that we may have lost, and we certainly grieve when saying goodbye, even when saying goodbye might have been the healthiest choice for us.

Experiencing a breakup or divorce is intrinsically painful as we remove our associated identity with our loved ones. It can feel painful as we redefine who we are, and scary at times. Our body experiences the similar and healthy processes of grief as though we experienced their death. In a sense, we may be emotionally grieving their death, although they keep on living.

For many animal lovers and pet parents, the loss of a four-legged family member in this way can be just as painful, if not more painful, than the loss of their previous partner due to breakup or divorce.

Connection With Our Partner’s Pets 

Sharing our lives with a partner means opening our hearts to pets that they consider family, and growing (many times quickly) to love our new four-legged friends. We consider them family and for many, pets become the first non-human children in the partnership.


Our pets are a source of joy and give us bonding activities between ourselves and our partners. We may go on walks together with our dog or sit in the living room together and play with a string for our cat’s enjoyment. We may even find ourselves developing a new routine as we head outside in the morning with our partners to feed their horse and listen to them greet us with a soft whinny.

The bond we share grows just as if they are our pets, and we can quickly come to love them. It makes complete sense that when we experience their absence we grieve their loss. It’s extremely important to process through our grief and recognize that even though the human relationship may have been unhealthy or not the right fit anymore, that doesn’t mean the bond developed with their pet was unhealthy. We may even experience more grief over the pet as it may be a healthier connection.

A Living Reminder  

When we experience grief through physical death, there is an ending of a sense. There isn’t the feeling in the back of our minds that may be from time to time wondering how this person may be doing. In a spiritual sense, this may occur of course, but we negate the risk of running into them in the grocery store.

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We may see active reminders, such as through our friend’s pictures, of our partner’s pets that used to share in our everyday lives and greet us every morning with such love and joy. Those reminders may trigger us or present us with an intense emotional reaction as our body attempts to process our emotional trigger.

Some find that in order to cope with the loss in this sense, completely removing those reminders is the best option. These individuals may find that they are unable to move past the pain of the breakup and become stuck in a cycle that keeps them from reintegrating their lives, or rediscovering who they are and what gives them meaning as an individual outside of the relationship.

Others may be able to experience these reminders, say in the form of pictures, and sit with the pain of loss. Eventually, with a healthy grieving process, the pain associated with seeing their partner’s pets will reduce. When this happens it may be a nice reminder to see their new adventures and experiences.

Whichever style you are, it’s important to remember there is no “right” way to grieve. Everyone copes in different ways, and that’s a good thing.

Move Through The Triggers 

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The intense moments we may feel shortly after the breakup and throughout the process of rebuilding ourselves can feel at the time all-consuming and extremely painful. We may miss our old pet to the point that our body physically manifests pain. We may have increased anxiety and panic within these moments. Our body may sweat in an attempt to return to homeostasis, or back to its baseline.

With all grief, we must allow our bodies to experience these emotional ups and downs. Every time we go through a triggering experience our body is healing and allowing a release of the pain. In healthy grief we find ourselves, over time, recognizing the time that was shared as a gift versus a painful reminder of what was lost.

Engaging in self-care strategies as though you’ve physically lost a pet can be extremely helpful to process through your experience. It may be helpful to read 7 Self-Care Essentials While Grieving the Death of a Pet and engage in 99 Nurturing Activities Helpful During The Grief Process. Some may even have to sort through pet products, in this case, it would be helpful to read The Quiet House and Empty Dog Bed, Coping After Pet Loss.

Recognize Your Loss And Be Kind To Yourself 

It can be tempting to say to yourself, “that was nice while it lasted,” shake your head and move on while repressing, or pushing down, your feelings of grief. While this may be helpful at certain times, repeatedly ignoring your emotions leads to complicated grief down the line. Grief is never a single episode experience and eventually returns, asking us to process through our pain. This may come when our defenses are down and we are vulnerable, such as when we are sick or when we’ve experienced another loss, compounding our grief reaction.
Adam Clark, LSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Adam focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.lovelosstransition.com, or he can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com.



When it comes to facing the death of our pets, many people struggle to know how to cope. How do we face making such a difficult decision such as euthanasia? How do we take care of ourselves afterward? Even more so, how can we help children understand pet loss and a way that focuses on healthy grieving?

Last year, I published an article, Support, Nurture & Love: Talking to Children About Pet Loss, which highlights important aspects of discussion about pet loss and illness with children. One way to help children understand and normalize death, whether it was sudden and tragic or due to the onset of illness or old age, is to read to them. Children learn immensely through play and reading.

A fellow Psychology Today contributor, Peter Gray, Ph.D., highlights in their article, “Stories provide a simplified simulation world that helps us make sense of and learn to navigate our complex real world” and continues with, “The aspects of our real world that are usually most challenging, most crucial for us to understand, are social aspects.”

I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Corey Gut, who has turned to write children’s books to help children understand the death of their pets and how they got started in this journey.


1. If you could please take a moment to introduce yourself to the readers so they know a bit more about you?

I live in a small suburb of Detroit, Michigan with my husband, my 2-legged daughters, Addison (9 years old) and Ashley (7 years old), and my 4-legged sons, Vinnie (a 12-year-old Lab mixed breed) and Derby (a 3-year-old Lab/Hound mixed breed).

I’m a veterinarian in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I grew up in a family of animal lovers. My mom had a wildlife rehabilitation license, so in addition to many pet dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, gerbils, mice, lizards, and guinea pigs, we also occasionally had an orphaned raccoon or opossum. Working with animals is in my genes!

When I’m not working, I love spending time with friends and family, practicing yoga, writing, and spending time outdoors.

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2. How is it you came to start writing Children’s Books focused on Pet Loss?

Parents have asked me thousands of times over the last 14 years for resources for their children when they are facing the death of a family pet. Since there was not a resource available to fit their needs, I decided to create one myself.

“Being Brave for Bailey” was my first book and I wrote it for my niece, Lexie when I diagnosed liver cancer in her dog, Bailey. The book was so helpful that we decided to publish it. Shortly after that, we got tons of requests from teachers, librarians, and parents for a kitty version, and that’s when I wrote “Staying Strong for Smokey.”

3. What is the reaction when you tell people what you’re working on?

Everyone has been incredibly supportive. The most common reaction I get is, “I wish I had this book when my kids went through this!” Pet loss and children is an area that really needs more attention. It’s such a huge event in a child’s life and how it’s handled can really affect them and the way they handle both love and loss in the future.

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4. What’s the hardest part about writing these Children’s Books?

The hardest part is knowing every time I inscribe and ship a book, that means that someone has lost their best friend. It’s heartbreaking.

5. Where can people buy your books, and where can people find out more about you?

The best place to purchase books is online at www.beingbraveforbailey.com. These can be inscribed, dedicated, or even donated to a library, school, or church in a pet’s name. Additionally, they are available at my vet hospital, DePorre Veterinary Hospital in Bloomfield Hills, and various other stores in the community.

6. What’s your biggest piece of advice with supporting children through pet loss?

Let them be involved, even if only in a small way. Age needs to be taken into consideration when deciding in what ways to involve children, but there are always ways to make them feel a part of things. Helping kids through the process by letting them make some decisions helps the child process everything in a healthy way instead of feeling like this awful experience is happening to them. Let them pick out a tree to plant in their pet’s honor. Have them draw a picture for their pet or write a letter to their pet. Make a memory box and let them pick out what to put in it. Older children can even be involved in the euthanasia process and decisions on cremation, burial sites, etc. Involving the children even in a small way will mean the world to them and will give them a healthy way to begin to work their way through their emotions as they grieve.

One last thing. It’s okay to let your kids see you cry. This is hard. And it’s supposed to be. Show them it’s ok to be emotional and that you are sad too. It’s very healthy.


Adam Clark, LCSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Adam is the founder of the Pet Loss Education Project, and focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.petlosseducation.com, or he can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com

As a helping professional who specializes in the human-animal bond, specifically pet death, loss and bereavement, the holidays are a very busy time of year.

What, then, do we owe this surge of emotion? In the face of love and loss during the holiday time, emotions can feel higher and pain can feel deeper. This post follows Holiday Grief: 5 Steps For Getting Through The Loss of a Pet, written earlier this month to support those who have recently experienced the death of their pets during the holidays.

Expectations During the Holidays

Many of us aim and plan for a “perfect holiday.” Although we laugh at movies that represent holiday disasters when the in-laws come into town, many of us secretly desire for things to slow down and life to be perfect during the holidays.

While writing this post, I was caught by a phrase from a 2002 article found in Harvard Woman’s Health Watch which states, “Grief takes no holiday.” It’s true. When we are hit with a devastating loss, such as the loss of our pets, many of us hope the world will slow down with us. We pray that the world takes a moment to breathe, just as we need to, and can find ourselves feeling angry things continue to move forward when we feel left behind and swimming in our emotional pain from having lost a beloved pet.

Allow Yourself to Feel the Grief, Fully


During a busy time such as the holidays, it can feel easy to counter our emotions by busying ourselves with wrapping presents, putting up the decorations, or attempting to avoid the in-laws. These tactics may help, for the moment. It may help us direct our pain into constructive energy that lasts through some part of the holiday… but may not ultimately last.

It gets harder at certain times, like during the silence of the night as we watch the snow fall, or during the holiday dinner when our beloved pet used to sit beside us or beg for scraps. By pushing our grief away in these moments, we may indeed intensify it. Allowing ourselves to experience the pain and subsequent emotions of grief it allows our body to slowly process the experience.

Give Yourself Permission Not to Make Any Big Decisions

Instead of keeping ourselves so busy that we don’t have time to think about our grief, some of us tend to make significant decisions, hoping it will ameliorate the emotions we’re feeling at that time. Many of us are disappointed when these changes come with a more emotional response, as our emotions are typically in full flux during a period of extreme grief or after a significant loss event in our lives.

Avoid Blaming Yourself, Even if You Feel You “Deserve it”

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When experiencing the death of a pet, we are quick to place blame. Perhaps we blame the disease. Sometimes we blame the veterinarian. Yet, most often we unleash the full brunt of our blame or judgment onto ourselves.

Pet loss is unique in that many pet owners must take an active part in a euthanasia decision. Making such a decision can come with immense feelings of guilt, wondering if we made the right choice.

The grief process is already difficult. When we add extra blame or guilt to an already difficult situation, it can heighten the experience of negative emotions and lead to a cycle of shame.

It’s OK to Not Be OK for the Holidays

Most importantly, we don’t have to put a fake smile on even though its the holiday season. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, grief doesn’t go on holiday. Life continues to move and impact us in both negative and positive ways. It may be that during the holiday season we notice it more due to the reflection and emotional memories that are associated with the season.

Make sure to engage in positive self-care throughout the season. Take time to talk to friends who understand. Support yourself if you need to see a helping professional during this time of grief. Do small acts for yourself every day. Take it one day, and one moment at a time as we process all the love we shared with our four-legged companions.

Adam Clark, LCSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work.


It’s not easy to know how to memorialize our precious pets, especially when faced with difficult decisions on their behalf. Loving pet parents can struggle with the best body care method after death; whether burial or cremation. Until recently these options have been limited.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Paul Tschetter who takes some time to discuss a new memorialization option, Rooted. I’ll let Paul tell you more about this new, organic, and nature-based option for memorializing your pet.

1. What is Rooted and how did the project come to be formed?

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Rooted, LLC is a Washington-based startup that provides living memorials to honor pets after they have died. We have developed a state-of-the-art composting system that processes animal ashes and/or remains into nutrient-rich, life-sustaining soil. From the ashes of death and loss, pet parents receive a living, thriving plant rooted in this soil: a symbol of both closure and continuation. Rooted is a unique aftercare option that enables pet parents to honor the memory of a pet through a natural and sustainable process. Currently, we are working with select Puget Sound veterinarians and their clients, with plans to roll out our complete service offerings to the public in the next two years.

Rooted began to take shape in 2016 after a conversation I had with my long-time friend, Greg, in response to developments in the Seattle aftercare market. With Greg’s extensive experience in composting and commercial waste management and my background in business development and sales, we specifically honed in on an opportunity in the emerging pet aftercare industry. We identified an opportunity to work together, to add value and to provide a meaningful service in an existing industry. So began Rooted.

2. Could you tell the readers a little more about yourself and how you got involved?

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I am a serial entrepreneur. Business, relationships and making connections fuel me and make me tick. Over the last 15 years, I have built and sold businesses in several industries including technology, payment services, and real estate. I live on Whidbey Island with my wife and two children, but I grew up in a suburb of Seattle, where in kindergarten, I met my good friend and now business partner, Greg Schoenbachler.

Greg, also married with three children, is funny, industrious and resilient. He ran and sold a commercial waste management company about seven years ago. Since that time, he continues to consult in the waste management space, and together, we have partnered on real estate investments. Thirty-five years after we first met, Greg and I remain friends — very good friends. We are like-minded, and we enjoy working together. Rooted is the fruit of our shared professional experience and our desire to collaborate in the creation of something worthwhile and enduring.

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in launching something along the lines of Rooted?

One of biggest challenges we have encountered up to this point is translating the cool technology we have developed and tested over the last year into an actual service offering. We can safely and sustainably compost pet ash and remains into nutrient-rich soil, but then what? To tighten and tailor our systems and to determine the best end product for pet parents, we are currently working with select Puget Sound animal shelters, veterinarians, and their clients.

4. If someone is interested in Rooted, what does that look like?

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

We encourage anyone interested in Rooted to visit our website: www.rootedpet.com to learn more. At this time, our pet ash composting service is available to the public. Beginning May 1, 2017, pet parents who wish to purchase this service online can visit our website to order a starter kit, which details the pet ash shipping process. They can donate their pet soil to one of our tree-planting partners or choose to receive back a plant rooted in their nutrient-rich pet soil and contained in a lovely pot. In either case, the soil created from ash will sustain ongoing life.

5. Anything else you’d like to share with the readers?

We are a new company with emerging (and exciting) technology. As such, we want to hear from pet parents so we can offer the products and services they want. We invite your readers to follow and engage with us on Facebook and Instagram, and we welcome feedback to help us create the most meaningful living memorials we can.

6. How can people get in contact with you, and what are the next steps?

Curious and interested pet parents, veterinarians or shelters can contact us through Facebook or our website: www.rootedpet.com.

Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to talk to us about Rooted!

Adam Clark, LSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Adam focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.lovelosstransition.com, or he can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com.

Experiencing the death of a pet can be incredibly painful, especially as more and more households consider pets to be members of the family. Pet loss still holds common cultural stigma, or societal judgement, which can make grieving for our pets more complex. We are also faced with having to make extremely difficult decisions on their behalf, commonly increasing guilt, and making it easy to second guess ourselves.

When a pet passes, whether through old age, disease process, or in a more tragic manner, the entire family is impacted. Many pet parents struggle in how to talk to their children about the death of their pet, using terms like “they went to sleep” or “they are in a better place” in an attempt to buffer their children’s experience of death.

These strategies will help your family support, rather than avoid, the painful experiences and emotion children face with the death of a pet. Although difficult, teaching your child effective ways to cope, grieve, and process through their loss can build a healthy approach to facing death for the rest of their lives.

Don’t Sugar-Coat Death 

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Placing the word death and child together is one of the hardest and scariest combinations for many parents. We hope, pray, and wish to protect children from the harsher realities of life for as long as possible, which makes it extremely intimating to know what to say and how to say it when it comes to experiencing pet loss.

Commonly, parents use terms such as “they went to sleep” which can actually produce a fear-oriented response for many children. Suddenly, a child is afraid of going to sleep and refusing nap time as they are afraid they might leave and never come back, like the pet.

It’s important, using age appropriate language, to talk about the finality of death using proper words and discussion. Saying “they went to a better place” can leave children looking intently to find them at grandma’s house or the park.

Instead, support them in conversation about final goodbyes and sharing our pets memories, as discussed below. Doing so can naturally lead to more in-depth conversations about death, so be prepared to be open and honest with your child.

Death Doesn’t Have To Be Negative  

One of the first experiences with death many children have is associated with a pet. Whether this is a mouse, toad, fish, rat, gerbil, hamster, bird, snail, slug, cat, or dog, the impact of death and its permanence is something that every child must eventually face.

Although death is painful and hard, endings do not have to be approached as a negative or scary experience. As parents portray gratitude for experiences shared together, and discussing positive memories in how a child’s life was changed by the impact of their pet, we grow a sense of respect for death which can lead to gratitude for life, even at a young age.

Exploring books such as The Bug Cemetery By Francis Hill, we can start reducing the unconscious impact of death and dying and teach our children healthier approaches to grief when they face a loss in their lives. Yes, you can even start over the death of a bug.

Give Children The Choice To Be Present 

It’s hard to know whether or not to have a child present during a euthanasia experience with the family dog, cat, or horse. In order to protect our children from pain, many parents automatically decide that it is within their child’s best interest to not be present.

Annems/123RFSome families euthanize their family pet with the best intention when the child is away at school, to have the child return home to find their pet is gone. Doing so can actually have the exact opposite effect from the one we intended. Goodbyes are extremely important for every member of the family, especially children.

Having age-appropriate discussion with your children about euthanasia and suffering, as well as what the process looks like can be helpful for a child to understand the “mystery” surrounding death and the family pet. Integrate your veterinarian into the discussion if possible to answer any questions your child may have.

Children can be more resilient than we give them credit for, so allowing them the choice to be present or absent can help a child foster their own coping abilities in the face of pain at a young age. Additionally, giving your child a voice allows them to feel a part of the decision-making and can give back some feeling of control in what can feel like a helpless and overwhelming situation.

There are times, of course, that it may be inappropriate to bring your child to a euthanasia appointment. If the experience would cause an overwhelming negative impact for your child, such as if there’s traumatic physical damage to your pet that cannot be covered, it may be better to support your child in another room.

There are even children oriented books about animal euthanasia, such as When You Have to Say Goodbye: Loving and Letting Go of Your Pet By Monica Mansfield and Lennie Peterson.

Allow Children to Express Without Words  

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Children commonly cope with their feelings not with words but through arts and crafts. A child may be able to paint a picture that expresses their emotion, allowing them an outlet. Giving your child this opportunity can be one of the most helpful decisions you can make.

Talk to your child about what their picture may represent and what emotions they are feeling. It can also be helpful to ask where in their body they are feeling the emotions, to gain a better sense of how your child reacts emotionally and where it manifests.

Help your child to write a letter or poem. Finger paint alongside them with your own emotion and show them that adults, especially parents, have feelings as well. Teach them that it is important to grieve, healthy to experience their emotions and that it is perfectly normal to grieve the loss of a pet.

After death, help your child make a shadow box with your pets collar and a favorite picture. Take the favorite walk you used to do as a family with your pet before their death and talk about the beautiful memories shared. Also talk about the pain of loss, and how the family will move through it together. Remind your child that a pet is never forgotten, just as they will never be forgotten, and begin to teach them the safety and security in true, loving relationships.

Adam Clark, LSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Adam focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.lovelosstransition.com, or he can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com.

One of the most important things to do while grieving is to continue meeting your basic needs. This includes getting appropriate amounts of sleep. Grief is immensely taxing on your body and takes a lot of work, and energy.

Unfortunately, most grieving pet owners find that sleep can be extremely elusive. Trying to fall asleep can cause a focus on the distressing thoughts in the death and absence of our beloved pet, and our anxieties may rise.

This causes problems in some attempting to avoid sleep altogether. Others receive a disruptive sleeping experience, waking in panic and anxiety, or longing for their companion animals and waking up in an abrupt manner.

There are a few steps to take that may help in reducing distressing emotions while trying to fall asleep, and preparing our bodies to recognize the need for rest, even amidst the grieving process.

Keep to Your Sleep Schedule

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Routines are incredibly important as we are grieving, and even so for our pets. It can be extremely easy to avoid the practices of trying to fall asleep during our pain. We can be reminded of what our previous routine was with our companion animal, which triggers painful reminders of their absence.

Sticking to a sleep schedule allows the body to “remember” that it should be winding down. Instead of “forcing” the process, the body takes control and tells you it needs to rest. Remember, grieving is very taxing on your body. These routines can keep a natural rhythm of balance, instead of forcing the body to “figure out” when it is time to sleep or not.

Focus on Relaxation Before Bed

When our anxieties are high within the grieving process, it can be incredibly hard for our bodies to ever achieve a state of relaxation. We take for granted in the day-to-day the ability to wind down and prepare for bed. Adopting a relaxation practice can be helpful for emotional reduction and settling anxieties.

Meditation practices can be incredibly helpful for encouraging relaxation before bed. For the grieving individual, “calming the mind” can seem nearly impossible. It can be helpful to use a guided meditation process. There are many guided meditation recordings for free on YouTube. Some people need to explore different narratives, as everyone is different. The voice pitch, style, and speed in guided meditations are all unique, and everyone is different within their preference. Some tones, for example, may actually increase anxiety for one person but relax another. Explore which works best for you.

When struggling with racing thoughts and the rumination, or repetition, of distressful reminders it can actually be helpful to get out of the mind. In this case, progressive relaxation may benefit versus meditation. Progressive relaxation involves tensing your muscles and then releasing them, attempting to hit every muscle area within the body. This method involves direct physical encouragement for the body to release tensions and stress.

Lastly, visualization and affirmations may help others. Visualization is the active process of focusing on a positive, or calming image or memory. Spending time with this in your focus can create a subsequent relaxation in your body. Affirmations focus on repetition of a positive, or calming message over and over again in your mind and frequently said out-loud to promote relaxation and gratitude.

Products to Promote Relaxation & Sleep

It can be incredibly soothing to enjoy a warm beverage before bed. It is especially important for the grieving individual to recognize simple pleasures. Even the tiniest nurturing activity can bring a small comfort or relief our body craves throughout the process.

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There are many teas on the market that only have one job: promote relaxation and sleep. They have a combination of herbs known for their relaxation quantities, such as Chamomile, Spearmint, etc. An example of these teas can be found here.

Others recommend melatonin as a supplemental support for sleeping. Melatonin can be found in many different forms including a pill, and now spray forms. It’s important to talk with your doctor before trying herbs or supplementation as it may interact with medication(s) already being taken, or present with allergen concerns.

Many people rejoice in the calming and relaxation effects of lavender. It can be found as a sleep sachet, which you can even make yourself. Lavender is also commonly found in its purest form of essential oils, which may be applied topically, diffused, or put into lotions which all focus on promoting a relaxation effect in the body. There has been a lot of research done on lavender and the beneficial nature of the herb.​

Be Intentional With Your Thoughts

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One of the most important things to remember is that it is completely normal and natural for sleep to be disturbed throughout the grief process, especially in the very beginning. Our entire world is disrupted and our bodies have their work cut out for them in processing through the wave of emotion we are currently experiencing.

Be patient with yourself above all else. It is certainly ok to take a nap at a time that will allow you to sleep, even if it is the middle of the day. Sometimes a nap is a great respite in our emotional state throughout the grief process, as the days can feel very long.

Be intentional as you are laying down to sleep, either for a nap or for the night, with your thought process. It will be hard to do, especially in the beginning. Attempt to focus on the positive memories shared, or your favorite times. These thoughts may still bring tears, yet they may also result in a smile.


I am a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. I focus my work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. I am passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on me and my current projects can be found at lovelosstransition.com, or I can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com.