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If your relationship with your pet was so strong that he or she became a part of your identity, you may have the feeling that you are not sure who you are when your pet passes away.

James was never seen in his Chicago neighborhood without Ricky and Lucy, his West Highland Terriers. As he walked his dogs at the same times each day, business owners would pop out of their stores to give a treat or a dish of water, or simply to pet the dogs and say hello. Friends who came to James’ apartment enjoyed spending time with the dogs, and people at work would stop by James’ desk and ask about the little white dogs in the picture frame on his desk.

Margaret, a resident of suburban Chicago, was known as” Rosie’s mom.” Her mixed breed rescue dog was a neighborhood favorite, known for her friendly disposition toward everyone. People looked for her as they passed Margaret’s house, and would usually see Rosie looking out her living room window. When Margaret planted flowers, raked leaves, or shoveled snow, there Rosie would be, playing or resting by Margaret’s side. Margaret walked Rosie for 3 miles every day, and Rosie grew to know the people they would encounter, and they grew to know and look for her. Margaret and Rosie were seen as a pair.

This type of relationship, where the pet is so much more than a pet, where the human finds in the animal companion a best friend, partner, and sidekick, where the human and the animal companion become known as a duo, is one that is often devastating and confusing to lose. People sometimes say, “It’s not just that I’ve lost an important part of me; I feel like I’ve lost all of me.”

This is not unusual in the experience of grief. Those who are closest to us may seem to be part of our identity: we are someone’s partner, parent, son or daughter. Grief turns our world around to the point that it may seem unrecognizable.

Although this confusion and loss may lead to despair, you can be sure that this is normal, and that it is a part of the process of grief. Trust in the process, and allow yourself to feel all the feelings. Find a safe person with whom to talk, someone who will not mind if you repeat your story, someone who is a patient and kind listener. This may be a friend or a therapist or even a pet loss hotline volunteer.

Through talking it out, writing it out, and perhaps even creating a scrap book of memories, you will find yourself moving through this dark tunnel of grief—perhaps at a slow pace, but moving nonetheless.

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