Research has shown that pet loss can be a devastating and complex experience for some human survivors, yet this loss may not be fully recognized by friends, partners, or acquaintances as a significant bereavement. The objectives of the current study were to consider how continuing bonds (CB) expressions relate to psychosocial functioning and to identify perceived social constraints as well as areas of resilience associated with efforts to cope with recent pet loss. Through an anonymous online survey, participants (n = 4,336) who had lost a pet to death within the past year were recruited via bereavement support groups and associated websites across the US. Findings in this severely bereaved sample demonstrated the utilization of a wide range of CB (e.g., reflecting on fond memories, holding onto possessions), which were experienced as comforting or distressing to varying extents across the sample. In addition, social constraints were associated with more negative mental health and functional outcomes, while post traumatic growth was in some cases associated with lower mental health and functional complaints. Results are discussed in terms of similarities in patterns of bereavement in human and pet loss samples as well as the importance of considering likely idiosyncratic patterns of response to loss. For example, distress and comfort associated with different efforts to maintain a connection to a deceased pet may occur simultaneously. Given the cross-sectional nature of the current study, experimental and longitudinal research is recommended to determine whether increasing CB efforts experienced as comforting may be a potentially adaptive, growth-enhancing aspect of bereavement.
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