Our editor’s cat, Allura, passed away recently. [She took a big piece of my heart with her when she left for the rainbow bridge -Ed.] And even though Allura is now at peace and is no longer hurting, I have to admit that it’s still hard to deal with the death of a companion animal, especially if you’ve spent a long time together and you’ve been supporting them and fighting for them until the end.

Our editor’s cat, Allura, passed away recently. [She took a big piece of my heart with her when she left for the rainbow bridge -Ed.] And even though Allura is now at peace and is no longer hurting, I have to admit that it’s still hard to deal with the death of a companion animal, especially if you’ve spent a long time together and you’ve been supporting them and fighting for them until the end.

Death is inevitable for all species and, sadly, companion animals usually pass away before their humans do because they usually have a shorter lifespan. Despite this, humans still can’t help it because there’s something special about animals loving you and seeing you as their whole world.

You don’t have to guard your heart too much just to prepare yourself for the loss one day. Instead, you can find healthy ways to cope.

Acknowledge your feelings

Bottling up your emotions is never healthy. When you keep everything inside, all the negativity eventually piles up and before you know it, you find yourself breaking down. Worse, your negative feelings might fester if not dealt with properly and it could eventually manifest in your behavior until you become toxic.

It’s best to allow yourself to feel sorrow and to go through the five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Going through all these steps can help you to fully heal and, if you’re ready to love again, eventually find a new companion animal.

Ask for support

Talking to someone about what you’re going through and getting emotional support are usually effective in dealing with negative emotions, especially if you talk to someone who has experienced what you’re going through.

If the death is accompanied by doubts and guilt, deal with these as soon as you can so that you can move forward instead of wondering about the what-ifs for years. You can make an appointment with your animal friend’s vet to get answers. The Humane Society of the United States says veterinarians may have resources to help you grieve, such as a support group or hotline.

If these unfortunate events trigger mental health issues, consider getting professional help to learn healthier ways to cope.

Consider having a funeral

Funerals are done not only to honor the dead but also to serve as closure for loved ones. It’s comforting to commemorate a beloved animal while being surrounded by people who care about them. This can also give you a chance to bid your animal friend farewell and say everything that you’ve always wanted to say but didn’t get a chance to when they were still alive.

Volunteer in animal rights organizations, sanctuaries, or shelters

Doing something during your free time can keep you from drowning in your own sadness. Volunteering in organizations focused on animals may ease your loneliness, while also being a great way to honor the memory of an animal companion who has passed away.

Animal rights organizations and shelters usually need help in caring for stray animals and spreading awareness about animal rights. Being a volunteer can be therapeutic — as Meg Daley Olmert points out in her 2019 article in Psychology Today, companion animals improve mental health because interacting with them releases oxytocin, a mood-boosting hormone.

Show love for other animals

Spreading love and positivity is another healthy way to cope and honor a dead loved one, and the best way to do this for an animal is to go vegan. Simon Worrall mentions in his 2015 National Geographic article that studies have proven animals to have feelings, just like humans. There may be different species of animals, but just like the companion animal whom you lost, other animals also crave love, want to be with their family, and form a bond with others.

Leaving animals off your plate can give you peace and may even be considered one of the most thoughtful ways to honor an animal who has already earned their angel wings, knowing that the love you want to give them can be shared with their fellow animals.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s December 2018 issue.