Gone But Never Forgotten
For many of us, a pet is not just LIKE a member of the family but IS a member of the family. When we lose a family member, we grieve. Problems arise when we do not (or cannot) accept this loss as normal. When a father, mother, spouse, or other relative dies, there are any number of individuals who help support us through the grief period. When we lose a pet, those same well-meaning supporters are apt to say "It's only a dog (cat, bird, hamster or any other creature with which we've shared our lives) just go get another one." They don't realize how they are diminishing the strong feelings we harbor for this creature that loved us unconditionally. Therefore, we feel we are responding inappropriately to our loss and the grief cycle cannot be followed nor realized.
How can you recognize grief?
Grief affects us physically, socially, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. It is a normal and necessary part of recovering from loss. While grieving, you may feel exhausted, unable to sleep, or want to sleep most of the time. You may find that you want to shun the company of others, lose your appetite or want to "bury" your grief by eating more than normal. You may experience physical signs of anxiety such as a racing heart or shortness of breath. It may be hard to concentrate or remember things.
What you are feeling is real. All stages of grief must be worked through in order for healing to occur. Psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. first defined the 5 stages of Receiving Catastrophic News in her book, "On Death and Dying". Through the ensuing years, counselors, clergy, etc. have used the stages in grief counseling so much that they have now evolved into the 5 stages of grief.
- Shock/Denial - the reality has not hit yet…this can't be true.
- Anger - you may lash out at your family, the veterinarian, yourself, anyone - someone must be responsible for this horrible thing.
- Bargaining - "I'll do anything if you'll just bring my pet back."
- Depression - Your life style has changed. You miss your beloved pet. You may lose your appetite or be unable to sleep.
- Acceptance - You begin to realize that life does go on. Changes are made and you adjust to your loss. You don't forget your missing pet but you pick up your life and proceed forward.
These stages can occur in any sequence and you may slip back into one you have already experienced. You may progress through these stages rapidly or slowly. None of these things is unusual or wrong. Problems occur when we get stuck in one stage and cannot get out. Don't apologize or be ashamed of your feelings. If we didn't love, we wouldn't grieve and true love is always returned. Don't allow anyone to diminish that love or rob you of the need to honor it.
Where Can I Find Help Understanding My Feelings?
Pet Loss Support Hotline is a hotline sponsored by the Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine. The student staffed hot line is available Tuesday through Thursday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST. There are links for other support hotlines and resources for grieving.
Ten Tips on Coping with Pet Loss is a resource for the grieving pet owner. Besides the 10 tips, there are links for support groups, counselors and pet cemeteries in each state. Also, there are links to companies that can provide caskets, urns, headstones, memorial products and artwork etc.