Tending Your Own Sorrow
These days, fewer Americans grow up surrounded by extended family and friends and their contact with death and the long-standing tradition of attending funeral services has been dramatically reduced.
Therefore, when death does strike someone close, they have little, if any, preparation toward accepting it. Overall, grieving is less ritualized today than it used to be, both during the funeral service and in everyday life. However, grieving is still a very important part of dealing with any type of loss, including the loss of a animal companion.
Emotions caused by the death of an animal companion are very powerful. If these emotions are not faced, experienced, and dealt with, they may become a destructive force in a person's life.
On the other hand, grief should not be indulged to the exclusion of all other emotions. Feeling sadness is healthy and normal but you should also incorporate some celebration of the joy of this person's life through the funeral service or in other types of commemoration. Also, those who are busiest handling all the details at the time of death are the ones who do not take time to grieve and say goodbye. Later, this grief can manifest itself as illness or depression.
Grief is a difficult topic for many people to discuss because it touches each and every one of us. By facing the death of an animal companion, we find that we need to face our own sense of mortality. Talking, sharing and even reading about grief and our reactions to it are ways in which we can heal ourselves. There appears to be three generally recognized stages of grief that a person encounters after a loss. The first is shock and denial. The second is anger and depression, and the final stage is understanding and acceptance.
1. The numbness that many people experience following the loss of an animal companion is created by the shock and denial one feels when first facing the news of the death. A sense of unreality may prevent the tears and other outward forms of expression that we expect with grief.
2. Tears and anger often begin as a person reaches the second stage of grief. The loss now seems real and it is painful. Grief begins to affect you physically as well as emotionally. You may feel a loss of appetite, an inability to sleep, upset stomach, and other physical reactions. These are all normal reactions that need to be addressed. However, turning to alcohol or drugs only makes the pain more difficult.
3. The third and final stage of grief is understanding and acceptance. While no one can ever fully understand the loss of a animal companion, reconciling ourselves to that loss is a necessary part of recovery. By living one day at a time and taking positive steps each day, you'll find you are beginning to cope again. Your active participation in this process will speed the time of healing.
Taking Small Steps
Feelings of panic and confusion often follow the death of an animal companion. These feelings can cause us to run from life, to avoid family and friends, and to refuse to try new things. While these feelings are a normal part of grief, our willingness to accept the loss can help us to overcome panic and confusion. At times during the grieving process, we find that familiar and necessary activities are difficult. We prefer to drift in our memories and daydreams. This stage will pass.
Many people blame themselves after the death of an animal companion. It's important to realize that everyone has regrets, but focusing on guilt can prevent recovery. Talking with friends or a counselor can aid us in confronting and dealing with feelings of guilt. Grief changes but it doesn't have to destroy a person's life. It can be a time of real personal growth as you discover new things about yourself and the strength you have now developed through the grief experience. Finally, we realize that love endures and life goes on for the survivors. These things become even more precious to us as we realize that they do not last forever.
We ask that you:
1. Give yourself permission to grieve.
2. Don't be afraid to cry.
3. Be patient with yourself - grieving takes time and feelings of sadness and despair don’t just disappear.
4. Find a compassionate listener.
5. Lean on old relationships and reach out to build new ones for the future.
6. Live in the moment, one day at a time.
7. Postpone making major decisions until you feel you are ready to handle them.
8. Focus on your responsibilities like your family, your job, and your friends to rally your inner strength.
9. Join a support group.
10. Take care of your body by exercising, eating properly and resting.
11. Knowledge is power. Learn about grief through books and videos.
12. Realize that it's O.K. to be angry about your loss.
13. Don’t panic when you have a setback. Grief has its own individual timetable.