​Grief, Loss and Animals in the Pandemic

By Kaleel Sakakeeny

Today we are asking how grieving is different, more challenging when one loses a pet during this time of quarantine.

I think It’s important to see this Pandemic, or rather this life in the time of the CoronaVirus as a deep period of grief and mourning. It’s more than the politics and the mechanics of masks and social distancing and staying at home. It’s a grief for the life we lost as a people. Grief for the dead and dying. Sadness for the cruel ways the virus has taken our loved ones away. We are mourning for what we lost and feeling that pain.

When a pet, an animal companion, gets sick or dies in this time, it’s almost more than we can bear.
First, veterinarian care is spotty and sometimes not available. And since the comfort and stability our pets are providing us with is huge, their sickness or death is felt so very much more keenly.  Because they are innocent of the dangers, they easily help keep us grounded. Should one of them die during this time, the grief we would feel would be profoundly compounded. 

We will have lost one of the brightest lights in the darkness of the pandemic. We are already grieving. Now to grieve the death of our beloved pet can push us over the top. I personally speak to my cat every day, telling her how much I love her and please don’t take this time to leave us! If ever. 

It’s encouraging to see so many people adopting pets at this time. Some shelters have never been more empty. I just posted a wonderful image of the Palm Beach Animal Shelter staff standing next to flung-open doors, hands raised in celebration, masks on, of course. It was the first time ever they had no animals in cages or kennels! What a perfect celebration! 

We worry of course about those animals who live in houses where people are infected. Will they (people and pets) be taken care of? We also worry that when this pandemic is over, will people return their adopted animals to the shelters because they have fulfilled their usefulness?

I also see that shelters are checking adoptees out virtually, being sure they meet the requirements and understand the responsibilities. But, yes, I think it’s a very good thing that people are seeing the deep comfort and reassurance pets can bring in this time of stress. The physical and emotional and mental benefits animals bring a household, especially in these times, is simply wonderful and amazing. May that last long after the dreaded disease has passed.


— Kaleel Sakakeeny

As seen in Sivana East


When The Bond Breaks: When Our Pets Leave Us

By Kaleel Sakakeeny

My mission is to companion those on their grief journeys when their beloved animal companion dies.

I’m a Grief Counselor, specifically a Pet Grief Counselor. I’m also an ordained Animal Chaplain. And I have come to see that the deep sorrow and pain of losing a pet are not therapy issues, though they often seem so to the bereaved who can feel she is  going out of her mind with grief.

The loss is a spiritual one, one of the soul.

There is no pill for the sadness.

The broken heart is not a mental health issue.

I don’t ever try to fix or take their away the pain of the loss. Pain has to be faced, to be gone through so we may get to the other side where healing waits. In our grief-avoidant society, our impulse is to bat the pain away. But we must move toward it; not away from it.

Grief and pain must be named and expressed during the grief journey if the flow is not to stall.

And we never speak of “closure.” Why would we? Who wants to close such love?

Those who share their lives with an animal know beyond words that the bond between them and their animals is profound.  We are discovering that the connection is neurological, emotional, social and physical.

How we walk, the tone of our voices, where we sit, when we go out and how long we are away – all are determined and affected by the connection between us and our animal companion.

It is said that they are the “angels of our better selves.”

That they bring out qualities in us that few humans can.

Our pets. animal companions, open us to uncomplicated love. Patience. Sacrifice. Kindness of the deepest kind.

They change us forever…and when that bond is broken , severed by death, the pain is bone-marrow deep. The light goes out, the grievers tell me, and we are changed forever.

All that we were, had become because of the love, is now in danger of being lost.

Many of us fear reverting back to our less loving, more limited selves. And that is why we “hold on,” and why we feel grief for years-and why we need to see that death does not end the love. It transforms it to one of sacred memory, even as we long for the physical presence of our beloved pet.

In time, with support and patience and work, gradually, the mourner moves along the Grief Path and begins to see the light of healing.

Sees the outline of a future without her beloved animal companion.

Resolution starts.

Resolution: the living of life around the loss, the hurt. Incorporating it. Learning to love again and dance again, if only with a limp.


As seen in Animal Wellness


Coping with the Loss of a Pet During the Holidays

By Kaleel Sakakeeny

When you’ve lost a pet, the holidays can be a difficult time. Here’s how to work through your grief and enjoy the season to the best of your ability.

All of us with animal companions look forward to celebrating the holidays with them. Whether you buy your pet a present or give them special holiday treats and attention, their presence is part of the joy and happiness of the season. But what happens if you’re dealing with some grief this year because your pet has passed on? Your dog is no longer there to celebrate with you and your family. Your cat won’t be knocking the balls off the tree or running through the wrapping paper.

Maybe the loss is recent; maybe it happened years ago. But holidays and other special occasions carry with them the sharp pain of memories and the weight of sadness, making them very bittersweet. They trigger what we call “grief bursts” – sudden, overpowering feelings of loss and loneliness.


What can we do?

First, give yourself permission to excuse yourself from the festivities without lengthy explanations. “I need some alone time” should be enough. During this private time, let yourself cry and remember. Don’t try to bat your feelings away. Name your pain, and allow yourself to feel it. If it helps, talk to your animal companion about all that you’re feeling.

If gift giving is part of your holiday season, consider buying a small gift for your departed pet. You don’t have to open it if it doesn’t feel right – it’s just the act of “giving” it that matters. This can be especially helpful for those who have recently lost an animal.

Take “grief breaks” – time in which you deliberately do something else to take your mind off your sadness such as watch a funny movie, help with the dishes or take a walk. It can help tremendously if you share these breaks with people you love and trust.

If you have the impulse, share your story with a close friend or family member. Let them know how difficult this time is, and how much you miss having your animal companion with you.

You might decide to skip part of the day completely, allowing yourself a few hours to volunteer at a shelter. Let your heart be touched by the animals who don’t have a home during the holiday season. Doing good has an amazing, healing quality, and being around others animals can be very therapeutic.

Take good care of yourself. Stay hydrated, eat well and get plenty of rest. Grief bursts are exhausting and deplete the body.

Allow yourself to feel grateful; to be aware of all the things that are good and comforting in your life, or that make you happy. Write them down if it helps.

If you journal, add to it, and look back at past entries. Has your grief changed? Do you feel your pain has lessened? Say so, and be thankful for that gift.

Do something special for yourself. Get a massage, take a friend to lunch, make a donation or buy something that you want, whether you need it or not.

The holidays remind us keenly of all that we have lost, but also all that we have. Notice whatever feelings come up during this time, and make peace with them. It’s all part of your journey.


Animal Talks Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

©2020 Animal Talks Inc., a 501(c)(3), non-profit, charitable organization.

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