Understanding Grief

How can the loss of an animal c
create a pain so immense?

"The death of a pet can be agonizing to a degree where even you (as the bereaved) are asking yourself how it is possible for it to hurt quite so much.

It causes the sensation that the heart is indeed about to burst, or break, and physical pain extreme and similar enough to an actual heart attack to send one to the emergency room." 

~ excerpt from The Animal’s Companion by Jacky Colliss Harvey


Types of grief often associated with the loss of an animal companion

Disenfranchised Grief
One of the toughest parts of grieving for an animal is that people often feel alone and unsupported. When others do not understand the nature of our grief, it makes it harder for us to freely express our feelings, even to closest family and friends. This is known as disenfranchised grief.

The significance of pet loss is not yet fully acknowledged by society, and some people assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss. Yet the grief over the loss of a cherished animal may be just as intense, or worse, as when a significant person in our life dies.

Grieving due to the loss of a human loved one is universally acknowledged through sacred rituals, religious ceremonies and traditions. People rally around the bereaved, bringing them gifts, food and flowers. In the Jewish faith, the family of the deceased sit 'shiva' for 7 days, to allow for their emotional and spiritual healing, and the mourning does not end there. However these practices and societal support are mostly absent when a pet dies. This can leave the bereaved feeling as though their grief doesn't matter, even leaving them feeling embarrassed or ashamed to admit their true feelings, and afraid that people won't understand or that they will be judged. Please know that your feelings are natural, normal and valid.
It is important to be able to express how you feel and have those feelings validated and acknowledged. 

Anticipatory Grief
This is the grief from knowing that an animal is reaching the end of their life. Somewhere in the back of our minds we know that one day our dear animal companion will pass away, although naturally we don't like to think about that and hope it is far off into the future. But when an animal is sick or getting older, we may become more aware that the end of their life is approaching.

The sadness and roller coaster of emotions we experience at this time can be particularly difficult and challenging on many levels. We are grieving, even though our sweet animal friend is still with us (this is known as anticipatory grief).

During times of anticipatory grief, we may also be faced with having to make important decisions about our animal's care and end of life. There may be additional responsibilities on you as the caregiver as your animal ages and/or experiences illness. Caring for them may require a greater time commitment, increased physical demands and additional financial resources. Options regarding palliative care and end of life treatments (including euthanasia) can be confusing and we may not know what to do. Sometimes we are unable to do everything we would like for our animal due to personal circumstances. There may be a lot of pressure, uncertainty and feelings of guilt during this time. This can lead to caregiver fatigue. It is therefore important to practice self-care and be kind with yourself. 

Reiki for animals can be particularly helpful during times of illness, stress and during end of life transition for an animal. This may also help relieve some of the stress you are feeling as their caregiver and closest loved one. Working with healing energy therapies may help provide you and your animal companion with further comfort and support. You may read about the benefits of reiki for animals here

To book your grief support session please click here

There may be complex reasons for the loss of an animal companion which may also greatly impact ones reactions and feelings.
Loss may not be due to physical death.

A great sense of loss may result through:

  • Natural death, animal passed away naturally

  • Accident, trauma or sudden death

  • Euthanasia ("being put to sleep")

  • Missing, lost or stolen animal

  • Rehoming of an animal due to changes in a person's circumstances i.e. relationship breakup, housing prohibiting pets, (such as nursing and retirement homes), changes in employment or income, moving abroad

  • Seizure of an animal by animal control authorities (ie. due to behavioural issues such as noise or aggression, breed specific legislation prohibiting the keeping of certain dog breeds)

People may ask how long will I grieve? When will it end?
No matter what has happened to result in the loss of your animal companion, you will likely have many emotions. Alongside sadness,  you may experience feelings of shock and denial, guilt and even anger. 

Grief is a unique journey. It doesn't end on a certain date or after a specified length of time. People experience grief in different ways.

A theory developed by renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross suggests that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. David Kessler, grief and loss expert, has postulated that in addition to these five stages, there is a sixth: finding meaning.

We can learn to live with our grief, heal from the loss and find meaning to go on with our lives. 

Give yourself the time, patience and space to grieve and to feel however you feel. And please remember, you are not alone. 

"In the end as we mourn, we must discover meaning to go on living our tomorrows" ~ Alan.D Wolfelt