Grieving for a Sick or Dying Pet
When we are faced with the news that our beloved pet is very sick and our time with them is cut short, we tend to be in a state of shock. From that moment of realization, the five stages of grief are set in motion.
• Denial: “This is not happening. This is really NOT happening.”
• Anger: “This is not fair. We take good care of our pet. He just had a full check-up six months ago.”
• Bargaining: “We can fix this. He will begin daily treatments of xyz.”
• Depression: “This is not a mistake. We cannot fix this. We are going to lose him.”
• Acceptance: “There is nothing we can do but work through our grief.”
While Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying, many grief counselors add two more.
Shock: We feel nothing but disbelief, which may present like a full-body numbness.
Guilt: Feeling that this is our fault, asking ourselves why we did not see the signs earlier? Maybe if we had, we could have saved him.
Grief can manifest in many ways.
• Physically: This includes crying, shock, lump in throat, lack of energy, disturbing dreams, insomnia, lack of hunger or overeating, body aches, dizziness, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Do not quickly disregard the last two as just grief as they are also indications of a heart attack.
• Emotionally: There may be confusion, preoccupation with loss, hallucinations, sadness, resentment, guilt and anxiety.
• Socially: We may either withdraw or become too dependent on our friends. In addition, we may distract ourselves with extra work.
• Spiritually: It may weaken or strengthen spiritual beliefs or move us towards a radically different belief system.
We work through the stages in our own time. There are instances in which we seem trapped and cannot work through our grief.
• Thoughts of suicide: While grieving, it is normal to have fleeting thoughts of suicide. If these thoughts persist, tell someone.
• Panic attacks: They come on suddenly with no discernible pattern.
• Depression: Depression and grief are different behaviors. Grief does mimic some symptoms of clinical depression. While grief can run its course without intervention, depression cannot. Sigmund Freud summed it up, as, “In grief, the world looks poor and empty. In depression, the person feels poor and empty.”
The healing process can be hindered by such factors as the circumstances surrounding the death, no previous experience with a loss, insensitive comments or multiple losses. A support system is critical in order for grief to run its course.
• Supportive family and friends: Avoid those that minimize feelings towards the loss because “it’s just a pet.”
• Grief counselors: There are many that specialize in pet bereavement.
• Animal communicators: Exercise caution because there are many that will prey on our vulnerability.
• Online support: Online resources are valuable especially if our in-person support is not available. Many online organizations provide free or low cost grief counseling, as well as assistance in locating local in-person counselors. In addition, they will offer virtual candle lighting and chat rooms with other people experiencing a loss. Most of these organizations support their websites with online shops selling personalized memorabilia. A listing of current online resources can be found at Tufts.edu/vet/petloss/links.html.
How can we help friends or clients that are losing or have lost a pet?
• Listen to them: Let them talk; it allows them to start moving through the stages.
• Send a card: Cards can be helpful when the person cannot bring themselves to talk to somebody.
• Send a copy of the Rainbow Bridge poem: Many of the online organizations will send a personalized copy to their home.
• Make a donation in their pet’s name: This can help the memory of the pet live on with the good deed.
• Send or bring a personalized gift: A rose quartz heart or something that has meaning for them can be very helpful.
• Pay attention to the warning signs of suicide: This awareness may save a life.
The loss of a pet can cause grieving as intense as the loss of a human. Do not discount feelings, as “It’s just a pet.” Pets are beloved companions.
Mary Oquendo is a Reiki master, advanced crystal master and certified master tech pet first aid instructor. She is the owner of Hands and Paws Reiki for All. She can be reached at HandsAndPawsReiki.com. See ad, page 89.Edit ModuleShow Tags