As Pittsburgh’s first pet photographer who is also certified in pet loss grief, I’ve had the privilege of working with many clients who are grieving—or anticipating the loss—of their beloved pets. It’s an honor to be able to help people through such a difficult time in their lives, one I do not take lightly, and I’ve learned so much from their beautiful connections, interactions, and stories about how we move through pet loss grief.
In this blog post, I want to share a handful of these lessons with you in hopes that they’ll help you when you’re faced with the inevitable reality of losing a cherished pet.
1. Grief is unique to each individual and there is no right or wrong way to feel.
The loss of a pet can be devastating, and the grieving process is often complicated by the fact that people grieve differently. Grief is a very personal experience. Some may become withdrawn and isolated, preferring to grieve privately, while others may find themselves talking about their pet constantly and sharing favorite memories with family and friends. Some may cry openly, while others may try to hold back their tears. Some may feel anger or guilt, while others may feel only hopelessness, anguish, and loneliness.
That’s often because the bonds we have with our furry friends are as strong as any human relationship. As a result, the mere thought of losing a pet can be extremely painful. Unfortunately, anticipatory grief—the grief that comes from anticipating the death of a loved one—is a very real phenomenon. This type of grief can be especially difficult and is often compounded with sadness, frustration, confusion, longing, and regret.
Anticipatory grief can present itself in a number of ways that are both emotionally and psychologically distressing. There are those who find themselves constantly worrying about their pet’s health and others who may actually avoid spending time with their pet because they don’t want to face the inevitable. In these individuals, anticipatory grief manifests in a difficulty enjoying their time with their pet since they know that the time is limited.
While anticipatory grief is a normal part of the pet guardian role, there are ways to cope with it. Anticipatory grief can be both exhausting and debilitating, but it’s important to remember that it’s a natural part of the grieving process. By acknowledging your feelings and giving yourself time to grieve, you can begin to heal and move forward.
Again, there is no wrong way to grieve, and it’s OK to let your emotions show. If you are struggling to cope with the loss of your pet, reach out for help from friends, family, or a professional counselor. Remember, you are not alone in this, and there is no shame in seeking help when you need it.
2. It’s important to be patient with yourself and those around you as you work through your grief.
Grief doesn’t have a timeline. Its process can be lengthy and difficult, and it is important to be patient with yourself as you move through the heartache. You can expect to feel a range of emotions, including sorrow, resentment, remorse, and emptiness. This is normal, much like the worry that you’re not ready to let go or that you’ll never be able to love another pet.
Grief is not linear. There is no time limit on how long the process should take. Give yourself permission to move through grief in your own way and at your own pace. Be patient with yourself, and be gentle with your heart.
Extend the same compassion to others who are grieving. Remember that everyone copes with loss in their own way, so try to be respectful of those differences.
3. Grieving the loss of a pet is a difficult process, but professional photos can help.
One way to ease the pain of saying goodbye to a beloved pet is to have professional photos taken. Working with a qualified photographer who captures your pet’s personality and creates lasting memories that you can cherish for years to come is invaluable as many of my Rainbow Session clients have discovered.
“Before this all happened, I was thrilled beyond words with our session and the final products,” shared one client just eight weeks after unexpectedly losing her sweet boy. “The session itself was fun and a memory that I’ll always cherish, but even more so now, I am so thankful that I did the session with you and that I didn’t wait. I had no idea what was coming, and those photos and memories are absolutely priceless to me now. Seeing the beautiful portraits on my wall makes me so happy every single day.”
There is arguably no greater joy in life than the unconditional love, loyalty, and devotion of our beloved pets. As they age or become ill, it’s important to commemorate the special bond you share with them. When it comes to pet loss photography, working with a professional who is certified specifically in pet loss is an essential and indispensable resource in your grief toolbox. Hiring a photographer trained in how to appropriately work with pet guardians in the midst of anticipatory grief or an impending loss infuses your photography experience with trust, both in your pet photographer and her understanding of the unique challenges and sensitivities that surround creating these types of portraits, which provide a beautiful way to remember your furry friend as you move through this difficult time.
4. You can find meaning even after your pet is gone.
When a pet dies, it can feel like a part of us has died too. We grieve for the loss of their companionship and the special bond we shared. It’s nearly impossible to imagine our lives without them.
Even though our pets are no longer with us in physical form, they live on in our hearts and memories, and there are ways we can keep their spirit alive and find meaning without them by our sides. We can keep their favorite toys or piece of clothing close by, tell stories about them to our friends and family, create a special memorial space in our yard or home, or donate to an animal charity or shelter in their name.
Even in these acts of remembrance though, it’s important to give yourself time to grieve and to allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that come with doing so. Ultimately, the goal is to find a way to remember your pet with love and joy rather than pain, and to incorporate this loss into your life in a healthy and positive way. By taking the time to honor your grief, you will eventually be able to celebrate these happy reminders of your time together and continue to feel their presence in your life even after they’ve gone.
5. There are many helpful resources available for pet loss grief, both online and in-person.
Pet loss support groups provide a safe space for people to share their feelings and connect with others who are experiencing similar losses. These resources offer valuable information and encouragement when facing the loss of a beloved pet and can be found both in-person and online, making them accessible to everyone.
Because grief is a complex and individual process, it’s essential to seek out the support that best meets your needs during this difficult time.
As pet photographers, we play a vital role in helping our clients remember and honor their special animal companions. End-of-life sessions offer an opportunity for us to create beautiful, lasting memories, but they can be emotionally challenging and the amount of emotion we must carry can be overwhelming. It’s important that we take care of ourselves while caring deeply for our clients and their pets.
One Last Network, which “seeks to elevate professional pet photography and increase our visibility in the hearts and minds of pet owners” provides amazing opportunities for pet photographers to develop their skills in providing end-of-life photography services and to better understand the grief process. Its pet loss grief training, content creation training, and pet loss grief certification equips pet photographers with valuable insight and skills aimed at how to best support our clients through their individual grief journeys. With these tools, we can provide even more compassionate and helpful portraits for those who are in the midst of anticipatory grief as well as those who have experienced the loss of their best companion.
Remember that you are never alone in this process. There are many resources available to help you deal with the emotions that come up during these sessions, including the pet loss grief training available specifically for pet photographers through One Last Network. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support from friends, family, fellow pet photographers, or a professional counselor if you need it. By taking care of yourself, you‘ll be better equipped to support your clients as they move through the grieving process.
Navigating Your Pet Loss Grief
If you are grieving the loss of a pet, know that you are not alone. There is support available to help you through this difficult time, and your professional pet photographer can be an important part of that support system. I am here to offer my services as a Rainbow Session photographer in order to help you celebrate the love between you and your furry friend. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like more information or if I can be of assistance in any way.
If the thought of booking a Rainbow Session feels like what you may need to help you move through the anticipatory grief of saying goodbye to your aged or ailing pet, I invite you to connect with me to learn more. Choose your adventure below to begin.
Did you enjoy this post? Great, there’s more coming your way because it’s part of a photography blog circle featuring photographers specializing in a variety of niches! To see more content like this and what the next photographer is sharing for our weekly theme, “Photographer’s Choice,” check out Amy Tedrow with Believe, Create, Inspire Portrait Studio, sharing her favorite moments and accomplishments of 2022 and looking ahead to 2023. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here. If you get lost along the way, just look for the trail of dog hair. I won’t be far off…