Grieving the Loss of a Pet 2
This is the second in a series of three blogs about grieving the loss of a pet. When someone close to us dies, whether it’s a partner, a relative or a good friend, people around us are usually quick to offer sympathy, comfort, and offerings of sincere condolence. Grief is expected, crying and getting emotional are totally accepted. But what happens when we lose a much-loved pet? A cat knocked over by a car or a terminally ill dog having to be put down by a vet? Can we expect the same kind of support and understanding?
Many bereaved pet owners say that most people (unless they have been through something similar) do not understand the depth of their grief. Some even experienced the gross insensitivity of a comment like, “Why don’t you just get another cat/dog?” Many of us view our pets as a family member, as cherished and valued as all the other members.
This article looks at how the grief we experience when we lose a pet, may be complicated by several additional factors including:
Guilt is a major stumbling block to a healthy grieving process. “Did I do enough?” Or “If only I…” Whether the pet died after a short or long struggle, many of us wonder if there were routes not explored, medications not taken, surgeries not performed. If we were unsure about whether all options were exhausted, then residual guilt may hinder moving through grief effectively. If our pet died in a way we perceive could have been avoided, the duration and severity of guilt can be intensified. “I should have noticed that the gate was open, so she couldn’t run into the street” or “I wish I had noticed his symptoms sooner, because he’d be alive today if I had.” Such comments only serve to punish us even further and it is important to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves.
Having a pet put down
Many of us are called upon to make the excruciating decision to end the life of a beloved pet. We spend our lives ensuring the health of our companion, and while euthanasia may end our pet’s suffering, it contradicts every instinct we have. Despite every reassurance from the vet, we might still be plagued by doubt — was it really the right time? Was he really getting worse? Questions like these will never be answered and again it is important to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves. If we choose to be present at the end, we are left with the image of our pet as he or she died, which can be overwhelming. If we chose not to, we can then beat ourselves up over that too.
Expectations that mourning will end at a particular time
Other peoples’ opinions can hijack the process if when we turn for support, they impose a timeline. “You should be better by now, it was only a dog.” Not having the necessary time to mourn, which varies for each of us, creates emotional pressure to “get better quickly.” This can slow up the whole process.
Reawakening of an old loss
A companion animal’s death may remind the owner of a previous loss, whether animal or human. An unresolved loss complicates the current mourning process. It is then important to not only mourn the lost pet, but to take this opportunity to achieve closure on earlier losses.
Resistance to mourning
Some of us may suppress feelings so that we don’t appear weak. Or we may fear that the tears may never stop if we allow them to begin. Whatever we use to defend against our true emotional experience will complicate our natural progression of grief. Letting go of grief can also be mistakenly interpreted as a betrayal, that trying to feel better is equated with trying to forget. That is not the goal of grieving. We’ll always love our pet. Healthy grieving is getting “through,” not over, a loss.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!