HOW TO PREPARE YOURSELF WHEN YOUR CAT IS DYING
Your friendship with your pet is unlike any other you have ever had. Your pet is a priceless friend that provides you with rare and difficult-to-find pure, unwavering unconditional love. They cheer you up with endearing antics and unconditional grace in the face of your blunders.
He or she does not care about your appearance or how much money you make. Your pet sees you at your weakest, most vulnerable moments and loves you no matter what. If you share such a deep bond with your pet, it is only natural to feel strong emotions of grief upon learning that your beloved dog or cat is dying.
Even if your pet is still alive, it is usual and natural to feel bereft when you know you may soon lose him or her due to advanced age, a terminal illness, or an accident. This is called anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory sadness arises from the fact that life as you know it will change, and those changes will almost certainly be painful emotionally. While anticipatory grief does not fully prepare you for the actual experience of loss, it does give you time to say your goodbyes and plan for the future. While others may not see your pet animal’s imminent death as a legitimate cause for your sorrow, the grief you are experiencing is very real and can be overwhelming.
Anticipatory grief can include any or all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations experienced during the grief process that follows death and these manifestations can affect every aspect of your life. These can include:
- Physical: crying, sobbing, numbness, appetite disturbances or other physical discomforts, dizziness, sleeping disturbances, and sudden illness
- Intellectual: denial, confusion, an inability to concentrate, preoccupation with loss, a sense of unreality
- Emotional: shock, depression, rage, anxiety, guilt, fear, isolation, shame, embarrassment, self-doubt, low self-esteem, feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and powerless, or a tendency to blame others
- Social: wanting to withdraw from others or feeling a need to reach out to others in order to stay constantly busy and distracted
- Spiritual: anger at God or a higher power, renewed or shaken religious beliefs, searching for meaning in a loved one’s death
What Can I Do to Help Myself?
When you know your dog or cat is dying, it is normal for you to mentally “rehearse” the event that you know is coming, as well as its aftermath. For example, you might find yourself ruminating on questions like, “How will I handle the death?” “Will I make mistakes?” and “What will it be like for my pet?” These repetitive and unwelcome thoughts and images can increase and accelerate your feelings of anxiety, especially when the signs that your pet is beginning to decline become more pronounced.
Repeated thoughts and constant feelings of anxiety are often called the “work of worry” and, even though they can be painful to experience, this anxiety can actually be helpful to you. Finding ways to channel your anxious energy in more positive directions can motivate you to take action and make important decisions before your pet dies. In the long run, this planning will help you deal better with your pet’s death and your own feelings of disappointment and grief.
Making as many plans and preparations for your pet’s death prior to that sad day can help ease some of your worries and allow you to be more present with your pet during his or her last weeks and days. Dealing with grief while knowing your dog or cat is dying is one of the most difficult challenges you will face in life.
The following suggestions may serve as a guide for many of the actions and decisions you can take to deal more effectively with anticipatory grief.
Understand What is Normal
There is a lot of misinformation about grief that is passed along in families from generation to generation. For instance, your family may have believed that the best way to handle loss is to be strong and stoic during grief. During times of family crises, your parents, and grandparents, through their behaviors and conversations, may have taught you that staying busy and keeping your mind distracted from feelings of loss is the best way to feel better and to recover more quickly.
However, while quite common, these methods of grieving can prolong the process of grief and cause grief to become complicated and even pathological. The grief response is unique to each individual and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
In order to avoid reinforcing misinformation about grief within your own family, it is helpful to become knowledgeable about the normal, healthy grieving process. You can do this by reading books about grief, attending a pet loss support group, or asking your veterinarian to share credible grief education resources with you.
The most important step, though, is to be patient with yourself and understand that what you are feeling is normal and to be expected. Give yourself permission to express your grief and let your emotions rise and subside naturally. Putting pressure on yourself to ‘be strong” or to “stay busy” only makes your situation worse as attempting to suppress or escape your grief can be exhausting and cause you to miss out on many precious, quiet moments with your pet.
Ask for Assistance from People Who Understand Your Relationship with Your Pet
It can be helpful to discuss your feelings with people who understand your relationship with your pet. Reflect on who has supported you through difficult times in the past and call on those people to help you now. Surround yourself with family and friends who can offer non-judgmental support.
If your pet is undergoing treatment, bring a friend or family member with you to appointments to help you understand what your veterinarian is telling you. Emotional situations can blur your perception of information, so ask your friend to take notes while listening to the treatment options and then write down any questions or concerns you may have and then discuss them with your veterinarian.
Ask your veterinarian if decisions need to be made immediately. If not, allow yourself some time to make sense of what is happening to your pet and discuss options with supportive people around you. If you want to do further research about your pet’s disease or condition on your own, ask your veterinarian for trusted and reliable websites and resources that can help you gain accurate knowledge.
Remember that caregiving for a dear, beloved pet is an emotionally and physically demanding endeavor. Yet, you have likely faced many difficult times in your life before and survived them. Believe in yourself and know that you will do this again. Follow your instincts and know that they will serve you well.
Share your thoughts
Did you enjoy this post by Jayne? Can you relate? What other tips would you offer a fellow pet parent whose cat is dying?
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