The Journey Through Grief
Following are the general steps of grieving, which have been abbreviated for easy reference. We recommend that you copy and paste or print this page out. You may find it helpful in realizing that grief is a perfectly normal human process. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. This does not imply that you will not feel sad sometimes in remembering the loss of your pet, but the sharp, sometimes painful feelings will diminish with time and are often replaced by memories of happier days when you and your pet shared life together.
(1) Crying: While this seems an entirely expected reaction, the first few moments of realizing that your pet has died can produce a number of strange, emotional reactions. An outburst of crying, anger, hyper activity even a form of giddy laughter can follow the shock of knowing. It is generally short-lived, lasting for only minutes immediately following the death.
(2) A strange sense of numbness and emptiness: Often the bereaved person will feel somehow disconnected from their surroundings, as if they are simply walking through a dream.
(3) Disbelief: For the first few days, immediately following the death of a pet, many people experience a period of denial. Some even think they hear or see their pet, and for a moment will react as if the pet is still living. The thought that their pet is actually not coming back seems impossible.
(4) Guilt: As the days begin to pass, it is not unusual to feel a very strong sense of guilt. People will go over the days leading up to the death and often feel that if they had reacted differently, their pet would still be alive. This is especially true when the death of a pet has been very sudden or the result of an accident. Children will often try to 'bargain', some turning to prayer and asking God to bring the pet back to life in return for promises 'to be good' for ever-after.
(5) Profound grief: Like all human emotions, the depth and length of this period will vary according to the individual. This period of genuine realization that your pet has gone forever marks the beginning of the true grieving process. It can occur within a few days or sometimes it may be as many as six months before this process takes place. A very deep sense of loss, and occasional bouts of crying typify this period and can last, on and off, for several days or weeks.
(6) Acceptance: Generally within about 6 months, the sharpness of the pain of grief begins to diminish and people begin to adjust to life without their much-loved companion. They are able to speak about their loss more easily, and begin to remember the happier times when they were together. This marks the end of the grieving process, and while people may continue to have occasional 'sad thoughts' about their lost pet,they are usually brief. These occasional moments may continue throughout life and are quite normal.
" THINGS THAT HELP "
(1) Talking: One of the most helpful ways to begin the healing process is to try and speak about your pet and your feelings of grief to a close and trusted family member or friend. Shutting out the painful feelings will only make them last longer. By talking to someone you trust and whom you know will be compassionate and understanding, you will be able to accept the loss and return to a normal life more quickly.
(2) Ceremony: Many people today find that honoring their pet's life helps them to adjust to life without them. There are a variety of ways in which you can memorialize your pet which help to keep you focused during the first days of grieving. These activities help to fill the emptiness and give the bereaved an opportunity to express their deep feelings of affection and sadness at their loss. It may be as simple as writing a small poem in memory of your pet or assembling a special book of pictures. More and more people today also choose to have their pet's remains individually cremated or buried at a pet cemetery. Most veterinarians are able to assist you with such arrangements.
(3) Posting an Internet Memorial: Many people today are turning to newer methods of honoring their pet's life. In-Memory-of Pets.com was established for just this purpose. This is an entirely free service and your memorial is posted permanently. If you do not have an Internet service, ask a friend who does to help you post your memorial.
" WHEN TO SEEK ASSISTANCE "
Here are a few basic examples of when you or a person you know may require some extra assistance from a good friend or professional grief counselor.
 Depression: Symptoms include the long-term loss of interest in activities which used to be entertaining, loss of appetite, insomnia or an interruption in normal sleeping patterns, withdrawal from socializing (including telephone conversations), feelings of hopelessness or even suicide. These are serious warning signs of distress and every effort should be made to seek help. If you, yourself find yourself 'falling into this dark and unhappy mood' try to understand that this is a genuine illness. It is not something which you should think of as embarrassing or a sign of personal weakness. DO NOT HESITATE to call a professional. A veterinarian, religious leader, or grief councilor is trained to assist you and to help advise you. Depression almost always makes us feel as if nothing will help and it can become an almost overwhelming effort to just pick up the phone to take the first step towards recovery. Remember that this is the depression 'talking'. MAKE THE EFFORT. It is vitally important that you take this first step and call for assistance. You will surprise yourself with how understanding and helpful your professional advisor will be.
 Guilt: While feeling guilty is part of the normal grieving process, for some people it becomes an almost overwhelming problem. This is especially likely to occur if your pet has died suddenly or as the result of an accident. If you find that you are spending a great deal of time thinking about how you might be to 'blame' for not recognizing that your pet was ill, or that you feel that it is your fault that your pet died as a result of something you did or did not do, seek the help of a professional. Again a veterinarian, religious leader, or even your general practitioner are good advisors to help you over this 'stalled' phase of the grieving process. A professional person with a less involved view-point can help bring you back into a more realistic understanding of your feelings of guilt. It really all boils down to this: An accident is an event which occurs with no premeditation on the part of those involved. Just like making a wrong left turn and possibly damaging your car, remember that it was an accident. You certainly didn't purposefully set out to damage your shiny new car, now did you? In the case of an unfortunate death caused through and accident or undetected illness, you may have to accept that your actions of thinking may have been more wisely handled, but you must acknowledge that not for a single moment did you intend to cause any harm to your pet. The only person who can blame himself for the injury or death of a pet is a person who from the very start, fully and consciously attempt to cause harm. Otherwise, how can you possibly consider yourself guilty? Your advisor will help you to see, we are all human, and as such, our actions are never perfect.
The grieving process is a deeply personal and individual emotion. Therefore it is important for you to remember that the information contained above is GENERAL INFORMATION and may not accurately reflect your own experience with grief. Some people will pass through certain stages of the grieving process faster or slower that others. It depends entirely on your own personality and life experiences. It is also a generally held belief that individuals living alone, especially those of us who are senior citizens may experience a longer healing period. Also, people who have lost a pet suddenly or due to an accident may experience a more profound and painful grieving period. This is perfectly normal. Those of us who live alone with a pet often develop a very deep, personal attachment and the loss of such a daily companion can be a very hard load to bear. When a pet dies suddenly and unexpectedly, or as the result of an accident, there is often a greater feeling of grief and sometimes profound feelings of guilt. If you are finding your loss particularly stressful, you may wish to talk to a close friend, relative, religious or medical advisor whom you trust with your personal problems. Depression is the most serious emotional problem which you may experience. Today medical authorities recognize that depression is a real, physical illness and can be successfully treated with counseling and/or new medications. If you find that you are losing interest in things that used to interest you; if you are finding that your normal sleep pattern has changed - either sleeping too little or too much; if you find yourself withdrawing and not wishing to see friends or go out; if you are not eating regularly, or are less interested in your appearance and personal hygiene, make the effort to speak to a close friend or professional about your problem. Often talking it over will help you to heal.
Should you find that you are having persistent thoughts of death or suicide as a result of your grief. We strongly recommend that you contact your healthcare professional. Or you may wish to discuss your situation with a grief counselor. Look in your local telephone book under Distress or Grief Counseling. Professional counselors are available twenty-four hours a day. These people are highly trained and your discussion with them is entirely private and confidential. The service is free, and designed to help anyone who is experiencing emotional distress. You should not feel embarrassed to talk. Depression is the most common illness of the modern age. Every year literally hundreds of thousands of people experience this illness. The good news is that it is also one of the most easily 'curable' of all emotional disorders. Grief is as individual as each person! There are no hard and fast rules. However, if you think that you or a friend is having a particularly difficult time with the loss of a beloved pet, there is help.
Remember that you are not alone.
Copyright 2000. Timothy R. Laurence. All rights reserved. http://www.in-memory-of-pets.com