Updated: Sep 24, 2020
As some of my readers know, I have had to deal with some personal grief recently. I felt motivated to write this post to therapeutically deal with my circumstances and possibly help someone else understand grief as well. There are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. We typically go through every one of these stages in all different types of motions consciously or subconsciously. While some remain longer than others, it is not necessarily always a linear progression of feelings. For example, I could feel acceptance today, but tomorrow feel angry. The five stages of grief can practically apply to anything perceived as a loss in your life. In times like this, I must remind myself as well the importance of taking care of yourself. This includes allowing yourself time to grieve without trying to rush the process. Suppressing feelings of grief typically leads to a more extended grieving period. Grieving doesn’t necessarily have an end date, either. It could be five or ten years later, and you feel a pang of sweet but somber remembrance. My thoughts on grief and a loved one’s death resonated with me that the end of a pet shouldn’t be taken lightly.
While my significant other is a fantastic support system, he can’t be there 24/7, and that’s 100% okay! We need to remember that people are there in the acute phase of grief, but as the emotional emergency dissipates, family and friends’ support naturally declines. But guess who can provide comfort 24/7? That’s right, Athena (or your furry friend). She requires me to get up and be productive, care for something that isn’t myself, and provides comfort with her cuddles and doggy kisses. But what happens when the death is your pet? How do we handle it, and why do people act like it’s different than human death? Maybe I have a sensitive soul, but I see no difference. The loss of a life close to you is the loss of life regardless of pet or human. With a pet, your routine is changed, your atmosphere is altered, and your emotional support/comfort that was there 24/7 is an empty bed in the corner of the house. How do you cope when people tell you it was just a pet when it feels like a part of your family unit has been buried? The answer is the same as how everyone grieves. Different and unique to you.
The death of a pet can absolutely cause someone intense grief that should not be dismissed. According to an article by Guy Winch, “The New England Journal of Medicine reported in October 2017 that after her dog died, a woman experienced “broken heart syndrome”—a condition in which the response to grief is so severe the person exhibits symptoms that mimic a heart attack, including elevated hormone levels that can be 30 times greater than normal.” In our home, Athena is family. She influences where we go, how long we will be there, where we live, and our everyday routes are affected by her presence. As a dog owner, you might be faced with the decision to euthanize to prevent suffering. If other children are in your family, you have to teach them about death and dying. In the elderly, this can be their only form of companionship if their spouse has passed. The longest I have been away from Athena is one week since she has come into my life two years ago. One week! When my boyfriend and I travel without her, we often find we talk about her and miss her. Depending on life expectancy, a dog could have been part of the family unit for 10-15 years. That is 10-15 years of caring for a living creature that depends on you, provides emotional support, and loving memories for you and your family.
When grieving the loss of a pet, some important things to do are to reminisce in the good memories, continue the usual routines such as walking, or tell stories that you love about your animal. These will be painful initially, but hopefully, time begins to heal these wounds. Be wary of getting a new pet before allowing time for the grieving process. Other alternatives include visiting/volunteering at pet shelters. Don’t forget that taking care of yourself is essential, including needs such as sleep and eating. Some other practices that help with the grieving process are breathing exercises, meditation, or professional help. People go to the gym to strengthen the body, never fear the therapist to strengthen your mind and inner self.
With extra support and love,
The Pawsitive Writer