Saying goodbye to a pet – grief.
We all experience loss at some time in our lives.
Some of us cope better with loss than others do.
So what happens when we grieve for the loss of a pet?
Well, there are many people today who consider their pets to be family. I am one of them.
Animals have an innate way of crawling into your heart and staying there. I can’t say that I miss my “black daughter” any more now than I did 14 years ago, and I certainly don’t love her any less then than I do now either. She was my first real love, my child, my everything.
The death of a pet leaves very few people “untouched”.
Pets are playmates, soul mates, friends, parents, confidants, siblings, teachers – pets love unconditionally.
So how do you cope with a loss of a being that created such an impact on your life?
The problem with losing a pet is that your usual support system may not understand that grieving for a pet is as devastating as losing a close friend or family member.
You will get the “get over it! It’s just an animal” response or to my absolute horror I saw one uncompassionate being commenting “was the car okay?” after a friends cat was run over recently. And no people, he wasn’t joking. Even if it was a joke, it is sick beyond comprehension.
The process of grieving for a pet is no different than mourning the death of a human being.
My point here is that you find comfort from those who understand. Remember that you do not need to conform to societies beliefs, you do not need anyone else’s approval to mourn the loss of your pet, nor do you have to justify your feelings to anyone.
Speak to your vet, groomer, or simply another pet owner. There are groups on social networking sites specifically for people to talk about their losses.
Before I tell you about the stages of bereavement, understand that there is no exact pattern to how you or anyone else will grieve. That depends completely on circumstances, beliefs, upbringing, and many other factors.
Denial and Isolation:
The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished pet is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. The reality of impending death is, understandably, often too painful to accept on a conscious level. Denial is therefore a defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts; we hope that if we don’t feel the pain, it will go away. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear off, reality and its pain re-emerge.
We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us angrier.
When a person is hurt, a natural response is to look around for the person or thing that is causing that hurt. When we can’t find a physical cause for our pain we make scapegoats out of strangers, family members, friends, veterinarians, the person who caused a fatal accident or injury, the illness that was responsible for the death, supernatural forces, God, and even the pet itself. Finding something or someone to blame for your pain enables you to strike back, if only by declaring that “It’s YOUR fault, YOU did it.”
Don’t get me wrong, it can be very gratifying in the moment to tell off the person you “blame” for your loss. Unfortunately this is only temporary, a distraction, and you will still need to come to terms with your loss.
Constructive anger, for example, can help you resolve the situation that caused your pet’s death, giving you a feeling of accomplishment.
However, anger that you hold onto because you can’t focus it constructively can make you feel helpless, and hinder your progress.
Blind anger will simply send you charging off wildly through the swamp guns blazing or keep you running in circles
When you lose a pet to death give yourself time. Ask your vet to give you extra time or to explain just once more the details of your pet’s illness, honest and open communication are an invaluable long-term investment.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control.
This is where the “if only’s” begin.
If only –
We went to the vet sooner.
If only –
We got a second opinion from another doctor.
We changed our pet’s diet, maybe it would have got well.
If only –
We closed the door, kept Fido inside.
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defence and once again it protects us from the painful reality.
The death of a pet is certainly the type of event that one would expect to trigger depression. It is traumatic, painful and stressful; it creates a situation that plunges a person into a whirlpool of emotions, and is an event that one may very well wish to withdraw from rather than confront. But, though depression is a logical result of pet loss, it is also a state of mind that can impede a pet owner’s recovery from that loss.
One of the symptoms of depression is: a lack of energy, an inability to focus even on simple things, let alone on the overwhelming problem of your grief. While it is not a good idea to distract yourself from your grief to the point of ignoring or denying its existence, one tried-and-true coping strategy is to focus on outside activities: your work, friends, a change of scene. This type of healthy distraction keeps you in touch with reality, which helps keep your grief and loss in perspective.
However depression robs you of the energy or inclination to pursue even trivial activities, creating a spiral effect: If you cannot distract yourself from grief, you tend to dwell upon it, which makes the depression worse, which makes it even more difficult to break out of the cycle, and so forth.
It is important to realise that, even though you are “only” coping with the loss of a pet, you may need to make an appointment with your GP who could guide you further, and help you out of your depression.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Your pet’s death may have been sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm.
Explaining Pet Loss to Your Child
It is natural to want to protect our children from painful experiences. Most parents, however, are surprised to find how well children adjust to the death of a pet if they are prepared to answer children’s questions honestly and age appropriately. From a young age, children begin to understand the concept of death, even though they may be unaware of it at a conscious level. It is an important opportunity to encourage a child to express his or her feelings.
Buying a story book about death is an easier way to explain to younger children.
Explain the situation to their school teachers. Caring teachers, would include a story in class. Sometimes hearing other children’s responses helps them understand the situation better.
Pet Loss and Considerations
With all this considered we need to remember that our surviving pets mourn too. They cannot tell us how they feel.
When pets grieve, they usually show their sense of loss with behaviour changes. In fact, separation anxiety is one form of grief–your cat only understands someone she loves is gone.
The surviving pets often begin to act differently when the cat or dog first becomes sick or starts to decline. The surviving pet may seem withdrawn and depressed. Often the personality changes and a shy cat could become more demanding of attention, while a demanding cat instead hides.
One of the most heartbreaking situations occurs when the surviving pet cries and looks everywhere for the missing loved one.
If you’re noticing changes in your surviving animals, you may want to chat to a behaviourist to help your pet adapt and prevent future behaviour issues.
To help you to prepare for the decision to euthanize your pet, consider the following questions.
These are only a guide; only you can decide what the best solution is for you and your pet.
Once again take your time.
Speak with your veterinarian.
Which choice will bring you the least cause for regret after the pet is gone?
Consider the following:
What is the current quality of my pet’s life?
Is my pet still eating well? Playful? Affectionate toward me?
Is my pet interested in the activity surrounding it?
Does my pet seem tired and withdrawn most of the time?
Is my pet in pain?
Is there anything I can do to make my pet more comfortable?
Are any other treatment options available?
Do I still love my pet the way I used to, or am I angry and resentful of the restrictions its condition has placed on my lifestyle?
Does my pet sense that I am withdrawing from it?
What is the quality of my life and how will this change?
Will I want to be present during the euthanasia?
Will I say goodbye to my pet before the euthanasia because it is too painful for me to assist?
Will I want to wait in the reception area until it is over?
Do I want to be alone or should I ask a friend to be present?
Do I want any special burial arrangements made?
Can my veterinarian store the body so that I can delay burial arrangements until later?
Do I want to adopt another pet?
Do I need time to recover from this loss before even considering another pet?
There is no right or wrong way for us to grieve, here are some ways to creatively and healthily mourn the loss of a pet.
Writing- It helps to write about the loss, not necessarily literally, but what it invokes in you.
Collage the pet’s life
Collage what you are feeling and experiencing because of the loss
Reading books on the loss
A pictorial memorial
Artistic Art forms
Write a poem about you-where you are now
Write a poem about the process and state you are in from the loss.
Use your heart, mind, spirit to channel the energy of the loss in a way that is healing to you.
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Posted on January 21, 2013, in Animal Welfare, Di's Articles, Doggy Style, For Cat Lovers and tagged accident, cat, coping, death, dog, euthanasia, grief, loss, love, mourning, pet, rainbow bridge. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.