PREPARING FOR GOODBYE
People often ask me how they can prepare themselves to face the coming loss of an older pet, and I wish that I had some amazing wisdom to share, but I don’t. There are no set formulas or methods in place to make this an easy process, but I can guide you in ways to help prepare yourself and your pet if you are planning the loss through euthanasia. I also want to discuss a little about anticipatory grief.
Many pet owners experience anticipatory grief as they realize their older pet is nearing its end of life or when their pet is diagnosed with a terminal disease. You may feel guilty, helpless, and or confused, among other emotions. Please realize that this is normal, and you are not alone. Consult with your pet’s veterinarian so that you understand what is going on with your pet, their treatment, and how best to care for them at home. Don’t be scared to ask questions about things that are confusing to you – we understand how overwhelming it can be. Take notes if you need to.
Even though your pet is still alive, you are still grieving – you are sad over your pet’s loss of good health, or their loss of enjoyment in their favorite things, or parts of their personality that change as they age. It is important not to forget (and it may be harder than it sounds) that at present your pet is still here. Try to take a page from your pet’s book, and live more in the moment! You can try to plan some special adventures with them, or even create a bucket list to complete together (I will try to write a blog about bucket lists before too much longer). Talk to your pet, they are great listeners. If you are feeling guilty over things you can’t change, stop for a minute and try to see yourself through your pet’s eyes (I can’t be alone in having a dog that mistakenly thinks I’m the world’s greatest person, can I?!) – they would tell you how amazing you are and how much they love you. Make some special memories with your pet, such as having a professional photo shoot done or a special party with them as the star.
If you are planning to euthanize your pet, there are also some things you can do ahead of time to prepare. First, think about logistics. Are you comfortable having it done at your veterinary clinic (and verify their COVID policies if they might affect your decision), or would you rather have it occur at home or in a favorite spot, such as a nearby park? If you are having an in home euthanasia performed, try to make sure there will be no interruptions such as deliveries during the appointment. You can even make a sign to place on the front door. You also need to decide when the appointment will be, and make sure the care is available at that time. Who do you want to be there (unfortunately you may have limitations regarding this due to COVID), who do you NEED there to help support you?
If you have children, do they want to be present, and if so are you okay with it? At my euthanasia appointments I often provide coloring books, a paper for the parent on how to talk with a child about the pet’s death, and bubbles and guidance for a memorial ceremony. If you have other pets, will they be okay being present or do they need to be confined elsewhere in the home? Behaviorists recommend letting the companion pets see the euthanized pet at least afterwards so that they get a chance to realize their friend is deceased, rather than potentially thinking the other pet disappeared and anxiously waiting or searching for it. I always step out post-euthanasia to give owners and other pets time for final goodbyes.
You also need to consider the aftercare for your pet. Home burial, burial in a pet cemetery, and cremation are the most common options. If you are planning to have your pet cremated, will you want their ashes returned to you? You could have them returned to you for you to keep in an urn, to spread with or without a ceremony, or even to bury. Memorial items such as paw prints, locks of fur, nose prints, and jewelry are also something to consider beforehand, because having to think less about all of these details during the day of the procedure is easier for most owners.
You may want to get and read a book about pet loss (there are several to choose from) beforehand if you are really struggling and want more in-depth info. If needed, you can even find a grief counselor with pet loss training to help you as you experience anticipatory grief. Please contact Dr. Alissa if you have questions or would like more resources regarding the topics mentioned in this blog – thank you for reading!