Losing a pet can bring on intense feelings of emptiness and despair. Because pets can’t speak for themselves, owners might feel guilty, believing they could have done more to prevent the loss or ease their pet’s suffering while they were alive.
For advice, we spoke to Jackie Pajan, a TikTok creator known as Rainbow Bridge Raina, to her over 73,000 followers. Pajan, who lost her dog Riley in 2020, creates pet loss content and personalized videos to help grieving pet owners find hope, happiness, and healing.
Pajan’s videos draw inspiration from the Rainbow Bridge, a heavenly place where grieving pet owners can reunite with their pets in the afterlife. The Rainbow Bridge originated from a poem that refers to lush meadows where ailing pets can once again be strong, healthy, and content.
“The Rainbow Bridge is a good way for our human brains to comprehend what happens after pets leave,” says Pajan. “I hope the videos bring a little peace and comfort in a dark time.”
While pet loss is universal, grief is deeply personal and individual, affecting people in different ways over time. Here are some tips and resources that can help you cope.
@jackiepajan Why ur hurts so much. #rainbowbridge #rainbowbridgedog #rainbowbridgecat #vettok #pettok #dogcancer #songfacts #imissmydog #grief #petloss ♬ original sound – Jackie Pajan ( Bridge Raina)
Give Yourself Time to Grieve
Take care of yourself and avoid setting limits on how much time you need to grieve. “You will feel the loss for many days to come and you might feel it forever but it doesn’t always feel as heavy as it does in the beginning,” explains Pajan.
“That first year is one of those times you have to say to yourself, this isn’t going to feel like a normal year,” says Pajan. “You’re going to experience your first holidays and birthdays without this animal. There is no moving on. It’s just moving forward, moving through, or moving with you. It becomes a part of you.”
Connect with Yourself and Nature
Pajan recommends mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation, and going for walks to help you tune into your body. The goal of mindfulness is to notice your feelings without judging or pushing them away.
“There’s so many people who feel they would be better off if they just left with their pet,” says Pajan. “I wanted to pass along that we’re still supposed to live these beautiful lives with them. They’re just not physically here.”
Develop Soothing Thoughts
“One aspect of pet loss that’s different from most human deaths is that we feel responsible,” says Pajan. “We may be the ones who make the call for our pet to leave earth. And that is such a heavy responsibility.” People often tell Pajan, “I feel so guilty that I killed my pet.”
Although it’s normal to experience guilt, the associated thought (“I killed my pet”) isn’t conducive to healing. Instead, Pajan suggests thinking about your pet’s physical body and how it’s no longer serving them. Consider that helping them cross is an “act of selfless love for an animal who has loved you more than themselves.”
“I hope people get closure when they see their pet being welcomed into the Rainbow Bridge, to understand that this isn’t the end,” says Pajan. “Just because they’ve left their physical body doesn’t mean they’ve left your side.”
Reach Out to Others
Not everyone understands the pain of losing a pet, even people with pets. Friends or family members might tell you to “get over it” or promise you’ll feel better when you get another pet. Psychologists use the term disenfranchised grief to describe what people experience when others shut down conversations about loss or try to minimize their grief.
“This type of grief feels a little taboo,” says Pajan. “You can’t just say to your boss, ‘hey, my dog died so I’m going to need a week off.’ It’s not something we talk about, so it’s important to normalize grief from pet loss.”
The isolating nature of grief is part of the reason Pajan started creating videos. “It created this community of people who understood what I was going through and were sharing their stories too,” recalls Pajan. “I wanted people to understand it gets better because, for many of us, pets are our best friends and the only soul that gets us fully.”
“The thing I love most about the Rainbow Bridge Raina community is that people comment on each other’s posts with beautiful, heartfelt words of comfort and kindness. Wherever you find it, community is vital to getting through this.”
@jackiepajan Do u feel this way, ever? #rainbowbridge #rainbowbridgedog #rainbowbridgecat #petloss #griefandloss #healing #guilt #dramaticstory #imissmydog #pettok ♬ Somebody – Brock Hewitt: Stories in Sound
A good place to start is following Instagram accounts dedicated to pet loss and grief support:
In addition, private Facebook groups offer a safe space to share condolences, memories, and coping strategies:
- AKC Pet Loss Support Group
- The Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss and Grief Support
- PVC: Coping With The Loss Of A Pet Support Group
Honor Your Pet’s Memory
Keeping photos and mementos around is a visible reminder that your pet is still very much a part of your life. “It’s okay to be sad but it’s okay to feel good again,” says Pajan. She suggests doing some of your pet’s favorite things like going for a walk or spending time at the beach.
Another way to memorialize your pet is by extending kindness to animals through fostering or volunteering at an animal rescue organization. “For some people, it might take years or they might never open their heart or home to another pet,” explains Pajan. “Some people worry their angel pet is going to feel forgotten.”
Pajan reassures people by saying, “you’re always moving forward with them in your heart so you’re not doing them a disservice when you get another pet. Plus, angel pets have a way of bringing you the pets that you need and that need you. It’s okay not to feel the same bond with your new pet. No love will ever be the same.”