Dispelling the Myths of Healing Pet Loss


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Myths of healing pet loss are important to consider for your journey. We have many pre-conceived ideas as to what death is about and how we “should” react to it or dread it. No matter where you are with your beliefs, it is important to approach these myths with an openness and willingness to heal.

To Introduce the Myths of Healing Pet Loss

Let’s first explore the experience of Roberta, a client whom I supported in her grief journey after the loss of her beloved Chester Bell.

Meet Roberta and Chester Bell

Roberta, on our fourth call, was incensed about a situation that happened at her book group when one of her group members told her, “Chester Bell was old. He had a good life, and you can always get another dog. They are easy to come by.”

Initially in sharing this story, Roberta was screaming it out, but then she started to sob, and next she was laughing uncontrollably. Roberta started to judge herself that she was having such a roller coaster of wild feelings. She was horrified that she had been laughing, which made her start crying again. She told me that she believed it was not right of her to be laughing during this time. Chester Bell had died, so the only feeling she should have was sadness!

My response

”Roberta, that’s just a grief myth. You are going to live out a variety of emotions, and laughter is just one that you are going to feel on your grief journey.”

With guidance, Roberta permitted herself to have a range of feelings. These feeling including laughter, and she strove to understand how unhealthy it was to disrespect her emotions. She allowed the laughter and the tears to come. In doing so, she felt relief. She was able to breathe and understand that laughing was another way to express her grief. She felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her heart.

In debunking the “no joy during grieving” myth, Roberta finished her session feeling a lot stronger on her journey. She had renewed confidence that she could heal her pain with more clarity and understanding.

Myths about grieving, like the one Roberta voiced, have been around for a long time, and they can either really help you with your grief or be a hindrance to your healing process. The key to making these myths help you is to be aware of them, know how you feel about them, and then debunk them.

The Myths of Healing Pet Loss

  1. It is selfish and extravagant to mourn and grieve the death of a pet when our world has so much human suffering.

Debunking—You are a animal lover, and you understand how important your companion was to you. The grief surrounding the fact that your companion died is significant and important to you.

People are capable of simultaneously grieving both animals and humans. One doesn’t have to detract from the other. By grieving and mourning your companion, you are showing tremendous compassion for the world at large. That is a wonderful trait to have. Realizing that your heart is capable of such love will give you a tremendous amount of strength to heal—and to love again, both animals and people.

  1. I must follow the seven stages of grief in their exact order so that I can truly heal my pain.

Debunking—Grief is not about following a prescribed list. Grief is tenacious and can really dig into your heart, which can affect your daily routine and then render you hopeless.

The last thing that you need to be worried about is following the seven stages of grief in a precise order. Although the stages of grief are extremely valuable, the order in which you experience them is up to you. Let the stages unfold naturally.

  1. There is a right and wrong way to grieve.

Debunking—As with following the seven stages of grief in chronological order, the same is true about your unique grief experience—meaning there is not a single correct experience.

Your relationship with your companion is special. No two people grieve the same way. While one person may feel sadness, another person may feel anger about their companion dying. Your grief journey is yours and very unique—stick with that!

Grieving is very personal and individual to your experiences with your companion. It depends on your personality, the personality of your companion, the nature of their illness (if they had one) or death, and your coping style.

  1. The best thing to do is to grieve and mourn alone, especially because it is just a dog, a cat, a pig, a gold fish.

Debunking—We have been taught that in order to be strong and independent we should not share our grief. It would burden others, and it is inappropriate to let other people know how we are feeling.

That simply isn’t true. In fact, it is important to reach out to others who will honestly support you and not judge your process. You will want to protect yourself from being judged for loving, grieving, and mourning the death of your companion, so it is important that you select carefully the people whom you reach out to. Your experience of loss and grief is a tender time to be fully cherished by you and in the way you decide.

Take your time choosing whom you can turn to for support because some people don’t understand or take pet loss seriously. Find a support group, pet loss coach, and/or friend that will allow you to talk about your grief without making you feel crazy or weird.

Also remember, if there ever comes a time when you can no longer function in life, please see the appropriate health care provider.

  1. I have to be “strong” in my grief.

Debunking—In general our society teaches that grief feelings can be a sign of weakness, especially in regards to animals.

Feeling sad, frightened, lonely, or depressed are all normal reactions. Crying doesn’t mean that you are weak. In fact, it takes strength to accept and engage with these difficult emotions and to cry.

Let yourself feel those emotions, physical sensations, and spiritual challenges that you are going through. There is a reason you are having these feelings. Plus, there is no reason why you need to feel that you have to “protect” your family or friends by being (supposedly) strong.

Showing your feelings will help you and may even help them. By showing your feelings, you are also debunking the first myth of being selfish. When you show your feelings, you are saying, “I have compassion for living beings.” And that, my friend, is extremely beautiful!

  1. Grief will go away someday.

Debunking—Never! And that is okay. Our grief changes as each day goes by. You will never forget your beloved family member, yet your feelings of grief will change, and there will be a time when you will feel joy again.

Never feel like you have to rush through your grief journey. It takes time. Patience and not judging yourself come in handy when you are experiencing the stages of grief.

Your goal for healing your pet loss is not to “get over it.” We never stop feeling grief for losing a pet. But we learn to move forward in life again with fond memories.

  1. No one gets my pet grief, and I am alone in what I am experiencing.

Debunking—You are never alone with the grief that you are going through. It may feel like that at times because some people don’t know what it feels like to lose the companionship of their pets. They just don’t understand what you are going through.

People (even other animal lovers) will say unsupportive things, like “There are so many dogs/cats/horses that need homes. See this as an opportunity!” or “At least it wasn’t a child.”

Even still, there are many, many people who do know the grief you are experiencing. It just may take some time to find the right people to support you in a healthy way. There are supportive friends, end-of-life and grief coaches, and pet loss support groups to walk the journey with you.

Remember—you are not alone with your pet loss grief.

  1. Pet loss grief will go away.

Debunking—Many of my clients call me when they have just gotten the news that their pet has died. Some even call me years later. They feel a tremendous amount of grief and just want it to go away.

It takes work to heal pet loss grief. Feel comfortable and take taking your time. Be an active participant so that you can experience the stages of grief.

Your family member was really special to you. It is really important to let your emotions happen and to experience them. If you feel like they will go away on their own, you are only stuffing them in. The grief will still change, but it may take longer, and you may not learn how powerful grief lessons can be.

And as many of my clients say, “Grief has a great talent of surprising you when you least expect it.” So it is better to actively acknowledge, process, and experience it than to stuff it down only for it to pop up at surprising times and in unwelcoming forms.

  1. Once I do all the grief work, it will go away.

Debunking—Once you do all the work in your grieving process, remember that grief can come up again. It is not uncommon to have deep feelings of grief appear again, even years later. It is normal for this to happen.

Grief never goes away, and that is okay. Many of my clients report that when their grief shows up after a few months or years, they are happy about it because it gives them a chance to say, “I love you,” to their companion again.

For now, if you just lost your companion or are just beginning to work on your grief, tuck this thought in a special place, so you know what to expect later.

  1. Having a feeling of joy at moments in my life after my pet has died is not good.

Debunking—Here is the thing—your companion has died. Your companion was maybe very sick or elderly, or suffered a traumatic death.

The last thing that you probably think you are allowed to feel is joyful or happy. In fact, you probably are feeling many emotions from this news. All your emotions are valid and okay to feel.

It is okay to experience moments of joy, even when you are grieving about your pet’s death. It is healthy and doesn’t mean you are forgetting your companion’s situation or disrespecting your family member.

Joy and laughter are normal responses. This is your body giving you a breather from the stress, pain, anxiety, etc. It is a survival mechanism that you do not need to fear. Joy is first aid for the soul.

  1. It is horrible to feel happy or relieved that my companion died.

Debunking—If you had a companion who was suffering, there may be a little place in your mind that felt relief once they died.

If this is so, when the time has come and your companion has reached the end of their life, you may feel relieved and even slightly glad. This is a very common feeling for my clients who suffered the pain and angst of losing their pets to terminal illnesses.

When your animal is in pain and suffering every day, it can take a lot out of you, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It breaks your heart and can leave you feeling hopeless and helpless. At your companion’s death, feeling slightly glad and even relieved are also very normal feelings of grief. Keep in mind that these are not due to selfishness, but simply feelings that your dog is no longer suffering in the physical world.

The Other Side of the Myths: Grace and Compassion

These myths are very common, and many people think they are true. These myths, in conjunction with the inappropriate comments that people make, can easily trigger your grief. If you are not aware of the myths, you may become confused as to why suddenly you are feeling sad or very angry.

Even though they may be well-meaning friends, family, or coworkers, when one of them offers you a myth as a so-called “words of wisdom,” it can pack a powerful punch to trigger your pet loss grief. However, once you become aware of these myths and why they are not true, you will be able to react to them with grace and compassion for yourself and your beloved companion.

Remember Myths of Healing Pet Loss

Here is the thing about believing these myths and letting them affect you—I have seen in my practice that when folks believe and live by these myths, they get stuck in their grief and have a difficult time gaining personal peace.

When they learn to take these myths, debunk them, and replace them with positive thoughts and actions, they are able to spend more time loving their dogs that have died, rather than being stressed-out with unknown anxiety or other feelings of grief that they may be experiencing.

Please revisit these myths and the debunking of them. They will help you be prepared for the multitude of thoughts and feelings that you will have and the comments people will make.

 





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About the Author: Tony Ramos

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