There is a shocked silence of the soul after a spouse’s death. You stand frozen, looking down at your bare feet where a thousand shards of your former, whole life lay scattered on the floor. You wonder how you will manage to find a path to safety, clean up the mess and then figure out how to live the rest of your life while carrying an unbearable grief. As you begin to do this work, one thing that other grieving people report to be helpful is the presence of a loving dog, cat or other pet.

No matter your heartache, the physical presence of the right animal has a calming effect on one’s soul. When you are sad, they look at you with eyes that seem to exude a knowing which reaches beyond human understanding. Pets often have a sense of when you need them and sometimes use their whole bodies to press against you. Without being taught, somehow they realize that what’s most important is for you to know that you are not alone.

A rewarding stimulus-effect connection is created when your hand caresses the warm softness of their fur, and in response you get a purr or tail wag. Psychological studies have proven undisputedly that having a pet can lower your heart rate, calm anxiety, and ease symptoms of depression. These are among the aftereffects of grief. Here are a few other positive qualities pets can offer:

They never care if your hair is combed, whether you took a shower or if your clothes match
Their silent presence offers deep comfort
They NEVER say the wrong thing
They fill a hole in your heart
They let you love on them and speak to them in high pitched voices all you want
They can even out your moodiness
They have been known to lick away your tears
Caring for them offers you purpose

Pets help the grieving by accompanying them on the path to healing and restoration. If you don’t have a pet, you may want to consider adopting one. The joy and life affirmation that a pet brings can be wonderful. Additionally, the choice to do something that nurtures your spirit may be empowering. Of course give the matter careful thought. While a pet offers many benefits you certainly don’t want to bring home a puppy, kitten or adult animal that will create more stress. Even if a new pet is just something you are thinking about, you can start by visiting your local pet adoption center. If that thought overwhelms you, ask to dog sit or cat sit a friend’s pet for a few hours . A pet sitting trial will allow you to see whether you might like having a pet of your own. Remember, the ultimate goal is to find and embrace those things that will nurture and help you as you cope with your grief. Having a pet is just one option.

Wishing you peace,