Monday, June 24, 2024

ANIMALS 101 – PET LOSS & GRIEF (PART TWO)

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MANY ARE EXCITED ABOUT THE FESTIVITIES AROUND THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS, BUT FOR SOME, AFTER PET LOSS, IT IS A TIME THAT THEY DREAD.

With their shorter lifespans, pet loss is inevitable, and saying goodbye is something every pet lover faces eventually. Saying goodbye is the hardest part of our relationships with our pets. As someone mentioned in a pet grief group, you joined a club you never wanted to be part of. Regardless of the type of pet, furry, finned, or scaled, no matter the species, we love them with all of our hearts and feel their loss as strongly as we’d feel the loss of a human family member or friend.

Last year I did an article on pet loss and the grief that accompanies it, shortly after a loss. When I looked back on many of the published posts in this series, the grief article had some of the highest views, which means that so many experience this, and since society stigmatization of loss, many suffer alone.

In my first article, I talked about grief, the stages of grief, the comorbidities of grief, a visualization exercise that helped me, pet loss resources, getting a new pet, and preparing for the Rainbow Bridge decision.  This week I want to share some of what I learned about grief in the last year and next week we will look at some coping strategies and remembering your pets.

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Pet loss – Image by Bark & Whiskers

ABOUT GRIEF

Grief is a universal emotion and in an excerpt from Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, Toko-pa Turner sums it up well:

“Grief is the response to a broken bond of belonging. Whether through the loss of a loved one, a way of life, or a cherished community, grief is the reaction to being torn from what you love. But while grief may look like an expression of pain that serves no purpose, it is actually the soul’s acknowledgment of what we value. Yet in our culture, we are deeply unskilled with grief. We hold it at a distance as best we can, both in ourselves and in each other, treating it as, Joanna Macy says, like “an enemy of cheerfulness.” There is unspoken shame associated with grief. It is sanctioned in very few places, in small doses, for exceptional occasions. Grief is the expression of healing in motion. Because what remains hidden for too long doesn’t change.  It is calcified in place, often sealed by shame, left untouched and forgotten by time. But when it can finally come into the open to be seen, it is exposed to new conditions and it begins to move. It rises on a salty geyser of tears, sometimes sung to the surface by a terrific moan, streaming down our cheeks until it moistens the soil where we stand, preparing us for new growth.”

Carol Bryant writes, “It’s an odd thing, grief. We fear it, dismiss it, try and avoid it, occasionally have brushes with it, and most often times, without warning, it invites itself into our lives. No welcome mat but it comes nonetheless.”

She goes on using the metaphor of grief as a suitcase: “I view my grief as a suitcase. Some days it’s a cosmetics bag full and others it’s Samsonite gorilla-sized. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a carousel in the airport waiting for the form my grief will take. Do I wait days or weeks before I tear up and ache so very much or is today a carry-on kind of day where I just take it with me? In any event, I know my luggage always arrives and never gets lost. If you are grieving the death of a beloved pet, please understand you are forever changed. I’ve learned to live with my grief and carry it with me as an invisible suitcase.”

I agree that society is unskilled in dealing with grief, more so when the loss involves an animal.  We certainly don’t talk or think about it enough and maybe that is because it scares us.

Nancy Gordon, a loss and transformational grief specialist, shares this: “Unhealed grief puts a lock on your heart. It’s so important for people to realize that the key to unlocking your heart is to face the guilt and grief. Now, facing it is often very, very hard for people. Grief is meant to be shared. It’s meant to be expressed in positive, healing ways rather than stuffing it.”

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Pet loss – Image by Bark & Whiskers

WHY DOES PET LOSS HURT?

There may be many reasons but some of the major reasons are certainly because animals’ love is so unconditional, non-judgemental, and accepting. They have seen you at your best and your worst. Sometimes these pets have helped us through major life-changing events like losing someone, illness, a new job or new school, divorce, etc. Grief is a sign you were loved and loved deeply. The grief is real because the emotions you experienced with your pet were real. The loss is valid because you didn’t lose a thing you lost someone close and special to you.

During my grief journey, I watched a TEDx talk by an emergency vet Dr. Sarah Hoggan who shared about the comorbidities of grief and how these comorbidities can complicate grief. Having to make the PTS decision or losing an animal due to a preventable accident are just two of them. My first article covered more on this.

In the first article, I touched on the stages of grief which starts with anticipatory grief. This is a grief you experience before the actual loss. Then there is denial, guilt/anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Because grief is such an individual process, not everyone may experience all the stages and it might also not be in this particular order, however, our first response to the loss is usually denial, and the last acceptance.

THE SIXTH STAGE OF GRIEF

David Kessler wrote a book in which he refers to the sixth stage of grief:  Finding meaning again. In his book, Kessler gives readers a roadmap to remembering those who have died with more love than pain; he shows us how to move forward in a way that honors our loved ones. Adoption can be part of this. Once you reach the stage of acceptance and you are back in a positive place, the best tribute you can pay to a pet that has passed is to give another one a second chance by adopting from a reputable rescue organization.

Please don’t get a new pet when you are still going through the grieving stages because you will bring the new pet into a weak and sad energy, which is not fair to them and never to “replace” the other one.

In an article by Carol Bryant titled: Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom she writes: “I never thought I would ever feel complete again. The logical part of me knows we all will die someday. The unprepared part of me wasn’t ready, couldn’t have prepared, and went into a downward spiral of pain as a grieving dog mom. There’s a hole in my heart where it used to be whole.”

That is exactly how I feel and probably, you reading this too. Last week we adopted a new boy from our local SPCA.  It was not a quick decision and never should be, but the time was right for me now.  Although this new addition will not ever replace the others, my heart feels whole again. Someone said that grief is love that is looking for a home…………this speaks deeply to me.

Pet loss – Image by Dr. Karen Becker

Also, read why animals should not be given as gifts.

REMEMBER THIS ABOUT GRIEF

Rainbow Bridge Raina and others share the following to keep in mind when you are grieving.

  • You are not grieving too long, but your journey will likely take longer than you think.
  • There is no right or wrong way to grieve as long as you don’t hurt yourself.
  • Your journey will look different because grief is personal.
  • Be kind to yourself because grief is messy.
  • Others won’t understand, you don’t need their permission to grieve.
  • People will say wrong things to help you feel better.
  • It may feel that your world stopped in this grief. We will all experience a loss that will get us stuck, but you won’t be stuck forever.
  • Grief can be a liar and irrational.
  • We live in a society where the world doesn’t even stop for death. If your thoughts wander or you forget about your pet for a moment, that is ok.
  • You are not alone.
  • It does get better but it takes time as grief changes and morphs. It becomes lighter and you will survive and feel joy again.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for support. There are professional counsellors for those who have lost pets. 

PREPARING FOR THE DECISION

In the first article, I talked about preparing for this dreadful decision and there are some practical resources to help you make this decision. What I want to highlight here is that you should never wait too long to make that decision, no matter how hard it is.  It is the last gift you can give your beloved animal.  Don’t prolong your pet’s suffering because of your or your child’s emotions.  That is not fair to the animal who is suffering and please remain by their side in the moment. I can assure you the guilt of waiting too long or letting them die at home will be harder than when you do it “too” early. I see it clearly in the grief groups but also with our experiences.  I know too many people who waited too long, usually because they didn’t want the responsiblity of this big decision.

Also, read what to do if your pet dies at home.  

Remember to never let the animal suffer because you do not have the funds to euthanize them.  Contact your local SPCA or animal rescue as there are ways they can help with this or talk to your veterinarian. Please be kind to those in animal welfare because we cry for other people’s pets too and many in the trenches experience this loss frequently.

My heart goes out to every person who has to make a euthanasia (PTS) decision or who has lost their beloved fur family members. The reality is as Nick Cave describes it: “……if we love, we grieve, that’s the deal, that’s the pact. Grief is a terrible reminder about the depth of our love, and like love, grief is non-negotiable.” To my fellow travellers on the road of grief, you, the survivor of this death, now embark on a journey of grief and healing. Here is a beautiful video of the reunion at the Rainbow Bridge.

Next week we will continue this topic and look at coping with the loss, especially for children, how to help our other pets cope, and ways to remember your pet.

WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, DO BETTER!