How Long Will This Grief Last?

When we lose our beloved fur-babies, we may be surprised by how devastated we are, believing that our lives have come to an end. We may wonder how we will be able to go on without our sweet babies. We may feel like nothing will ever be the same. If these feelings sound familiar to you, please know that you are not alone and that these feelings are common to those who, like you, are devoted pet parents.

Grief is the normal response to any important loss in life. Those of us who have been blessed by a relationship with a companion animal experience a depth of loss that is deeper than one with any human loss we may have had because of the total unconditional love that we shared. However, unlike with a human loss, our grief may not be understood by some people around us. They may think and say that we are “too sensitive” and are “overreacting.” We may even want to avoid working through our grief by denying our feelings. We may be anxious to “get it over with” and get on with our lives. The truth is that there are many losses we experience in our lives, and if we bury our feelings and don’t consciously process them, somewhere along the way an important loss will be so strong that it will bring up all the other losses we’ve had. Then we are not grieving one loss; we are grieving multiple losses. This is known as “complicated grief.”

We don’t need to fear our grief.  Coming to terms with the changes the loss of a pet imposes on our lives takes as long as it takes. (Not the answer we want to hear, but the one that, if accepted, can speed us on our healing journey!) We will heal as long as we are open to sharing our feelings and expressing our emotions. You may wonder if you’re “going crazy” because you are still in pain, crying, irritable and “not feeling like your old self” as time goes by. Take heart. J. Shep Jeffrey’s, in his book “Helping Grieving People” (2007, Kindle Locations 1462-1480) identifies some cognitive symptoms of grief:

             * Difficulty concentrating

             * Loss of interest in usual activities

             * Loss of pleasure

             * General numbness

             * Intrusive thoughts about the loss

             * A sense of futility about life

             * So-called (but not) “crazy” thoughts (hearing or seeing your lost loved one; feeling that you can communicate with them)

We do, indeed, grieve as deeply as we have loved, and, to our great dismay, there is no timeline to tell us the “right’ way to do it and how long this process will take. Each of us grieves in our own way and time. There is no way to “get over” it. We can, however, “get through” it. Given time, you will heal. Many of us have been down this road before you and can attest to that fact. Some things that you can do to help your healing process are:

             * Be patient with yourself. Don’t let others dictate a timeline to you. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be at any other place in your process. Take the time you need. Trust your inner guidance.

             * Give yourself permission to grieve. Only you know how deeply bonded you were with your pet and what s/he meant to you.

             * Surround yourself with supportive people who understand your loss. Seek out a pet loss counselor or support group. (Check out the APLB online support chat rooms at www.aplb.org )

             * Give yourself permission to “relapse” into your grief. You might feel as if you’re on an emotional roller-coaster ride, but this is part of the grief process. You WILL heal, and your life WILL be normal again. It will be a “new normal,” different than what you experienced before your loss. But that is okay too. You see this “new normal” comes with lessons that will help you along life’s path.

Because Society doesn’t, as yet, give pet owners permission to grieve openly, pet parents can feel isolated and unsupported. It’s so important to know that you are NOT alone, you are NOT crazy and your grief is real and valid. Mourning and processing your grief will help you to live again with love in your heart as that is the best tribute you can pay to your loved one. Allowing yourself the gift of your grief will honor your love and help you heal.

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1 Comment

  1. Greg Potter

     /  April 9, 2014

    Thank goodness . . . and bless you! Finally, a voice rings clear through this dark, wilderness of grief and validates my wife’s and my feelings of loss and process of recovery! We’re learning to accept that certain people may never understand our process, possibly because of their own limitations with grief. You are providing an invaluable service that helps us understand that grief – though seemingly insufferable at times – is evidence of the fact that we had loved (and were open to being loved) so fully and unconditionally. My wife and I are forever grateful to you!

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