The intense, close bonds that develop between us and our pets are like no other—and they’re often even stronger than our relationships with people (although we might not admit this out loud). With pets’ complete dependence on us for their survival, they tend to be compared to children. But children grow through developmental stages that usually lead to separating and individuating. They become responsible for themselves.
In contrast, people continue to care for all of the intimate needs of pets throughout their entire lives. Think of the innumerable decisions you make on behalf of your pet each and every day. This enduring commitment includes feeding, bathing, cleaning schmutz from their ears and eyes, brushing and trimming their fur, removing bugs, clipping nails, selecting treats, toys and attire, nurturing and training, cleaning up their “business”, checking for signs of illness or distress, and dispensing medications. A serious sense of purpose comes with this dedicated and detailed focus and, considering all of these parental responsibilities, it’s no wonder we often end up calling ourselves “mommy” and “daddy”.
Of course, the longer we’re together, the deeper, more complex and remarkable the connection becomes. Depending on our circumstances and when a pet is welcomed into our lives, we may come to experience them as any and all of the following: best friend, my everything, significant other, sibling, fur baby, child, confidante, favorite companion, biggest fan, fellow adventurer, counselor, angel, cuddle monster, mascot, crumb retrieval expert, lovebug, bark ranger, exercise partner, official food-taster, chow hound, mentor, love of my life, bed buddy, mind reader, champion goofball, comforter, playmate, spiritual guide, wingman, cheerleader, stress buster, dance partner, co-worker, fierce protector, special mate, date magnet, nurse, sounding board, role model, moral compass, soulmate...
There’s a good chance you spend more time being active and affectionate with a pet than any other living being—playing, communicating, walking, petting, sleeping, cuddling, and on and on. Their devotion is so remarkable and pure, and our relationships with them are largely free of conflict. Plus, pets spark genuine joy! The smiles, snuggles, fun, and laughter are simple and strong medicine for whatever ails us and improve our overall quality of life.
Over time, in addition to all the companionship and special moments we enjoy with our pets, they become integrated into our very being. They can feel like extensions of our own bodies. Many stay right by our side as we move through the day; they may climb into our laps or lie at our feet for hours on end, or they might rub against and nudge us gently at any chance they get. These frequent exchanges become woven into the very fabric of life.
The mere presence of pets naturally builds community because they serve as catalysts for meeting new people. They're natural connectors. For folks with limited access to other social contacts due to a medical or mental illness, aging, or functional or physical disability, a pet can be the antidote to loneliness, serving as their primary companion and essential lifeline to a sense of belonging and well-being.
Our bonds with our pets are dynamic and mutually beneficial; the give and take can be uncanny. When a pet is in our world for many years, they go through all the ups and downs right along with us. We can count on them for solace and cheering up when life gets really rough. They remain a constant among all the other variables and this delivers a profound sense of security and comfort.
Our pets’ attunement can be downright telepathic, even in response to the subtlest shifts. Because unpleasant feelings are inevitable in life, they pick up on our vibes and often reflect them back. During difficult times, they tend to intuitively respond by giving us more attention, more sweetness, and this can be deeply validating and reassuring as we sense that they understand our troubled condition. We draw strength from these close bonds, knowing we can lean on them, especially when we are suffering. And they help us persevere when we are otherwise drained.
If we grew up in an unstable or abusive home, our pet might prove to be the only reliable and consistent relationship that provided genuine nurturance, pleasure, and understanding along the way. They can serve as an external source of coping as we depend on them to buffer us against adversity.
You might even say that every pet evolves into a therapy animal, as they accompany and heal us through all kinds of stressful experiences. Pets remain loyal during life’s transitions, such as a move to a new school or town, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship or a divorce, an illness, or the death of a close friend or family member. Because they’re present for the good times and the bad, they may see us through being the victim of an accident, injury, or crime.
Pets also provide reassurance that we’re still worthy of love even when we commit a wrong, thereby cultivating our capacity for self-reflection and our willingness to ask for and receive forgiveness. Their power to protect our self-esteem when we’re struggling delivers wonderful healing effects. They make us better people.
Pets are the ultimate expression of positive regard. They accept us with all our faults and foibles. In addition, they see us at our most vulnerable, and even allow us to express aspects of ourselves that we may never share with other people. For those of us who have the privilege of sharing life with a pet for a very long time, we’re often struck by how sensitive they are to us when we’re struggling, especially when we’re despairing, angry, worried or frightened. In our darkest hours they have a remarkable knack for knowing that we need their help. They gently reach through the pain and share their precious attention and patience in so many big and small ways.
A cherished pet becomes a special kind of partner through all of the uncertainty and hardships in life. We can count on their company for emotional support that helps reduce the depression and anxiety that can accompany life’s challenges and disappointments. Alas, this also means that when they die, the heartbreak is doubly devastating because their absence creates an enormous void. Just when we need their love the most, they’re gone. Gratitude for all of the fond memories can help us gain our bearings as we begin to grieve.
With over a decade or two of mutual experiences, our life narratives are permanently shaped by our pets’ presence. Naturally, just as they are so sure and reliable when they’re living, when they die, the emptiness—often described as a hole in one’s heart—feels tangible and enduring, like a part of our body is permanently gone. Furthermore, their absence extends well beyond the physical and the present, because in a very real sense they take part of us with them along with future opportunities to be together.
With the death of a beloved pet, many secondary losses cascade from it and the impact can be felt acutely for months and years. In fact, we’re forever changed when a cherished companion animal departs from this realm. We end up saying goodbye again and again due to the imprint they leave on our habits and routines. We must bid farewell not only to physical activities, but to the reflexive ways we engaged and enjoyed their special companionship.
Healing Through Loss
In order to grieve and mourn, it’s vital to have meaningful ways to honor the memory of your beloved pet and to celebrate the bond you’ll always share. RemembeRing helps to ease the heartbreak as you begin to heal through this life-changing experience. We hope you’ll reach out for the compassion and support of others and feel free explore additional resources and guidance here.
And of course, I always welcome your insights and feedback here.
Take care! ~Emily
Please note that RemembeRing content is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace professional care. Be sure to contact your providers for their expertise as needed.