Coping Steps: Healing the Loss of Your Golden Retriever

At some point in every Golden Retriever owner’s life, they will experience the death of their dog. Dealing with that loss can be difficult, and often we are surprised by how deeply it can affect us. Golden Retrievers touch our hearts in such profound ways. The loss of a Golden Retriever is hard. But, moving forward and getting over that loss is especially hard due to the void they leave in our lives.

So, how do you get over your Golden retriever dying? 

Ultimately, healing the loss of a Golden Retriever comes with time. However, specific steps can be taken to help support the healing and coping process in the meantime. Coping steps include:

  • Grieve Your Way (There is No Right Way to Grieve)
  • Take Your Time (It Takes as Long as It Takes)
  • Maintain Self-Care
  • Practice Self-Compassion
  • Read Pet Bereavement Books 
  • Seek Support
  • Consider Counseling 
  • Consider Ceremonies and Memorials
  • Make A Donation
  • Hold On To Memories
  • Volunteer Your Love 

I have had the misfortune of losing many beloved pets throughout my life, including two in the last two years. One was our Sheltie and recently a friend’s Golden Retriever that I helped take care of from an 8-week old puppy through her 12 years with us. With both dogs, I shared a particularly strong bond. Each time the grieving process was different, but all were very difficult.

So, please realize that this article will not help you get over your dog’s death and give you closure. No blog post or article can do that. 

What I hope this article can do is point you in the right direction and offer you some tools and understanding to help you cope with the grief and loss of your Golden Retriever.

Grieve Your Way (There Is No Right Way to Grieve)

All of us grieve differently. Some of us cry, some of us joke around, some of us hold it inside. How you grieve is unique to you, and you must realize that the way you grieve, whatever that way is, is perfectly fine. 

Accept that there is no “right” way to grieve because often, many well-intentioned people will suggest you “move on” or “be strong” or “get over” it. Unfortunately, this well-meaning but poor advice is especially true when it comes to our pets. 

It is still far too common for people to view our beloved pets as just “animals” and imply that they somehow don’t take a special place in our lives. But, of course, that is far from the truth. 

The reality is that our Golden Retrievers become family members, and we love with the same depth that we do others in the family. So, it should come as no surprise when we grieve so deeply for them when they pass. Often it can take months to heal from that loss.  

Understanding that grieving is personal helps prevent the tendency to compare your mourning to that of others. Unfortunately, comparing your grief to others is often something we tend to do, and those comparisons can sometimes make us feel like we are doing it wrong. You are not.

The reality is we all grieve differently, and your suffering will be unique to you. Understanding this also helps us ignore the well-intentioned but poor (and often hurtful) advice to move on or get over it. 

Give Yourself Time (It Takes as Long as It Takes)

You may have heard the saying, it takes as long as it takes,” and this is especially true with grieving.

Not only is grieving a personal and unique process, but the time it takes can vary from person to person and situation to situation. 

For whatever reason, a loss of a beloved pet can affect us more deeply at one time versus another. And, that is fine. 

Give yourself time to move through your grief and emotions. Grief is dynamic. It may be better one day and worse the next. You might be sad one day and angry the next.

Grieving has no set timeline, but it should begin to ease over time. The key is not to set expectations on when it should pass. It may take you months, not weeks, and again that is fine.

Keep in mind that while grief may pass over time, you may also feel strong emotions leading up to or on the day of the anniversary of your pet’s death, even a few years later. Often referred to as “deathaversary,” you may find you become sad, angry, anxious, or agitated.

Death anniversaries can sneak up on you, and those might take a bit more time to get over. Again, this is normal and part of the grieving process. But, after a time, those will get better too.

However, there is one caveat to time to be aware of. There can be instances when the grief doesn’t get better over time, and this is referred to as complicated grief. The intensity of grief should wane or lessen over time, and if it does not, you should seek out professional help.

If your grief has not lessened in intensity and it has been over six months, then jump to the section below on “seek counseling” for an in-depth discussion on complicated grief, including some common symptoms.

Maintain Self-care 

Grieving can be stressful and physically and emotionally draining. As a result, there may be a tendency to neglect thinking about your wellbeing. However, it is essential to continue to take care of yourself. 

Ensure that you maintain a self-care routine as best as possible. Try to eat some healthy foods and get some rest. Smoothies are fast and nutritious, quick to make, and easy on digestion.

Or consider ordering some premade foods from the grocery store; this will save time and effort in preparing foods while offering some nutritious options. 

Going for walks is great exercise and has the added benefit of being meditative. Walking in nature may help you work through emotions while burning off stress and anger. Walking can also be an excellent time to listen to a pet bereavement book (some book suggestions are provided in the applicable section below).

While you may not feel like it, keeping a routine that includes self-care helps keep yourself in the healthiest state possible, which helps with the stress and strain of the mourning process. 

Also, if you have children or other pets, maintaining self-care ensures you can still be the best for them. After all, if you are not taking care of yourself, it is tough to take care of those who still rely on you. 

Keep in mind that it might feel like you have to force yourself to engage in a routine until such time that it feels “normal” again, especially in the early stages of grief, and that’s to be expected. Like everything, be patient and give yourself time.

Practice Self-Compassion

It’s not uncommon when a pet dies to feel responsible or guilty. We think we could have done something sooner, or we should have seen signs.

If you have had to put your Golden Retrievers down then feelings of guilt are often very common. And, in these cases, we question whether that was the right decision or done too soon. 

The common thread in these situations is that we judge and criticize ourselves very harshly and can be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt for something that was not our doing or for even doing our best in a bad situation.

Consider this, if a friend or family member lost a beloved pet and felt emotions like those described, how would you counsel them? Would you comfort them by explaining that they did the best they could and need to be gentle and forgiving with themselves? 

Yet, when we experience the same loss, we do not extend that same advice to ourselves. 

Self-compassion entails extending that same compassion for ourselves that we would for other loved ones. It involves understanding that we are human and should be kind to ourselves while recognizing that we did the best we could. 

So, if you’re experiencing guilt, ask yourself how you would counsel a friend in the same circumstance. Would you be kind and compassionate? If so, then remind yourself that you deserve the same treatment and extend that same understanding and compassion to yourself. 

Read Pet Bereavement Books

Don’t underestimate this step. Reading a pet bereavement book can help you understand that others are experiencing the same loss that you are. It can also help you move through the mourning process.

Reading about the sadness and pain that others have experienced often brings deep emotions to the surface where they can be felt and experienced, rather than holding them in. It can be cathartic.

Chapter by chapter, a book can help move you along the grieving process while offering comfort and support.

Books can also help us understand the emotions we are feeling. In addition, they can offer helpful tips on dealing with guilt, assisting children with losing a beloved pet, caring for surviving pets, and dealing with people who don’t understand why we grieve our pet loss so profoundly.  

They can also offer guidance on if and when you might be ready for another dog in your life – be it another Golden Retriever or some other breed.

Most importantly, pet bereavement books help us understand that what we feel is normal and that others experience the same emotions – that we are not alone. 

Some good pet bereavement book recommendations are: 

  • Losing My Best Friend: Thoughtful support for those affected by dog bereavement or pet loss (by Jeannie Wycherley)
  • Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (by Gary Kowalski)
  • My Dog Has Died: What Do I Do?: Making Decisions and Healing The Trauma of Pet Loss (by Wendy Van de Poll)

These are available at Amazon and in many formats, including Kindle, and in the case of Gary Kowalski’s book, it’s on Audible as well.

Seek Comfort in Others (Support Groups)

Often the best way to process our grief is to talk to others who are going through or have gone through the same things. There is comfort in knowing that others know what we are feeling and that what we are feeling is normal and not some unusual emotions distinct to us. 

And a good support group offers understanding and support with NO judgment.

Many support groups are online or on forums, making it convenient to talk to others experiencing grief. In addition, online resources offer the advantage of flexibility when our schedules or location aren’t conducive to attending in-person meetings.  

The Pet Loss Support Page has a directory on various resources in the US, Canada, and Internationally, including support groups and counselors. On the top of the page on the right-hand side, you will find a list of states in the US that provide a wide variety of support and counseling services.

If you reside in Canada, the UK, New Zealand, or Australia, those are listed on the bottom after the US states. 

Also, contact your local shelter or vet clinic and ask if they offer free condolence or support groups. If not, you could consider starting one in your pet’s name.

Not only does it pay tribute to your lost pet, but you are providing comfort to others who are experiencing the same loss. 

Seek Counselling 

As discussed earlier, if your grief is intense and does not seem to be getting better over time, you may be dealing with complicated grief.

Keep in mind that typical grief symptoms are the same as complicated grief during the first few months

The distinguishing factor for complicated grief is the intensity over time, meaning that normal grief begins to fade over time; however, this does not occur with complicated grief.

Instead, the same intense feelings are present months later. 

The Ralphsite is a site dedicated to pet loss support. On the site, they discuss complicated grief and list symptoms that include:

  • Feeling extreme loneliness
  • Intense longing and constant thoughts of your loved one
  • Feeling that you could have done something to prevent your loss or did something wrong
  • Bitterness or anger about your loss
  • Problems trusting other people since your loss
  • Feeling that life has lost its meaning or that a part of you died with your loved one
  • Being unable to accept your loss or to be able to imagine or adjust to life without your loved one
  • Feeling stuck in your grief with no relief from your pain – as though time stopped when you lost your loved one.

I would also add a few, including: 

  • Have trouble carrying out everyday routines
  • Isolating from others and withdrawing from social activities, including from your children or other pets
  • Experiencing depression, deep sadness, guilt or self-blame

While grieving has no timeline, it should get better over time. However, if you are still feeling intense grief or no easing of symptoms within six months to 1 year, it may be time to seek professional help. 

Consider Ceremonies and Memorials

Ceremonies and memorials are a great way to pay tribute to your Golden Retriever while offering closure.

Often if we must euthanize a pet, we want to spare our kids from this highly emotional experience, especially if they are very young. A ceremony can be a helpful way to explain to the children the concept of passing while at the same time allowing them to say goodbye and get closure. 

It can also give adults the same benefit, so don’t underestimate this step. 

A memorial can be anything meaningful to you and your family – a burial in the backyard or planting a tree or bush in tribute to your lost loved one are examples. Maybe it’s a water fountain or a bench with your Golden Retrievers name engraved on it.

Memorial offers a place to reconnect with and revisit memories of your Golden Retriever in your heart and mind while celebrating your dog’s life. 

Make a Donation

Often donating to a pet charity or local shelter in your dog name imparts a sense of meaning. It allows us to feel that we have done something meaningful to help other animals while paying tribute to our lost pets. 

Once you are ready, you could consider donating your dog’s old possession to a local shelter. Many people take comfort in knowing that their dog’s favorite bed and toys are being used to enrich another dog’s life.

Others hold on to these items because they want to pass them along to a new pet in the future. 

Understand that there is no wrong way. If packing up and donating your dog’s old possession is too hard, then that is fine not to. Or maybe you plan on getting another dog in the future, and you want to donate those possessions to that new family member. 

Our Golden Retriever used our beloved Shelties bed and crate when he was a puppy. Bailey now prefers sleeping elsewhere, but we felt happy that our Shelties possessions were valuable and comforting to Bailey as a puppy. 

Still today, one of Bailey’s prized possessions is a favorite toy that belonged to one of our past Collies. He often sleeps with it and enjoys carrying it around. 

We have passed many items from pet to pet, while others we donated, and we take comfort in feeling that what was used in love by our past dogs is now enriching another dog’s life – be it our own or someone else. 

Hold On to Memories

Take the ones you love

And hold them close because there is little time

And don’t let it break your heart

I know it feels hopeless sometimes

But they’re never really gone

As long as there’s a memory in your mind

Hold On To Memories – Disturbed

Pictures, a favorite blanket, or any item that elicits happy memories is a great option. We have a picture collage of our past dogs that hangs in the house.

Recently, we were gifted a portrait of Bailey from a talented family member. While Bailey is still with us, we know it will be a source of fond memories for us in the future. 

I sleep with a throw blanket that our past Sheltie used as a bed. It’s a small throw, but it helps me think of her, and it comforts me. Bailey also likes to sleep on it, so I take comfort in that as well.

Pick keepsakes that are meaningful for you and your family and that will ensure your Golden Retriever’s remarkable life is always a memory in your mind, and therefore, never really gone.  

A portrait of Bailey is a nice keepsake, and it will provide us with fond memories of him when he is gone.

Volunteer Your Love 

The last suggestion is a powerful one. Consider volunteering your time to help other pets. It could be at the local shelter, fostering other dogs, or helping out at a vet clinic. 

And it doesn’t have to be pet-related either. Any volunteering provides benefits. 

Consider this: 

  • Science has shown a strong link between volunteering and an improvement in mental wellbeing and happiness. The study released by UnitedHealth Group, found that volunteering made people feel mentally and physically healthier and lowered their stress levels.
  • It’s a meaningful way to honor a beloved pet. Knowing that we are enriching the lifes of other animals (or people) that are in need helps us find meaning and connection. We feel connected to our dog again, and it helps celebrate our dog’s life by helping others.
  • It helps reframe our grief: by helping others, be it animal or human, it gives our grief (and sometimes our lives) purpose. We feel something good has come out of the loss. At a minimum, it helps us distract us from our grief even for a small time, and that gives us time to see the bigger picture that life is still about living and moving forward.
  • It lifts our spirits: Yes, it feels good to do good. Even the heaviest of hearts can feel lighter by the mere act of doing good for someone else. It lifts us knowing that another animal is comforted by our touch or kind act. And, often we find that it is the animal that is instead lifting us by their unconditional love and their kind hearts.

Don’t have the time to volunteer, or do you not feel motivated to do so?

That is fine. Remember – grieving is personal to you, and there is no right way. 

Final Thoughts

It would be wonderful if there were a standard recipe or instruction manual that we could all use to help cope with and heal from the loss of a Golden Retriever. But, unfortunately, that does not exist. Nor does it help to compare your grief to others, since each person grieves in their own personal and unique way.

Instead, try to take comfort in the understanding that the way you are grieving, and the emotions you are feeling, are unique to you and that it is perfectly normal for you to grieve your way. Also, accept that it will take some time to feel better.

Always be kind to yourself, and surround yourself with family and friends or others who understand what you are going through. If necessary, seek other resources to help you cope with the loss and take heart that your grief will eventually get better with time.

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