MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life

MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life
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Friday, April 1, 2011

Losing Your Pet: Grief Responses That May Surprise You

Posted By Dawn Kairns, Author of MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life

For All the Girls Who I Have Loved Before ...

Cinnamon in our camper
 As Spring begins to unfold in her glory, I am so loving it. But something is grossly missing -- it's my buddy,Cinnamon.  Those of you who have read my book, MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life, know Cinnamon, my orange tabby kitty. Those of you who have followed my blog for some time know we lost our precious 17 year old kitty last August.

I think any change of season can be difficult when you are dealing with grief. But Spring was OUR special time of year together. Cinnamon SO loved going outside with me, and we both celebrated this time of year together. And I know I am not alone; that many of you are also grieving the loss of your beloved pets. So I want to take a moment to honor my Cinnamon (along with my other beloved furry angels who have crossed over), and share with you information that I received from Hospice when I attended a support group after the loss of my Mother. We often experience the same feelings when we lose a beloved pet as we experience with the loss of a special person in our lives.

Adapted from Hospice Care:

Losing a pet can be painful and overwhelming. Many of us worry if we are grieving in the "right" way and wonder if our responses are normal. It is not unusual to experience any of the following when we suffer a loss (according to and adapted from Hospice):
  • Feel tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest, or shortness of breath
  • Feel a physical, mental, and emotional numbness (absence of emotion) at first
  • Have an empty feeling in your stomach or lose your appetite or experience digestive problems
  • Feel guilty and angry at times, or blame others
  • Feel restless and look for activity but find it difficult to concentrate. You may even experience hyperactivity
  • Feel helpless & hopeless
  • Feel you are going crazy
  • Sense your loved pet's presence, like finding yourselves expecting your animal to walk in the room, be in his or her usual favorite spots, or seeing their face
  • Wander aimlessly and forget to finish things you've started to do around the house. Or experience disorganized thinking or "brain freeze," where you do "crazy" things like forgetting your best friend's name, or being in charge of an event and then forgetting it was happening.
  • Have difficulty sleeping, and dream of your loved pet often
  • Feel a loss of interest in sex
  • Experience an intense preoccupation with the life of your deceased pet and feel guilty or angry over things that happened or didn't happen
  • Feel as though you need to take care of other people (who seem uncomfortable around you when you talk about your feelings of loss)
  • Need to tell and retell and remember things about your beloved animal and the experience of their death
  • Feel your mood changes over the slightest things
  • Cry at unexpected times
Maggie and me

These are all natural and normal brief responses. It's important to cry and talk with people when you need to. Talk about what you want/need from coworkers and friends; tell them when you need some space, or when you'd like a listening ear. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need when others don't know. You deserve all the support you can get. Remember the value of finding support groups to be with people who have experienced similar losses, and to journal about your feelings and experiences to help externalize your feelings.

You can expect the same reactions with the death of your deeply-loved animal as you experience with the death of a loved person in your life. Remember  ...
  • Your grief will take longer than most people think.
  • Your grief will take more energy than you would have ever imagined. You may have much less energy for work and activities. You may have the capacity to perform certain functions but at a slower speed.
  • Your grief will involve many changes and be continually developing.
  • Your grief will show itself in all spheres of your life: psychological, social, and physical. You will likely feel that your old identity is gone at home, work, and with friends. I remember when Maggie, my black lab died, I no longer felt like "Maggie's mom" as I had for so long.
  • Your grief will depend upon how you perceive the loss.
  • You will grieve for many things both symbolic and tangible, not just for the death of alone.
  • You will grieve for what you have lost already for what you have lost for the future.
  • Your grief will entail mourning not only for the actual pet you lost but also for all of the hopes, dreams, and unfulfilled expectations you held for that animal.
  • Your grief will involve a wide variety of feelings and reactions, such as depression and sadness.
  • The loss will resurrect old issues, feelings, and unresolved conflicts and grief from the past.
  • You will have some identity confusion as a result of this major loss and from the unexpected reactions you may be experiencing.
  • You may have a combination of anger and depression, such as irritability, frustration, annoyance, or intolerance.
  • You will feel some anger and guilt, or least some manifestation of these emotions.
  • You may have a lack of self concern.
  • You may experience grief spasms, acute upsurges of grief that occur suddenly with no warning.
  • You will have trouble thinking (memory, organization and intellectual processing) and making decisions.
  • You may feel like you are going crazy.
  • You may be obsessed with the death and preoccupied with the deceased.
  • You may begin a search for meaning and question your religion and/or philosophy of life.
  • You may find yourself acting socially in ways that are different from before.
  • You may find yourself having a number of physical reactions.
  • You may find that there are certain dates, events, and stimuli that bring upsurges in grief.
  • Society will have unrealistic expectations about your mourning and may respond inappropriately to you.
  • Certain experiences later in life may resurrect intense grief for you temporarily.
  • You may experience decreased self-esteem, insecurity, loss of control, regrets, and even hostility.
  • You may feel like a burden or that you are being avoided.
    Chloe, our elderly Golden after Maggie

    Most of us are unprepared for the global response we have to a major loss. Our expectations tend to be too unrealistic, and often we receive insufficient assistance from friends and society. This is true with the loss of a person, and is compounded with the loss of a pet, as many people don't realize how profound pet loss grief is. Hence, you may feel grossly unsupported in your loss. Don't be afraid to tell your friends and family what you need in terms of support, and above all be compassionate and loving yourself.

    Stay tuned and watch for my next post where I will share positive things to lead you in the direction of appreciating life again.


    Frances said...

    Those who are currently in the healing process from their pet loss grief might find it a bit overwhelming at first. Getting help from counseling and support groups will help them accept what happened and move on.

    Dawn Kairns said...

    Thank you frances. I so agree.