When Saying Goodbye is Not What We Want To Do...
Accepting the loss of a pet
The response of people when the one they love dies varies greatly. Some find that their pain
drives them to work almost compulsively, others react by wanting to be left alone. Exploring and surviving
such pain likely is only similar for each of us in the confusion it engenders. While attempting to deal with the loss,
many people are left with questions like
"Am I crazy for feeling this strongly about a pet?"
"Is something wrong with me?"
"Will this pain ever stop?"
"Will other people think I am crazy?"
"Will other people understand?"
"What about the stages of grief? Is that what I am experiencing? Aren't they in a certain order?"
The answers to these questions will vary with each life experience but in general, feeling intense pain over the death of someone close to us, someone we share
our days and experiences with and someone who is part of our daily routine is excrutiatingly painful. In addition to the common sense of absence and grief the loss can also
touch on individual fears we all have over death and dying, love and acceptance. So no, feeling strongly about the loss of a pet, pain that could even rival that which we'd experience
in the loss of a person that is close to us is not unusual or an indication that someone is crazy.
The end of the pain is likely something that would be difficult to quantify. Some of us might get to a point where the pain is gone but the memories remain, can bring us a smile but may still
be tinged with a bittersweetness because of the loss. For most, the pain likely remains but dulls dramatically as we cope and deal with the ongoing changes in our life and come to terms with the reality
of all life.
The odds are good that you already know people who may think you are a bit crazy, or eccentric or ridiculous as well as knowing some who think you are wonderful, dedicated, artistic, creative and brilliant.
Life shapes us each differently as well as our inclination to assess new experiences. Trying to box your grief in a package that will be acceptable to all will be impossible and nonproductive. Be willing to explore
those friends that you trust to find those that will empathize. Consider keeping a journal or other 'safe place' to share your grief if you aren't comfortable with the people around you. Just don't assume that ignoring your
grief as a way to accomodate those that don't understand would be a successful way of addressing the pain. It won't.
Yes, you might be surprised at how many other people understand. It might be that the gruffest person you know is dealing with the loss of a beloved dog or parakeet. Very often, people who lack the social skills we take for granted
are the same people who bond most strongly with their pets. You might find moments when you are overwhelmed emotionally and in those moments you will often find a very sympathetic shoulder nearby even if it is a complete stranger until that moment.
As more studies are done, it is known that the stages of grief are common but they are not universal. Not everyone approaches them the same way or has distinct periods of time where they explore each of them. You might be a person
that doesn't spend much time on a particular area like 'denial' or 'anger' but you are completely comfortable with wallowing around in
"guilt" or "depression" (between them making up the four commonly recognized stages). The single most important thing is likely to give yourself permission to feel that way. Many of us have a faith and belief that indicates such reactions may not be necessary.
That we are all cared for eternally. It may feel like a rejection of those beliefs to catch ourselve grieving. Well, if it is, it would be a mistake. We all make plenty of mistakes, so give yourself permission to make this mistake and cry your heart out. Do not increase your
agony by judging yourself or your feelings. Take the time you need to explore your pain but at the same time, do it in your own time, do not feel constrained by a sense of 'I should be over it by now' or 'I spent two weeks feeling this way'.
Be prepared for being unprepared. You will have moments when you feel suddenly overwhelmed with the loss. Just as some days you may believe you are doing well and content and then the following day, you are back in the dumps. No itinerary exists for this path. Be prepared for the
reality that this experience will be charted by its own course. It likely will not be like any other experience of loss you've had and it's not beneficial to try to compare. For example, if when your cat died 10 years ago, you were in the dumps for 2 months but when you dog dies this year
you are able to get it together in a month, don't assume that it means you cared more about the cat. Instead, you've likely changed as a person with new responsibilities and understandings, as a result it would influence how you cope.
Be willing to try things that may feel a bit uncomfortable at first but could yield benefits. Write a letter to a friend that would understand (even if you don't have such a friend and you don't mail the letter). Keep a journal. Seek out a counselour or local pet grief group. Talk to people
you like and trust. Talk to your pet professionals - it's very likely that your dog's groomer, vet, chiropractor and their staff feel some grief as well as feeling alot of empathy for your pain. Be willing to volunteer in a situation where you can help other animals as a memorial to your pet (contact local shelters and rescues, perhaps making a donation would help).
Hold a memorial service, whether you actually bury your pet or maintain it's ashes, if that is an option, isn't material. Invite some close pet loving friends over. Offer some snacks and beverages (perhaps inspired by your pet's favorite treats) and share some pictures and stories of that character that
has had such a profound influence on your life. Pull out some pencils or paints, fabric or paper or canvas and create an art piece inspired by your pet, attach their favorite toy or a swatch from their preferred dog bed or blanket. Maybe you'd like to make a memorial corner or wall. Put up your favorite pictures, perhaps some fresh flowers in a vase on a table, with some candles for special moments when you want to focus on the good your pet brought into your life. Donate the pet's usable items - toys, dog bed, bowls, etc. to a friend or situation that could benefit. Get involved with a cause to help
save the lives of other pets whether it be through education or some other method. Your pet's love has changed you...and you can use that to help the world be better.
More help and products are readily available. Our online DigitalDog Forums offer a great venue for posting about your experience and need for support and understanding. While dealing with your own grief, consider becoming a Pet Bereavement Counselour as you help yourself you will be working toward helping others. A host of websites exist to offer online bereavement assistance and products. Visit Kathleen Berard's site for links to forums and locations to post memorials to your pet including photos and comments.