Expats often have to leave pets behind and are then taken by surprise by the depth of their grief or guilt. Though some expats do relocate with their animals, for many it’s just not possible. Excessive transportation costs, lengthy quarantine periods, a different lifestyle or new accommodation that’s not appropriate for pets, may mean you need to rehome your animals and begin your new life without them. Animal empath Colleen Mulrooney shares some tips to help us deal with the loss of leaving our animal companions behind.
The final farewells with friends and the tearful hugs at the airport can be painful – and so can saying goodbye to your pets.
We assume (and hope) our animals will easily adapt to the changes and that they will be better off in their new homes rather than moving halfway across the globe with us. So it can come as a surprise to notice feelings of loss and guilt after having left them behind.
It might not be obvious that you’re in the throes of grief – after all, we expect to feel a sense of loss when a pet dies, and not when they’re still alive, but living thousands of kilometres away!
It can help to understand that there are several stages of grief, including shock, denial, guilt and depression. You might not notice any of these feelings initially – guilt and remorse, in particular, can creep up on us over time – and you may not even realise that these feelings are connected to you being separated from your animals.
The following tips are a good start to recognising, understanding and healing from your grief – and they’re helpful if your animal has passed away while you’ve been abroad.
Dealing with the grief of saying goodbye to a pet
- As time passes and your new life feels more normal, memories may surface which could leave you feeling sad and unsettled. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings. Relocating involves emotional upheaval and grief is part of that.
- When feelings of sadness and regret come up, put your hand on your chest and take three to five deep breaths. This will help dissipate intense emotions as they arise.
- Writing about how you feel will give you insight and help make sense of what exactly is bothering you about having left your animals. Is it guilt, regret or sadness? If you’re still experiencing nagging feelings of guilt, try writing a letter to your animals. Explain your reasons for making the choices you did. Tell them how much they mean to you and how grateful you are to have shared a part of your lives together. There’s no need for anyone to read the letter – you may even want to burn it as this can be symbolic of releasing the old and bringing some closure.
- Acknowledge your ongoing connection to your animals. Regardless of how far apart you are, you are still connected, as the love you have for your pet is never gone.
- Create an altar space – a simple shelf or even a window ledge will do. Add some flowers, photos and any special mementoes. Take a moment every day to remember happy times spent together.
- If you’re worried about your animal’s welfare, set up a time to chat with their new guardians. We often assume it will be painful to hear stories about how they’re faring, but those anecdotes could, in fact, be comforting.
- Ask an animal communicator to check in with your pets to relieve any concerns you may have about their welfare.
- Create a scrapbook of photos and hand-written memories. This is a helpful exercise to do with children who may be struggling with their own sense of loss.
Our pets are often an integral part of our family, which is why it is so important to give yourself time to grieve and heal.
Have you had to leave an animal behind? How did you deal with your grief? We’d love to hear your story.
Colleen Mulrooney is an animal empath, who helps animal lovers deepen their connection with their animal companions. She counsels people through pet loss and bereavement. Colleen teaches animal communication and healing online and in workshops around the country. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with her partner Ben and their three dogs. Find her at https://www.facebook.com/AnimalEmpaths.