Dealing with grief is no easy task. It has no time limit and no specific set of instructions. Unfortunately, dealing with grief after loss is a part of life and everyone has to just experience it and walk through the storm at one point or another. It has been over a year since the passing of my youngest cat Dusty who died just a couple of months shy of her 14th birthday, and I still get teary eyed from time to time thinking about her. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way. It took me a while to say that I am definitely on my way to healing and have found more joy again and smiling again since last year. This blog is all about moving forward after pet loss and finding ways to uplift and bring joy in your life. With that said, to experience grief after pet loss is quite devastating and if it is your first time going through this you may wonder “What happens now?” or “How can I manage not having my furry BFF in my life?”
In order to help one move forward it is helpful to understand the stages of grief people typically experience. You may or may not experience all these aspects but more than likely you will experience most of them. Here are the five stages of grief and my experience as it pertains to each.
When you first find out news your pet is terminally ill or needs to be “put down” you are in a state of disbelief and denial. This cannot be happening. “My cat was just tired, what do you mean it’s cancer?” Denial involves a total shock and refusal to accept reality of the facts. Denial is our mind’s defense mechanism to only deal with a small amount of devastating information we can handle in increments. I knew despite each blood test that came back unfavorable and pointing towards signs of cancer, I was in denial until the moment I got a second opinion. I was just hoping a cancer prognosis was another illness masking as cancer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I had to face reality and snap out of the denial.
You may express anger in different ways. It may be snapping at friends and family out of frustration or anger at God as to “why is this happening? Or “She’s a good kitty; she has at least 5 more years in her!” Anger and how we express it can show itself in different ways. It’s important to know everyone is different in how they display being upset. Additionally, the fact that one is upset is a direct link to the amount of love that exists. Where there is great love, there can be great anger too. I didn’t experience rage however I definitely felt jilted and pissed, like this is not fair. Dusty was a happy healthy cat and got her checkups, so why is this happening? Didn’t I do everything right?
This phase of grief I did not relate to so much. However I’m sure many people try to rationalize and bargain with God and make a deal. “God, if you can just spare Fluffy’s life, I’ll do XYZ, please!” This bargaining is another aspect of grief experienced by many partly manifested from feelings of fault or guilt. For myself, I personally am a firm believer that we all have a certain number of days on this Earth that is predetermined and when our number is up, it is up, so I really came forth with the attitude “Please let my cat be cured if it’s in her destiny and if not please let her days be filled with quality and lots of love.” I also acknowledge that I am not in control of how the life cycle works and not in control of my pet’s life so I knew “bargaining” would not get me anywhere.
This is totally normal and recognizable to many. This is the toughest time for anyone suffering from loss and also in my own experience. People may show depression in many ways such as lack of desire to get out of bed, crying, moodiness, sadness, lack of drive or motivation, change in attitude and weight gain. Anyone going through loss understands the gravity of such emotionally charged feelings and sensitive mental state. The good news is with time and gradual acknowledgement of the pet loss and realization life has to go on, you move to the final stage.
To clarify, acceptance is not being happy with pet loss or any loss. It is affirming that the loss has happened and it is a permanent chapter in your life. Personally, acceptance is the stage I’m currently in. You acknowledge your feelings, the facts, and know your time with your loved one here on Earth in the physical is finished. Now is the time to regroup and plan ways to move in a forward direction in the next chapter of life. Working on finding ways to continue the healing every day is what’s important. Our beloved pets would only wish that for us here on Earth- to be happy and thriving. I’ve learned to not only accept a new reality but also accept that the love shared never dies ,but rather like energy (E=mc2), it just changes form.
I hope this post has been helpful to anyone trying to understand and make sense of the grieving process. You can find more details and explanation to the stages of grief here. Comment below and share your thoughts!