It's a messy, unpredictable business, grief.
Everyone experiences it in their own way, and nothing is necessarily "right or wrong." You may not go through the 5 stages in a straight line; you may repeat some, you may skip some.
How – and when – grief manifests in you, is dependent upon many factors:
- Who was that pet? What did they mean to you?
- What are the circumstances surrounding the loss?
- What is your past experience with loss and grief?
- Do you have a support system to help you?
With such a complex topic, there are more recognized types of grief than you may expect:
Anticipatory grief is when you experience the stages of grief before the actual loss. It may occur when learning of a diagnosis, or if your pet starts showing signs of getting older. You may feel:
- Heightened concern or fear
This grief can be intense, and you may actually find relief after the loss occurs.
One good thing about anticipatory grief, is while you're keenly aware of the impending loss, you now have time to prepare for it, and may feel a greater sense of appreciation for the time you have left.
You might create a bucket list to do with your pet, or simply spend more time together. This is a good time to schedule a photo shoot, or research ways in which you can help your pet stay comfortable.
Normal / Uncomplicated Grief
"Normal," or uncomplicated grief is when you're experiencing predictable behaviors and reactions to loss. It's the most common way of experiencing the grieving process.
In this type of grief, you can still engage in daily activities, and are moving through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, toward acceptance and alleviation of symptoms.
- Dreaming about them
- Inability to concentrate
Talking about your pet with friends and family can be cathartic. Reminiscing over photographs, creating memorials from their ashes, journaling, or lighting candles are common ways of processing normal grief.
Someone experiencing complicated, or prolonged grief is essentially "stuck." They're not moving forward toward healing, and the grief will be chronic: lasting many months or even years.
It's a debilitating state to be in, and it can seem like you're always going to feel this way. Complicated grief may cause:
- Interference with work, life, and relationships
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Finding it hard to care about or trust people
- Constant fear or anxiety
- Strong urges to see/touch/hear/smell things, to feel close to the pet that has passed away
- Feeling like you can't live without them
The best course of action if you're experiencing complicated grief, is to seek help from a trained professional. Look for therapists who specialize in the human-animal bond, like Lisa Havelin.
Pet Grief Relief offers Emotional Freedom Tapping, a great tool to move past this type of grief.
Disenfranchised grief occurs when the grieving person is not openly acknowledged or socially accepted. This is common with people experiencing the loss of a beloved pet, who don't have support from friends or family. It's a very lonely place to be, when your profound loss feels invalidated by those close to you.
- Others may suggest you get a new pet
- You may not be allowed compassionate time off from work
- Others dismiss your grief as insignificant
- It may feel like there's accepted way to mourn
If you're experiencing disenfranchised grief, it can be helpful to find support groups in your area
There is immense responsibility in making the decision to euthanize a dog, cat, or other animal companion that's part of your family. "Was it too soon?" "Did I wait too long?" "Was this the right thing to do?" When you experience this responsibility guilt, you will likely:
- Feel guilt and doubt
- Question your motivations
- Trivialize your own feelings
Support groups may be helpful in this situation, or you may consider speaking with an animal communicator. Many of them can communicate with pets that have passed on, to provide their point of view and answers to your questions.
Delayed / Inhibited Grief
When grief symptoms and reactions aren’t experienced until long after the loss, this is referred to as delayed, or inhibited grief. People experiencing this type of grief may show no outward signs, but rather:
- Consciously or subconsciously avoiding the reality, pain, or loss
- Suppressed feelings
Distorted grief means the person is exhibiting atypical reactions, such as:
- Odd changes in behavior
- Self-destructive actions
- Anger and hostility toward others
Cumulative grief is when people experience an additional loss while still grieving the first loss. They haven't had a chance to fully progress through the grief process, and this added burden can lead to bereavement overload.
So much loss at once can become debilitating, and possibly lead to Complicated Grief.