Dealing With Grief

“It’s just a dog”.

I’ve heard this many times and frankly I feel sorry for people who share this opinion.

Anyone who loves dogs has more than likely suffered the grief associated with death. It’s very difficult for people who don’t feel the same way about dogs to understand the pain and loss we feel.

There are many different forms of grief. How you deal with grief depends on how you were raised, the circumstances of death, religious beliefs and personalities. We will all grieve differently. The death of a dog can range from sadness to one of the most devastating events in our lives.

Sharing your life with a dog is different from most other animals. The unconditional love, bonding and emotional investment we allow ourselves to experience with a dog can be one of the most satisfying experiences in our lives. Unfortunately dogs don’t live long enough. To some people losing a dog is like losing a family member or a best friend. It can be very difficult for people who have never shared this kind of relationship to understand this type of emotional loss.

There are different types of grief. Some dogs die after long and happy lives. Some dogs die senseless deaths at a young age. Again depending on our own emotional skills and environment, we may know that we gave that dog a good life and miss them very much or we may feel that we can barely go on without our beloved dog.


Stages of Grief

Shock

If our pet dies unexpectedly, one of the first emotions is shock. Despair, stunned and confused. We can’t understand what happened. Our minds reel out of control. This is a common emotion for dogs that die suddenly.

Anger

The most common feeling of grief is anger. We will lash out at someone or even ourselves. Anger is a way to take our mind off the pain. We want and need to blame someone for what happened. We feel that we have to get back at someone or something and “make them pay” for the loss of the dog we loved so much. You may even show anger toward family members. Talking through anger is the best way to grasp what you are really angry about.

Guilt

Even if the pet is no longer ours, we may feel that we are still responsible for everything that happens to this dog, even if what happens is out of our control. Subsequently guilt will wash over us, sometimes almost uncontrollably.
Euthanizing a pet, feeling there was more you could have done, feeling you let the animal down are all parts of losing a pet. Guilt does not help the dog that is now gone, and it certainly doesn’t help you. Guilt will prevent you from moving through your grief and can also affect your relationship with other pets now and in the future.
Guilt can also be a positive emotion that you can learn from. Keeping the dog on a leash, not feeding cooked bones, generally being more responsible, these are all things we can learn from to make us better owners in the future.

Denial

This is another way to take our mind off the pain. However it doesn’t work. Going in to denial will only postpone the inevitable. At some point your grief will resurface. It’s better to deal with your loss now, accept the situation so hopefully you can move on.

Depression

The loss of a dog can lead to a depression that lasts day, months or years. Some people never get over the loss of a pet. Feelings of regret and sadness, wishing we would or could have done things differently, thinking about the dog constantly, can all be signs of depression. Letting depression take over can be dangerous. Depression can spiral and become uncontrollable. If we own other dogs we have to understand that depression is something a dog can feel from you only they don’t understand where it’s coming from or why it’s happening. If you own other animals be fair to them. They are still here. Understanding and accepting the death of a dog and learning that it’s okay to miss them and cherish their memories is healthy. Will you get over it? You may not however hopefully you can come to terms with the loss and go on from there.

Acceptance

Give yourself permission to mourn your loss.

Exercise is a great way to help relieve feelings of grief.

Surround yourself by family and friends that understand what you are going through.

Talk about your feelings with those people who understand.

Remember that as bad as it feels now, you will recover.

I am writing this article because I recently lost a dog that I was very close to. Even though I no longer owned this dog we became very close and I allowed myself to become very emotionally invested in this dogs life. I myself am having a very difficult time coming to terms with the loss of this dog, but I know I will recover and for me, writing about loss will hopefully help.

Understand that recovering is not an injustice to the dog you lost; it’s accepting the loss by placing a special place in your mind and heart for the dog you loved so much and then moving on with life.

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