Pet Loss: Part 2

By Greencolander

This is the second part of a series about pet loss and grief. You can find Part I here.

Breaking The Bond

In a  recent New York Times blog the author, Dana Jennings, eloquently juxtaposes the mortality of people with the mortality of dogs. The author concludes with the desire to meet his own mortality in the presence of his family- and beloved pet.

Our pets bear witness to our developmental milestones. Countless people have described a pet cat or dog who “was there” through high school graduation, a first love, getting married, and having a child. Over time, pets have been folded into the family system as members, and may have provided stability, unconditional love, and consistency that were lacking in one’s own family-of-origin.

Yet, our pets only live a fraction of our lifespan.

With any significant loss, including pet loss, we are likely to experience a myriad of thoughts and emotions. For those who are deeply attached to their pets, they are likely to feel stronger grief reactions.

Theories used to guide grief counseling can also capture the emotional pain that comes with losing a pet. One of the more common models of grief that can be adapted for bereaved pet owners is by Kubler-Ross. Please keep in mind that not everyone will experience each stage, or move through stages in a linear progression.

  • Disbelief: This is accompanied by feelings of numbness or shock. Our minds are protecting us from the harsh realty and implications of loss. Reactions here include, “I can’t believe this happened,” or “She was just running around 2 hours ago..”
  • Anger: We may direct our anger toward a higher power or the veterinarian. Anger, though, is an affirmation that the pet played a valued and meaningful role in our life. A common statement here is, “How can you let this happen.” For some, anger turns inward and evokes feelings of guilt.
  • Bargaining: We attempt to negotiate in order to reconnect with the deceased pet. “If you can bring Spot back, I promise to be a better person.”
  • Depression: With a fuller realization of the permanency of the loss, the sadness ushers in opportunities for working through deeper levels of grief. Some socially isolate, or lose interest in activities usually deemed pleasurable. Bereavement can mirror the symptoms of clinical depression, but is considered a normative process with significant loss.
  • Acceptance: A coming to terms with the new reality that doesn’t include the deceased pet, energies once invested in the pet are redistributed into other relationships.

One of the main contributing factors for working successfully through grief is the quality of support from our social networks. In Part III, I will discuss how grief can become complicated when bereaved pet owners are lacking social support, and how current societal norms undermine some bereaved pet owners ability to openly express themselves when mourning.

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