Loss is loss is loss, no matter what species and what your relationship to the one that passed on, be it a human, a cat, dog, horse or other pet. If you cared for them, it hurts and it causes grief. And grief is a form of trauma. I will also acknowledge that all grief is not the identical and no one being grieves the same – animal or human. (Yes, animals grieve too.) We can often relate if we’ve been through a similar loss, but not always and we should never compare grief. It’s yours and yours alone. What matters is how YOU feel about the grief and about healing. How you honor your lost loved one, your relationship with them and about how you CHOOSE to move forward WITH grief. As I’m in the midst of my own heavy and complicated grief, I so badly want to move PAST it. I sometimes feel as though I’m beating my head against a wall. I know that I will have to learn to live WITH it, but everything in me wants to get OVER it. I still have some work to do…and that’s OK. Just like it is okay for you to be wherever you are at in your own process.
There are different times we feel grief and different types of grief. Sometimes, we feel grief before the loss, known as anticipatory grief. If it’s sudden, we are in shock and may have additional trauma associated with the loss. Even if it’s as peaceful as it can be when the time comes to say goodbye, it can be “complicated”. I was recently reminded in my own healing journey that grief is not linear. While I am painfully aware healing is not a straight line of forward progress, it did help to hear it and know that just because the waves are crashing harder and bigger at a given moment, it doesn’t mean I’ve lost ground, it just means I have more to process, release and recover from. It’s messy. Feel it. Accept it. Then keep going; swim or float and breathe.
Anticipatory grief happens when we are aware of our loved ones limited time here with us. This often unfolds in a terminal diagnosis, such as what happened with my sweet dog, Emily. Veterinarians expected she only had a few months to live based on her cancer diagnosis. This experience and her resilience and determination to love fiercely no matter the circumstances, showed me a better path to embracing the time we had left together. She taught me to love with all my might, to let go of what I can’t control and stay present in the moment. Worrying about “when” it would be her time, did neither of us any good. It caused stress, pain, anxiety and undue pain. Not that I didn’t dive down the rabbit hole and get caught up in grieving and worrying at times, but I could have my “moment” – cry, worry and be sad, but then I also had the courage and the desire to jump back onto level ground and love my dog up as much as possible and enjoy her while she was with me. It pulled me out of the darker moments and gave me more quality time with her. In the long run, this saved me some pain down the line. I don’t have regrets about wasting time worrying about her instead of living our best life together.
Unexpected losses – the shock and unfinished pieces cause additional trauma that opens the door for guilt and other harmful emotions. It complicates and upsets our whole being on every level and triggers upset throughout our bodies. I recently had a couple clients lose their horses unexpectedly and traumatically. The humans felt (and are feeling) huge grief and sadness, but also struggled with responsibility, “what ifs…” and guilt that they carry about not being able to fix or help them. The helpless feeling of watching your loved animal companion die is awful. Sometimes there are answers that give us peace and sometimes we are left with the unknown. No matter, it all hurts. How you respond is valid. And your pain is real.
When the time comes of an anticipated loss, it still is unbearable. Just because we know, doesn’t make it easier or hurt less. As time passes, I have found that it did give me more time to prepare and more intentional quality time with them before they passed. That doesn’t mean it was easier. It’s just different. There’s a complicated and difficult part of knowing and being able to set the inevitable aside when it’s staring you in the face, but it’s worth it. At least in my experience. Have I mentioned “grief is messy”?
With pets, we have the ability to make the decision to help them cross the bridge, ending any suffering and giving them the gift of peace. Most of my cats and dogs have gained their wings with me helping make the decision. It goes against every fiber of my being to make the choice, but for me, I have found it more humane to help them than to let them suffer, in the instances I chose. If you want to read more about my last experience with Emily, you can read, Pet Loss & A Tribute to Emily. This shares my raw, unfiltered feelings about losing her while it was still fresh. You may want to grab a tissue.
Grief can cause sadness, anger, resentment, it can come out sideways and misdirected. It can and will be ugly, complicated and of course, messy. It can be unbecoming and it will be so so raw. You may want to vent, cry, isolate, sleep, scream…throw plates or punch some pillows. There will be moments that it is unbearable. There will be times that it will affect you physically; chest / physical pains, brain fog and memory issues, inflammation and mental health challenges. Because grief is a form of trauma, your body will respond using your survival instincts and whatever coping mechanisms you’ve developed. There’s so many secondary conditions that can result from initial and unhealed trauma, such as PTSD, weight gain/loss, and depression. I encourage you to find ways to get help. You have to make yourself a priority and choose to heal. It doesn’t just happen and grief just doesn’t go away. If you don’t address it, your mind and body will.
We often accept and expect grief at the onset of a loss. Then soon after, “life goes on” and whether we are the one experiencing grief or someone close to us is, we often want to “get over it”. For someone going through grief, it can be isolating and further the trauma by their loss being minimized or invalidated. There is no timeline and there is not one way to grieve. Grieving is the price of love. Wear that badge with honor. It won’t always feel good, but you should never be shamed or guilted because of your grief or how you respond to it. What I would encourage you to do is to find ways to help you process your grief and move forward with it in a healthy way. Find ways to heal.
I could go on and on about the various ways that grief shows up. Instead, I will tell you I’m here to help. I’m here to support YOU and your PET during their senior years and during their hospice phase. Be it animal communication, cat/dog/horse massage, Reiki for animals, or one of my classes like the Resilient Movements For Grief – they are all ways that can help improve your jouney. I’m here to help you during & after loss and I’m here to acknowledge your pain. And remind you to show yourself patience, compassion and grace. You are worthy. Grieve. Choose Healing.
Grief is Messy.