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Helping Seniors Cope With Pet Loss

Losing a pet is one of the most difficult and painful hardships in life. The love between a person and their pet is unconditional, and the joy we get from caring for our pets is unmatched. Most people find that the experience of loving a pet is worth the pain of losing them, but coping with the grief is challenging. Pet loss can be particularly difficult for seniors, especially if they’ve had their pet for a number of years. Loss and grief are common experiences for older adults, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
 
Caring for a pet provides a valuable source of meaning and purpose for seniors. After retirement, older adults sometimes struggle to find meaningful and enjoyable hobbies, especially if they have limited mobility. Taking care of a pet is great motivation to maintain a routine and stay active. The companionship is incredibly important for seniors, too.
 
Unfortunately, this means that pet loss can cause immense grief and sadness for older adults. Not only have they lost a close companion, but they may have lost their main source of routine, motivation, and purpose. If your senior loved one has recently lost a pet, you should understand how significant their grief may be.
 
Although we never fully recover after pet loss, the grief usually fades away over time. By offering support and compassion to your aging loved one, you can help them process their grief and move forward.
 

Here Are Five Tips for Helping Seniors Cope with Pet Loss

 

1. Offer Support During Pet Illness

 
If a sick pet has not yet passed, your senior loved one may be facing some difficult decisions. You can support them by accompanying them to vet visits and making sure they understand their options.
 
Sometimes, seniors have outdated knowledge about veterinarians, pet illness, and euthanasia. By attending vet appointments with them, you can encourage them to discuss their concerns openly with the veterinarian. If your loved one is hearing impaired or is struggling with cognitive decline, be sure that they understand what the vet is saying.
 
It’s also important to understand that treatment for sick pets can be very expensive. Seniors who don’t have much disposable income may have to make a decision about their pet based on their financial situation. This can be particularly painful, so your compassion and emotional support is needed.
 

2. Listen

 
When going through grief after pet loss, seniors may simply need someone to listen. You can be a supportive and comforting presence for them while they process their loss. They may want to reminisce about their beloved pet, or they may want to talk about their grief and emotions. Sometimes, older adults are private about their emotional challenges, so they might not want to talk about it at all.
 
It can be tempting to offer words of advice to a loved one who’s experiencing grief. However, this isn’t always helpful. Everyone deals with grief differently, and your friend or family member may not want to hear a phrase like, “He’s in a better place now.” You don’t have to offer the perfect piece of wisdom to your grieving loved one. Instead, just be there to support them in whatever they feel. Even if you and your loved one don’t talk at all, your presence can be a comfort.
 

3. Help With Other Tasks

 
Grief is emotionally overwhelming, and it can cause you to put your responsibilities or activities of daily living on hold. This is especially true for seniors who may already struggle with certain tasks due to health issues, mobility limitations, or cognitive decline. You can support your grieving loved one by helping with the tasks that may feel difficult.
 
Here are some ways you can support your loved one:
 
• Shop for groceries or run other errands.
• Cook healthy meals for them.
• Take care of chores around the house.
• Remind them of scheduled appointments or accompany them to appointments.
• Check in with a phone call.
 
Be sure to ask your friend or relative before completing any of these tasks. Grief can cause feelings of loss of control, and doing these tasks without permission may make them feel even more out of control.
 

4. Consider Getting Another Pet

 
The decision to adopt another pet after losing one can be complicated. It’s not the right choice for everybody, and it shouldn’t be rushed.
 
Don’t suggest a new pet to your loved one immediately after their loss. This can seem disrespectful to their late pet, and it might make your loved one feel like you’re trying to invalidate or accelerate the grieving process. A new pet should never be a replacement for an old one or a distraction from grief.
 
However, adopting a new pet can be a powerful and meaningful step toward healing. If your loved one is still able to care for a pet, this could help them find a sense of purpose and establish a healthy routine. If permanently adopting a pet isn’t a possibility, they could temporarily foster a pet for an animal shelter. Not only can this be a valuable experience for the senior, but it benefits the community as well.
 
Use your judgment to decide whether or not it’s a good idea to suggest adopting a new pet. You might want to wait until your loved one brings up the idea, or you might choose to suggest it yourself. All seniors are different, so approach the topic carefully with your loved one.
 

5. Encourage Professional Support

 
Grief after pet loss is just as valid as grief after the death of a human loved one. If your senior family member is struggling after their pet passed away, they may benefit from professional support.
 
You could find a pet grief support group in your area and offer to attend a meeting with them. Speaking with others who are going through a similar situation can be very helpful. No one understands the pain of pet loss as much as people who are actively experiencing it, so a support group can be a great source of comfort.
 
Counseling can be another helpful resource after a loss. A therapist can help your loved one find ways to honor the late pet and cope with the difficult feelings associated with the grief. Your senior relative may not be open to the idea of therapy at first, and you shouldn’t pressure them to go. Gentle encouragement may help, though, and you could offer to look for a counselor with them or drive them to the meeting.
 
Losing a pet at any age is heartbreaking, but it may be immensely challenging for older adults. The best thing you can do for a senior loved one who is grieving a pet is listen and show compassion. Our lost pets will always be dear to us, but with support from family and friends, healing is possible.
 
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for bereavement, stress management, grief support, coping skills, and more. If you or a senior in your life is interested in mental health treatment, contact us to learn more.

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