Lessons from Lulu: How to Cope with the Death of a Loved Pet

Dr. Parker holding Lulu on the beach

On December 20th at 9:13 pm, the Parker family lost Lulu, their 11-year-old Goldendoodle. A beautiful soul who was a constant source of unconditional love for their family, Lulu was a huge part of their lives for 11 wonderful years—and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.

“Lulu was the essence of goodness. She loved to be around us and loved to be loved.” —Dr. Paul Parker

Though many tears have been shed since Lulu’s passing, the Parkers have also spent time reminiscing about what Lulu taught them about joy, acceptance, and love—lessons which have helped them adjust to life without her.

If you’ve recently lost a pet, we understand the feeling of loss and we know how much of a struggle it can be. Below are some tips for coping with the death of a pet that we’ve found helpful (and that we think Lulu would approve of).

It’s perfectly normal to grieve your pet

The loss of a pet can be devastating, and all the emotions you are feeling are completely valid and acceptable. For most of us, our pets are cherished members of our families who we have loved, cared for, and nourished, forming deep bonds.

“Lulu loved to lift her paw to ask you to rub her belly or back. She would sit for hours if you could spare the time—she loved to be part of the family. She connected with all of us through touch, but when we get caught up in the fast pace of life, it can be easily ignored. Lulu was a constant reminder of the importance of connecting through touch.”—Angela Parisi

Lulu loved everyone, and everyone loved Lulu.Just like the loss of a human friend or family member, the passing of a pet can be confusing, overwhelming, and deeply saddening—so be gentle with yourself as you grieve and give yourself permission to express those feelings.

It’s common to cycle through the five stages of grief, and everyone grieves at their own pace. If you can, cancel obligations for a few days to process your emotions, spend time with your family, and hold the spirit of your pet in your heart. Then continue to take your time and grieve for as long as you need to—there is no race to “get over it.”

Black goldendoodle peeking out from a bright blue towel

Lulu had a way of communicating with compassion. She always knew just what you needed.

Guilt is a common but unfair emotion after the loss of a pet

For pet owners, it’s also a common thing to experience guilt after the death of a pet, particularly if you had to make the difficult decision to euthanize an old or ill animal.

“Car rides were always special. It didn’t matter where we went, Lulu was just happy to go along for a ride. She taught us to enjoy the journey, no matter where life takes us.”—Angela Parisi

Unlike our children who can tell us when they don’t feel well, our pets can’t communicate—and that means we have the responsibility of doing our best to make decisions about their diet, care, and, eventually, end of life. Whether your pet dies peacefully in their sleep or you call upon your vet to help them transition, it’s normal to wonder if you’ve made the right choice or did all that you could to make them comfortable and healthy.

Remember, death is a natural part of life. Focus instead on the wonderful friendship you had with your animal companion and all that you did to ensure they enjoyed their life.

Find support in your friends and loved ones

Grief is inherently isolating, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. Be open about what you’re feeling, particularly with immediate family members who are going through the same emotions you are.

“When Lulu was 4 we moved to a new house and soon discovered some mice droppings, so we got a kitten the next day whom we named Riley. Riley bonded with all 3 of our dogs right away, but she and Lulu had a special kinship. Friends were amused to visit us and see a cat and dog play affectionately with one another over the years.”—Dr. Parker

Talk about your sadness, remember the good times, and commiserate with friends who have gone through the death of a pet before. Not only is it cathartic to verbalize your emotions, you may also find much needed support and guidance.

Create a personal memorial for your pet

When you feel able to do so, memorializing your pet and the love you shared is a fantastic way to lighten the pain of missing them and remind your family of what an honor it was to share life with such a wonderful pet.

“When we talked to Lulu, she looked at us as if she understood every word. When someone was ill or sad, she sensed it and would not leave their side, always providing comfort.”—Dr. Parker

There are many ways you can do this, from having cremains placed in a special urn or piece of jewelry to DIYing a special garden stone or planting a tree. You can also make a donation to an animal charity or local humane society in their name. Wide Open Pets has a great list of ideas, though feel free to go with your heart and do what feels best for your family.

Never forget what your pet taught you, even after they’re gone

While animals tend to enjoy a simpler life than their bipedal companions, their love, friendship, and wisdom can be life-changing. As you mourn the loss of your pet, remember how they brought joy and helped you be a better person—and then honor their memory by adopting the lessons they taught you.

“From Lulu we learned to be the best that you can be, love those around you (even if they’re a cat and you’re a dog), treat others with respect but demand respect, live life to the fullest, stay young at heart, help those around you be better, and be a team player.”—Dr. Parker

Black goldendoodle wearing a green dress

Thank you Lulu, we will always love you!

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