Until one has traveled that road through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, it is impossible to understand the depths of the journey. Grief
can be as debilitating as a grave physical illness and can overtake our
lives for a time. In its all consuming form, grief can swallow up in its
path our joys, hopes and dreams and even our will to go on, leaving us
a shadow of who we once were.
While death has taken away our beloved, grief has torn open our hearts
and our eyes bleed with the heart's endless tears. The heart is
seemingly beyond repair and most certainly beyond recognition.
Our heart is simply and utterly broken.
Sadly in our society, Pet Grief is not generally accepted as a "valid"
form of grief and so often people feel ashamed or embarrassed by the
depth of their pain and grieving.
As a Chaplain of Pets, we can assure those suffering the loss of pets
with what has been termed the "Three N's of Grief:"
Grief is NORMAL
Grief is NATURAL
Grief is NECESSARY.
Grief is like a journey down a river. We are suddenly adrift on a raft of
emotions that threatens to capsize as we ride over the rapids, go over
the falls, and steer through the spinning eddies in whirlpools of thought
where we replay over and over the 'coulda, shouda, wouldas' that might
have changed the outcome of our loss. The river has its moments of
calm, and at those times we feel that we are through the worst, only to
have yet more white water of tears and emotions to go through. It can
be a long and difficult journey. But as much as we try to ignore the grief,
it does not ignore us. We must face it and learn to ride this river. There
is no getting around it. If we do not make the journey consciously, we
make it unconsciously with the raging white water spilling over into our
everyday lives and relationships with others.
When it comes to losing human loved ones, everyone, including family
and friends, colleagues (and even ourselves) understands that it takes
time to heal from grief. We are "allowed" and are given the courtesy of
time and space. But when it comes to Pet Loss, we usually face a
different group of voices all together. Most of the words from family
and friends, though well intended, are not very supportive after all.
These unfeeling responses can leave us feeling worse than we did
before. At worst case, the mourner will be ridiculed or even laughed at
for feeling so deeply about the death of their beloved pet.
"Get over it," " You can always get another one," "It was just a pet."
To the one enduring the pain of grief, those are cruel and harsh words.
They leave the pet-mourner feeling not only desperately alone, but
ashamed and embarrassed. Feeling "silly" or even "stupid" for such
deep grief over "just a pet,"
The all too common responses when we tell someone that our pet has
passed away can be deeply hurtful. Few openly acknowledge and
support our feelings when we tell them our pet has died. Many express
momentary sympathy, and then move on in the conversation as if we
had just said, "My car doesn't run anymore." There is often no
follow-up concern over your loss. No casseroles arrive at the door and
the sympathy cards do not come in the mail. The overall message
comes across that our pet was not important, that our feelings are not
important, that we are foolish and that our pet (the love of our lives!) is
replaceable. None of these are true and all are hurtful. It feels like
society is laughing at our pain. So many people just end up not sharing
it, not telling people how they really feel, and unfortunately, not reaching
for the support and help from either clinical or clerical that they so need
in their time of loss.