All the time we spent together.
In our grief over our pets, we are more alike than we are similar. In his book, The Loss of a Pet, Dr. Wallace Sife talks about the 5 common stages of grief that many people go through during the loss of a pet. Not everyone goes through each stage, nor is there a proper order to the stages.
Shock & Disbelief
The loss of a pet is a loss and grief experience unlike any other. It catches many of us by surprise—one minute it seems like we were just playing with our pet and the next they’re gone forever.
Our loss is so fresh that we haven’t had time to really process any part of our grief. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that something so awful has happened. It can paralyze us with grief and fear, and it can feel like a giant hole has been ripped through us. Although most people move through this phase relatively quickly, the perma- nence of our loss and this new reality will take time to truly accept.
Anger and Distancing
Anger is a very common reaction to loss, especially in men. It’s easy to feel anger. Anger makes us feel powerful and in control, which is what we have lost after a loss.
We can be angry at everything and everyone. Our anger can be directed at the veterinarian for missing a diagnosis, at our finances, at friends or family members for saying hurtful or insensitive things, at coworkers for avoiding us at work or our friends for not acknowledging or talking about our loss.
Worst of all, we are angry at ourselves. Anger turned inward becomes guilt. We are angry at ourselves for what we did or didn’t do, what we should have known, or what we should have been able to do.
So many people just don’t get the level of hurt and pain that accompanies the loss of a pet. As a result, they can make hurtful and insensitive comments. This insensitivity always hurts.
It’s important to know that many well-meaning people find it hard to talk about grief and loss. They don’t know what to do or say, so oftentimes they end up saying nothing at all. If this is the case, try not to let their “apparent” lack of response be indicative of a lack of caring.
Bargaining and Guilt
Virtually everyone feels some sort of guilt after a significant loss. Most of this guilt is undeserving. It’s so easy to use guilt as a way of holding on to what we have lost, because if we feel guilty, then at least we still have a piece of them in our lives.
Looking back at what happened and judging ourselves by reflecting on what we could have done better serves nobody. Whatever your reasons or circum- stances, they were valid and you did the best you could do with the information you had available at the time. You did the right thing.
No one is perfect;
our animals know that,
yet they love us anyway.
If you are the one at fault for what happened, an accident or lost pet for example, our path forward is with time, self-reflection, and self-forgiveness. First, realizing that we are human and we make mistakes and then learning from those mistakes is how we grow.
When you have these feelings of guilt, remember that you were there for them and loved them all of their life, and they knew that. There should be no guilt in that.
There is a stage in every healing journey where everything seems bleak and everyone seems to have abandoned you.
When we are in deep grief, our emotional strength seems to give out. We have unusual physical fatigue, abnormal sleep patterns, and we experience gloom, dejection, and despair. Nothing seems to matter.
When we’re in this stage, even the smallest victories can be monumental. Even the smallest things, like getting out of bed and taking a shower can take all of our energy.
It is common to feel and believe that life has no value and the future seems to be meaningless when we are grieving. However, if you feel emotionally stuck
or unable to feel anything but sadness, helplessness, loneliness, or grief, it may be time to ask for help.
Seek out help if any of these things are true for you:
- These feelings are consistent and last for many days/weeks,
- You have a history of depression,
- You are having thoughts of suicide.
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE
Resolution and Closure
We all grieve at different paces and in different ways. Your journey through grief cannot be compared to anyone else’s journey. You have lost something that is irreplaceable, a relationship that is unique to you, and it deserves to be mourned and grieved for however long it takes.
There is no finish line in grief.
The bad news is that there is no magical point where our grief ends; in some ways, our grief will be with us forever. With any profound loss, there is no such thing as “healing” and “getting over it”.
In the great presence of grief, time can seem both too long and too short. The truth is that we never stop missing or loving them. Over time, our pain lessens and we begin to cherish our loving memories again, but we will never think back and not wish to still have them in our lives.
Our bond and relationship has changed, not disappeared. It will always be a part of us. There will always be a part of us that is sad, a part of us that will miss them.
“Recovery” or “Closure” doesn’t mean we are never sad; it just means that we have found a way to live and love again without their physical presence. We are honoring our loved ones by living on in this way.