Tufts’ veterinary social worker offers ways to process grief and build a new normal after a pet passes away
While people are grappling with losing family and friends to COVID-19, losing a pet may seem small in comparison. But the reality is that it's a significant loss for many people, because a pet is like family, said Eric Richman, MSW, LICSW, a clinical social worker at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center who provides counseling services to clients as they face difficult medical decisions regarding their pet.
“The connection you have with a pet is almost so deep in your soul that it's hard to express. People often feel an emptiness. They have a loss in their life that they can't fill,” he said. Some of that has to do with how animals and pets build a routine. You feed and walk them on a schedule in order to take good care of them. Without that routine, people feel lost, said Richman.
Grieving pet owners also often feel upset that they don’t have more control over what happened with their pet, whether it was a disease, an accident, or simply the aging process. People blame themselves and struggle with the idea of guilt over whether they should have done more to help their pet. However, Richman said, the truth is we often don’t have much control over what happens, which can be hard for people to accept.
“I tell people that they should embrace their grief, even though it's painful, it doesn't feel good, and sometimes it's hard to even carry on in their daily life. Embracing their loss will allow them to then move on at a later time,” he said. In the video above, Richman offered suggestions for coping with grief and, eventually, moving forward.