It’s in our nature to forms bonds, because as humans, we are relational beings. That is just how God made us. We form emotional connections with others, and when we lose something or someone that we love, we mourn them. That too is simply part of our nature.

This nature doesn’t go away or become muted when we are talking of a beloved pet and not another human being. Human beings are creatures, but we are unique creatures because we were created in God’s image and can have a relationship with him (Genesis 1:27).

But God created us and tasked us to care for the creation around us in all its diversity and complexity. Over the course of time, we have domesticated and welcomed some of these creatures into our homes, lives, and hearts. When we lose them, it’s only natural to mourn them because loss of life is never a light matter.

Disenfranchised grief

The loss of a cherished pet may be complicated by feelings of guilt. Perhaps there’s a little voice in your head that’s telling you that you shouldn’t be taking it so hard, that makes you wonder if maybe you’re being “too sad” over that loss of your pet, especially when someone says offhandedly, “It’s not as though you lost a child.”

It’s important that you don’t dismiss how you feel, because acknowledging the loss and what it means to you is the first step toward healing. No matter the type of loss you’ve experienced, your grief is valid, and you’re entitled to mourn.

The reality is that society often fails to recognize certain types of grief. This makes it difficult to express your sadness or to begin the healing process. Grief associated with certain losses, such as the death of a pet, tends to get minimized or dismissed out of hand. It’s possible that other people might not acknowledge or recognize it as a loss, and all this may simply make you feel guilty for even feeling this way.

Ken Doka, a bereavement expert, calls this “disenfranchised grief.” He defines disenfranchised grief as “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.” He coined that term several decades ago to capture this feeling of loss that no one seems to understand and to which you don’t feel entitled to feel.

Disenfranchised grief doesn’t only occur when someone dies; it includes other losses that aren’t acknowledged such as grieving someone who is incarcerated; losing your job; loss of one’s language, culture, and tradition; moving or experiencing the loss of community; divorce; or missing out on milestone events. One of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many people have lost much and wrestle with knowing whether to mourn for it.

Because disenfranchised grief is about whether the community around you recognize your loss and gives you space to mourn, and whether you as an individual feel entitled to mourn, examples of disenfranchised grief will range widely from person to person and from community to community.

Symptoms of disenfranchised grief

When you go through grief, you may experience the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in your own way, or sometimes not at all. We all grieve differently, and we grieve over different things. With disenfranchised grief, you may:

  • Feel that life isn’t worth living after the loss.
  • Experience intense, distracting feelings of longing and loneliness.
  • Develop an obsession with the cause or circumstances of your loss.
  • Constantly feel numb or in shock.
  • Go out of your way to avoid or seek the objects, places, or other things that remind you of the loss.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may want to consider reaching out to a Christian counselor for help.

Treatment for disenfranchised grief

Healing from disenfranchised grief can involve both personal work and professional treatment.You can begin the grieving process on your own by recognizing that your feelings of loss over your pet are valid. You should let yourself feel what you feel without judgment, and you can express those feelings either through journaling, talking with trusted friends or other people who have gone through similar things, art, or any other outlets that appeal to you.

By creating your own rituals or traditions to recognize your loss, you can begin to develop thought patterns and coping methods that will help you heal through grief. Some ways of doing this to mourn your pet include visiting its grave, going to the places you went together, or keeping important items such as toys, collars, or leashes.

Apart from doing this work of grieving by yourself, you can also enlist the help of a grief counselor or another mental health professional. They can help you to understand, acknowledge your loss, and process your pain. Whether through one-on-one talk therapy or support groups, therapy can provide you with a helpful outside perspective to your internal feelings, and it can help you understand and accept the loss of your pet.

It may be that you’ve buried your distress and pain with self-disenfranchisement, and in such cases, a therapist can help you by:

  • Assisting you realize that it is okay to mourn.
  • Normalizing your feelings.
  • Offering you resources on peer support or self-help groups.
  • Providing you with a safe, judgment-free space to express and explore your grief.

You need not feel silly for seeking help with grief over the loss of your pet. Many people have experienced relief from several counseling sessions after their pet has died.

Prayer of celebration for a cherished pet

One of the things that you could incorporate into your rituals to mourn your pet is to pray. Our spirituality is not meant to cover certain areas of life while avoiding others. Just as we pray giving thanks to God for our food, clothing, and shelter, for the protection of loved ones, to overcome temptation and sin; we can also pray to recognize the loss we experience at the death of a cherished pet.

The prayer below was penned by Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian, at the passing of his cat named Tuck. Tuck a Siamese cat who lived to be twenty-two years old. He suffered from seizures, and eventually the compassionate thing to do was to make the decision for him to be euthanized. Having dug Tuck’s grave and buried him, this is the prayer Stanley wrote, and maybe you can adapt it to suit your circumstances and pray it for yourself.

Passionate Lord, by becoming one of us, you revealed your unrelenting desire to have us love you. As we were created for such love, you have made us to love your creation and through such love, such desire, learn to love you. We believe that every love we have you have given us. Tuck’s love of us, and our love of him, is a beacon, a participation, in your love of all your creation. We thank you, we sing your praise, for the wonderful life of this cat.

His calm, his dignity, his courage, his humor, his needs, his patience, his always “being there,” made us better, made our love of one another better, made us better love you. We will miss him. Help us not fear remembering him, confident that the sadness such memory brings is bounded by the joy that Tuck existed and, with us, is part of your glorious creation, a harbinger of your peaceable kingdom. Amen.”

Help for grieving the loss of a cherished pet

Losing a loved one, whether they are human or animal, can be hard. The emotional connection formed is interrupted by loss, and the thing to do in those situations is to mourn.

Grief is complicated, and it can be further complicated when we don’t acknowledge what we’ve lost, or even worse, when we feel like we aren’t allowed to mourn that loss. Give yourself the room you need to grieve the loss of your pet and consider seeing a therapist if you find that you’re either struggling to grieve altogether or to begin the process of healing.

A Christian grief counselor will create a safe space for you to reflect on death and loss from a biblical perspective, while providing you with the tools you need to process the loss and resume living your life with purpose and joy.

“Sadness”, courtesy of Liza Summer,, CC0 License; “Dog”, Courtesy of Michał Robak,, CC0 License; “Counseling”, Courtesy of Cottonbro,, CC0 License; “Victory”, Courtesy of Julian Jagtenberg,, CC0 License


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