The loss of a pet is something that happens to us all. When it happens we may find ourselves struggling not only with the grief but also with well-meaning friends and even family who will tell us something like "get on with your life-if was ONLY a dog!"
It is difficult to explain the depth of feeling at losing our beloved friend, especially to those who have not shared that special Kerry-human bond of love and trust. Regardless of pedigree, blood lines, awards and shows won, we all experience this event and share the sequence of feelings that we call grief.
Decades ago, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, through her interviews with 500 dying patients, established a model of grief: denial, bargaining, depression, anger and acceptance. Originally applied to people in the throes of death, they have subsequently been applied to all types of grief, including the loss of a pet.
Kubler-Ross noted that not everyone goes through all the stages, and that the stages are not necessarily in a specific order. Whether we recognize we have been through these stages or not, we possibly have or will. Knowing the stages has helped millions of people cope with their losses.
An early stage of grief is denial- we can't believe that the pet we have nurtured and loved has passed. We tend to say and feel 'I'm OK.' We tend to go about our daily business, grab the lead to walk our dog and then come to that sickening realization that she is no longer there. It is not even that unusual to think we hear or perhaps even see the pet we have lost. The process of dealing with our pet's remains may bring us to reality and is an important step in resolving our grief.
Some grief experts add guilt as a stage-'If I had only...' Even when we have taken extraordinary means, spent hundreds or thousands of dollars in veterinary care, we may feel this. It is a typical feeling and we have to remind ourselves that we did what we could to save our friend, especially when we have make the decision to put our friend out of their misery, their pain and suffering. We must remind ourselves that we have done all that we could.
When we don't, grief can turn to another stage, anger- anger at ourselves, anger with our family, anger at our vet, anger with other pet owners, perhaps even anger at our pet for leaving us. 'How could this happen to me?' is a common question. 'This is not fair' is another thought for this stage. Anger often shows itself as blaming- blaming ourselves, our vet, our family. We must remember that this anger and blaming is part of the hurt that we are not yet fully feeling.
Depression is a stage of grief- an intense sadness, lethargy, a 'what's the point.' We might neglect our other pets, our family, ourselves. The loss is really settling in at this point and may take over our lives for a while. But the point is, it is only a while. We may have to force ourselves to-get through our daily routines and tasks. We may spend some time with our pet's effects-her lead, her favorite toys. We may pour through our scrapbook, or start a scrapbook of her pictures. We will cry, perhaps a lot.
We may be tempted to get a 'replacement' dog at this stage. It is not recommended because we need to fully feel and experience our loss. 'Replacement' pets only delay the loss experience, and can set us back into guild and anger.
Feel the loss. This is the only way that the sadness will become bearable and we can pass to the last stage.
Acceptance is the final stage of our journey of grief- "It's going to be Okay." We accept that our beloved pet is gone, although we may still grab her lead on occasion. When we do, we will smile because we will have felt our pain, and what will be left are the good memories of great times. We have the strength to go ahead and buy that pet marker for our garden or the stone for the pet cemetery. The pet we have loved is at rest in our hearts and we can carry on with our lives.
Nothing will bring back ourdeparted friend. But understanding the grieving process and recognizing that it is a natural progression can help us regain perspective, help us remember our friend with sweet memories and allow us to move on when we are ready.
In addition to the stages of grief over an actual loss, there is another devastating form of grief that attaches itself in advance to life-threatening illnesses and accidents. It anticipates the loss.
Because of advances in both medical and veterinary science, we often know far in advance of the actual loss of a loved one, human or animal. This grief is called 'anticipatory grief' and the grief model, consisting of stages of denial, guilt, depression, anger and acceptance, is also applied to these impending losses.
Anticipatory grief has one stage in addition to the ones mentioned in the main article: bargaining - the 'I'll do anything to delay this loss.'
This 'anything' does not necessarily apply to veterinary procedures-it applies to a sort of magical or wishful thing. We try to make promises and deals with God or our higher power.
Talk with friends and family to assist you in coping at this stage. A useful internet resource is www.pet-loss.net