Saying Goodbye To A Family Pet

I was recently referenced in an article on pet loss at www.sheknows.com.

One important aspect of grieving the loss of a pet, that often goes overlooked, is holding a memorial for your beloved deceased pet. Pet memorials can help to bring closure to a grief that is largely unrecognized in broader society.

You can read the article here.

www.goodlifepsychotherapy.com

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Pet Loss: Part 3

This is the third part of a series on pet loss. You can read Part 2 here.

For some, losing a beloved pet can be one of the more painful life experiences. Bereaved pet owners can become so grief-stricken that they are unable, at least immediately, to perform daily activities. I have heard of bereaved pet owners who are unable to go to work because they are unable to stop crying, or have completely lost focus and concentration.

One of the main factors that assists with getting over a loss is emotional support. This applies to both deceased pets and people; however, getting over the death of a pet carries additional complexities. Since our society doesn’t value the open expression of grief in general, we tend to stagnate somewhere along the grieving process. With pets, there is little to no social norms that support the expression of grief towards a deceased pet. Therefore, some bereaved pet owners may never fully come to terms with the loss of their pet, or feel ashamed when mourning a pet’s death.

Given that social support contributes to good grief, it is important for bereaved pet owners to seek out others who will provide non-judgmental empathy and emotional support. I encourage you to be selective. All too often, people tell me that their grief is met with ridicule or indifference. In order to work through pet loss grief, bereaved pet owners need to find others with whom they can openly express their sorrow.

For those that are lacking social support, there are usually pet loss support groups available at local animal rescue organizations and shelters. Some bereaved pet owners may need additional support, and a licensed counselor can provide the non-judgmental empathy that may be lacking elsewhere.

Please contact me if you are interested in receiving more information, or my services.

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.

Pet Loss: Part I

Good Grief

I am honored to be giving a talk tonight for the animal rescue organization, Austin Pets Alive. I will be speaking about pet loss and grief.

The topic of pet loss and grief is an often overlooked and undervalued societal norm. Yet, for some pet owners who are deeply attached to their pets, they will experience real emotional turmoil when their pet companion dies. In fact, the grief that comes from the death of a pet can be just as painful as the grief surrounding the loss of a person.

I would like to share with you some of the information I will be presenting tonight.

In the United States, we spend tens of billions of dollars on pet products each year.  It’s common to see pets included in leisure activities, holidays, and special events. For Halloween this year, there were numerous pets dressed up as pumpkins, witches, and ghosts. Here, in Austin, we have been recognized as the third most dog-friendly city in the nation.

Social conventions allow us to openly dote on our pet companions. In pet-friendly Austin, people are quick to mention that some pets are considered members of the family. What happens, though, when a pet companion dies?

How do others you know  react to the loss of a beloved pet?

How do family and friends react when someone loses their pet?

How did you feel when you lost your pet?

At a broader level, how do prescribed social norms influence the extent to which we grieve and mourn our pets?

The grief that comes with the loss of a pet, or anticipating the loss of a pet, can be real emotional pain. Chances are, the deeper the attachment an individual has to a pet, the stronger the grief reaction. There is a significant disconnect in our society between being able to openly love and care for a pet, and being able to openly mourn a pet’s passing.

One purpose of the talk tonight, is to raise awareness regarding current societal norms about pet loss: the death of a pet is largely  an invalidated grief in our society. I also plan to discuss the grief process for bereaved pet owners, and how to work through the grief.

This post is the first of a series to elucidate the topic of pet loss and grief reactions of bereaved pet owners.