Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a section dedicated to youth lived-experiences with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This is a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post has been written by Jess, our Community Education intern, who is a 22-year-old psychology student.
It’s normal to feel intense grief and loss at the passing of a pet. Many young people share a deep bond with animals. Pets can give your life purpose and add structure not to mention they provide us with endless love and joy. Last year was a tumultuous time due to the pandemic and a series of lockdowns. On top of this, I experienced the death of a family dog. This dog was a member of the family and had been with us for 16 years, and so most of my childhood. Experiencing losing him as a family, however peaceful the process was, was heavily devastating. This impacted my mood significantly in the short term. I was low, sad and acting quiet, which is odd for a bubbly person like myself. In the long term throughout the grieving process and getting past the heavy sadness, there came the positive, happy memories I had with him that made me feel so grateful for the time and the life he gave us.
One of the things I held onto a lot was talking about the loss and the experience with close ones around me. Talking to my family and how we were doing, helped. Especially talking with my friends. I was separated from them because of the COVID-19 lockdowns so most of us were living in separate cities at the time. However we still talked many times through social media and on the phone. I received so much support from them, especially the ones who had been through the same thing before. Sharing both our experiences was beneficial for us, this experience and sharing also brought me closer to these particular people.
The pet themselves could have been social support for the person, and many people may not assume the death of a pet to be as paramount for social support as a person passing away. Yet social support is greatly beneficial for those grieving pets. It is important to not feel a sense of guilt or shame in grieving a pet. Whether it is because you feel like the level of sadness you feel is inappropriate or because of the circumstances in which your pet passed away. It is okay and very normal to be going through this grieving process. Everyone experiences grief differently. Your grief can come in waves or stages, whereas some people can experience a constant feeling of sadness.
It is important to know that grieving is important and hiding your experience and emotions can be bad for your wellbeing and not good for outcomes further on. I found in my experience writing down exactly how I felt helped immensely. In a way I felt like I was connecting with my pet, and this gave me peace. This in addition to talking to people close to you is hugely beneficial. Another tip to help process your grief can be if you are not receiving the required support from people around you, finding others who have also gone through the experience can help. Such as pet loss support groups, or websites talking of others stories and helpful tips. Creating a memorial for your pet such as planting a tree or creating a photo album for example can help in remembering the good times you shared together and help in remembrance of them.
Lastly it is important to look after oneself, as well as being around others you must make sure you get enough sleep, eat a good diet and exercise to release endorphins to help boost your mood. This time is difficult enough without adding physical strain on one's life.
It is vital to remember when you lose a pet, to not handle it alone, or feel guilty for grieving someone who was a loved member of your family. I know these things helped me – I hope that they help other young people too.
To talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Here are some ways to connect:
Helplines for children and young people
Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email email@example.com or online chat. thelowdown.co.nz – or email firstname.lastname@example.org or free text 5626. What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, 12noon–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available from 3pm–10pm 7 days a week, including all public holidays.
Anxiety NZ and free 24/7 national 0800 Anxiety Helpline 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)