Frequently Asked Questions
* Is there something wrong with me for being this sad and in so much pain over the loss of my pet?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling the pain and sadness of losing a much loved pet. As a society, we are getting better with acknowledging and supporting this type of loss, but many people feel that others just don't understand the depth of feeling we may be experiencing when a pet dies. Many pet owners feel as if their pet is their best friend, a family member or even a child. When you have this intimate bond with your pet, you will most likely feel the same depth of sadness when they die, as when you lose a much loved person in your life.
The book, "Saying Goodbye to the Pet You Love," by Lorri A. Green, Ph.D. and Jacquelyn Landis, helps grieving pet owners understand the type of bond they had with their pet, which helps with understanding why they may be grieving the way that they are. They break it down into three categories: Conventionally Bonded Pet Owners provide loving care and include them in the family, but do not consider them as family members. These types of pet owners will typically go through the grief process more quickly than the other types of bonded pet owners. Intensely Bonded Pet Owners think of their pets as family members and provide the same level of care as they would any other family member. These types of pet owners usually have a longer period of grieving. Uniquely Bonded Pet Owners form the deepest attachment to their pets, often thinking of them as their child or best friend. They will go to any lengths to provide medical care, even at personal sacrifice. These types of pet owners have the longest period of grieving, and often feel the loss of their pet is devastating and that they may never recover.
I find this book to be extremely validating for pet owners to let them know that they are grieving appropriately, and why. This is great grief education for those who do not understand the pet owner's expression of grief. You are not doing anything wrong, there is nothing wrong with you - you are grieving the loss of a pet you loved deeply.
* What do I need to do to get over my grief?
Every person is different and will feel their grief in their own, unique, way for a variety of reasons. First, I don't believe we ever truly "get over it." I feel that we carry our loss with us forever. The loss is a part of us, part of our story, part of who we are and who we become. That doesn't mean that we will feel the acute pain we feel in grief, right after a loss, forever - but our grief changes, the pain changes - over time. Second, we need to give ourselves time to grieve and to mourn. We need to do this according to our individual instincts, not what work is expecting from us, not what family wants for us, not what friends are pressuring us to do. One person may need a few weeks, another person may need a few months, and some may need a year or more. Third, we need to honor our grief. What I mean is that we can't avoid or deny the grief. We must talk about it, cry about it, read about it, journal about it, run about it - anything to get the "inside feelings out." We MUST do this to go through the grief. We can't go around grief, we have to go through it, it's the only way. Last, we must be gentle with ourselves. Allow yourself to have down moments, allow yourself the time you need, allow yourself to feel the feelings. With each passing day, your grief will change and so will your pain.
* How long will my grief last?
I don't like to give timelines in grief, because everyone is different. But everyone likes that "year" timeline, so I'll use that as a parameter. Typically, the first year is tough because we may be experiencing the "first of's" without our loved one - the first birthday, the first anniversary, the first holiday - right up until the death anniversary. With that being said, some people have shared that the second year seems to be tougher than the first. I believe that's because the person is now faced with nothing else but the reality of the loss. There are no estates to be settled, no "first of's" to deal with, and the shock and numbness have faded. Then, there are others who are experiencing grief well after the second year. If you are finding that your grief is lasting a long-time, it may be due to complicated grieving, which simply means - grief over a long period of time. Complicated grieving can occur because of back-to-back losses or traumatic loss, just to name a couple of reasons. If this is the case, finding professional or group support will be helpful.
* I was doing really well, then all of a sudden I started crying and remembering. The pain seems to be just as bad as the day they died. Why?
This whole process involves what I refer to as the "emotional rollercoaster," "emotional triggers" and "grief attacks." Imagine a rollercoaster that has climbing hills to the crest, then dips dramatically to the bottom, then slowly climbs back to the crest. That is how the grief journey can be. With each passing day, we find ourselves climbing slowly up the hill, feeling better and better until we get to the crest and we're feeling very optimistic and hopeful. Then we experience an emotional trigger - a sight, sound, smell - that reminds us of our loved one and down the hill we go to the bottom again. That's the grief attack. This is a normal part of the grief journey and as time passes, the crests and bottoms are spaced further apart. When this happens our grief begins to change and the pain becomes less acute. During this process it is especially important that we be gentle with ourselves. We must allow ourselves the time to go through this journey.
* Is it ok to be angry?
Yes! Anger is a normal emotion that can be experienced during grief. People find themselves surprised that they can feel anger and sadness together. Also, people are surprised to feel anger toward God or the loved one who died. Anger can also be felt toward the medical community, family members, friends, or even yourself. When one is angry toward God, it often involves wondering why did God let this happen? Especially when it's a child who died, or someone died in a tragic way. Anger can be felt toward the medical community for not diagnosing correctly, not diagnosing soon enough or not following a treatment protocol the family was comfortable with. We can be angry at our loved ones for leaving us. Maybe we feel they didn't fight hard enough, didn't go to the doctor soon enough, or didn't love us enough to stay. It is very common to be angry with ourselves, asking ourselves, "why didn't we insist that they go to the doctor?" Why didn't I see the signs?" "Why did I have to leave the room at 'that' moment?" This list goes on and on. I think it's human nature to want to blame someone for things that go wrong in our lives, and the response to that blame is anger. As we progress through the grief, our anger will begin to subside as we start to make sense of why our loved one died. If you find that your anger is not going away or seems to be getting worse, then it's time to seek professional help. Often after our loved one dies, we are left with no way to resolve the feelings of anger, but a professional can help bring a resolution that will offer healing.
* Should I bring my child to the funeral?
I feel children are more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. I don't believe there is a child too young to attend a funeral or memorial. I have yet to see a child who did not do well after attending a funeral. I believe it's important for them to be a part of this special celebration and memorialization of a loved one. They are a part of the family and should be included. However, preparation is key for a good outcome. Always explain to the child exactly what they will be seeing during this event. Be as detailed as you possibly can be. Let them know that there will be some people crying, some will be laughing, and some will be kneeling at the casket to pray, talk to, or kiss the loved one. Let them know what the purpose of a funeral is and offer them the chance to say their good-byes as well. Have a back-up plan in place in case the day gets to be too much for them, or you become too emotionally burdened to be with them. Make plans with a trusted friend or relative to take them and care for them in another room, or to take them back home. With that being said, I also advocate, after explaining everything to the child, asking what they would like to do.
* Why isn't my child crying?
Some children are brought to see me because their parents are concerned over their lack of emotions over the loss of a loved one. Developmentally, children have not developed the capacity to express emotions in the same way that adults do. Children do grieve but they do it in "doses." They are only capable of expressing their intense feelings for a short while, then they break away to play or read. This is what they can handle and as they grow, their emotional capacity will change as well. As long as the family has an open communication style and role models appropriate grieving behaviors, the child will do fine in grief. Open communication will be key to guiding your child to appropriate releases of these emotions, but feel free to contact a professional if you feel your support is not providing relief for your child.