Grief is the price one pays for love; it is a deep sense of sadness, pain. The ultimate goal of grief is reconciliation, an integration of a "new normal", not a return to the "old normal". Death is the loss of a love relationship, regardless of whether that relationship is with another significant human or a beloved pet.
In today's society there are several myths about grief: that grief and mourning are one in the same (grief is the private feelings based on the bond that was broken, mourning is the shared loss; if there is grief but no mourning, there will be no healing); that there is a predictable, stage-like progression to mourning; that it is best to avoid grief instead of allowing oneself to experience it; that the goal is to "get over the grief", and that tears are a sign of weakness.
Grief is very unique depending on the nature of the relationship, the circumstances of the death, the support system of the survivor, the cultural background of the survivor, and the personality of the survivor.
Grief and mourning are inevitable parts of pet ownership. The human-animal bond can be broken in many ways: death, chronic or terminal illnesses, accidents, runaways, and giveaways. Whatever the circumstances, broken bonds/relationships create grief and feelings of loss.
Pet loss is sometimes a trivialized loss in today's society. Consequently, feelings of grief are often hidden and denied. In Western society, death in itself is not a topic of conversation and very few people know how to respond to the death of a significant human let alone the loss of a beloved pet. But death is death and grief is grief and the process and others' responses to the process should be the same.
Grieving and mourning take time and are not over in a matter of days. Actually, one never "gets over" the loss, one simply learns how to continue living/surviving without the deceased in their life. Grieving and mourning are hard work and sometimes very scary.
Dr. Leo Bustad of People-Pet Partnership continually says that "humans are by nature nurturers". People form strong emotional attachments with their pets and these attachments are sometimes very special and different from the ones they form with people. Animals serve as a source of unconditional love and support which is virtually impossible to obtain from human beings. Animals provide comfort, safety and security, fun and laughter, and stability. Pets have distinct personalities and habits and are considered by most people as members of the family. It is entirely possible to miss and be sadder over the death of your beloved pet than the death of your spouse, child, parent, or friend. It is very important to remember that it is the relationship that is severed and if the relationship a person had with their pet is stronger, more caring, and more trusting than their relationship with another significant human, then by all means, one is going to miss and be sadder over the loss of their pet.
Two of the most effective ways to help people who have lost their pet is to validate their feelings and encourage them to tell their story. Others ways to assist: don't belittle the loss, don't lie, especially to children; don't encourage or discourage the acquisition of another pet; and don't scoff at the idea of a ceremony. Ceremonies are very important for people need closure and a chance to say goodbye. And, for heavens sake, don't ever say "It was just a dog/cat/etc, there are millions of dogs/cats/etc that need a good home, just go get another one"! You would never tell a person who had just lost their husband/wife "It was only a husband/wife, there are millions of other men/women that need a good home, just go get another one"!
The Rainbow Passage's Homepage:
1528 E. River Rd.
Grafton, WI 53024