Grief and grieving when your Cairn Terrier crosses the rainbow bridge July 17, 2020 15:23
We have teamed up with our good friend Jane Grayer of createceremonies.co.uk. Jane runs the Love & Loss Bereavement Group on Facebook and is our guest blogger on the grieving process. These are Jane's words which we hope will be useful to you.
The death of a pet can be overwhelming. I’m starting out with this statement so that if you are feeling or have felt completely overwhelmed by a death then you will know that you are not on your own, and it’s perfectly natural and normal.
Society seems to feel these days that after a couple of weeks of grieving we should be ‘over’ the death of a loved one or ‘getting on’ with life. When it’s a much loved pet who has died then the reaction is often ‘well you can get another one’ expecting that one animal can take the place of another. This kind of reaction can make you feel isolated, peculiar, as if you’re going mad, losing control, as if you’re wrong to be feeling your loss so intensely.
With the expected life span of many animals being much shorter than ours there’s an expectation that we should in some way be prepared for them to die, to know its going to happen and to take it in our stride. Some people can but many people don’t and this can make the intensity of our feelings seem overwhelming and some might think out of proportion. If you are feeling or have felt like this please know that there are many, many people who are experiencing or have experienced the same thing – you are not alone. The death of a pet can be as hard to bear as the death of a person – after all they are part of your family.
Grief is a funny old thing which doesn’t follow a set path or take a set amount of time. It can also be accumulative and reactive, so the death of a pet may also trigger grief from an earlier death of someone who you were close to, creating a double whammy effect. If you have experienced multiple deaths of people and pets then the most recent one can bring them all to mind, and you find yourself grieving them all again. Or you find yourself grieving for your dog more than your husband for example. All of these can make you feel out of control and the negative reactions of people around you only seems to make it worse.
If you are interested in the health and wellness of your Cairn Terrier, here are some more articles that you may find useful:
There are many theories about the process of grieving but we’re going to explore one – Worden’s Four Tasks of mourning. The framework he created is intended to help people to understand how we journey through grief and the way that healing happens gradually as we move along it. He is also very clear that its not a linear path, there isn’t a ‘correct’ order and we may travel back and forth through them as our own personal path twists and turns.
The first task is accepting the reality of the loss. Intellectually we know that our beloved pet has died but this is an emotional acceptance which is something else entirely. It can take time to really believe that they have died and will not be returning, the shock can be immense, especially if the death is unexpected. You know those moments when you suddenly see them or hear them, when you’re expecting them to come in or to react as they usually do? That’s part of accepting this reality, and these moments or events can creep up unexpectedly years later.
The second task is working through the pain of grief in all its manifestations. Grief isn’t just one feeling, one emotion, it’s a whole range of them including sadness, longing, emptiness, anger, numbness, anxiety, fear, guilt and nostalgia. And they don’t just present themselves one at a time to give us chance to experience them and to ‘move on’. We get bombarded by them, and they can change in a moment – or they might stay the same and never appear to change at all – as if we’re stuck. Allowing ourselves to feel whatever we’re feeling and to let it go, so that it can move and change can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes we hold onto an emotion because it seems ‘right’ or we try to supress the ones which we feel are ‘wrong’. If we have had to make the decision to put our pet to sleep, the guilt can be exacerbated. Even though rationally we may know it was the right decision, the only decision, the only way to help them we are reacting from an emotional place not a logical place.
This is a particularly difficult task when we are trying to come to terms with the death of a pet because there is so much less understanding and compassion around generally which makes it much harder to share our memories, to share our feelings, to be honest about what we are experiencing and hence to try and understand them. Anger is often directed at people or circumstances that are out of our control as we loo for someone or something to blame. We might find ourselves unable to eat, too exhausted and distracted to engage in anything, unable to take care of ourselves or those around us. It’s really important to acknowledge whatever you are feeling, and to know that it will change, indeed its likely to be changing all the time. With the death of a pet we are also likely to have lost a companion and confident – who we could rely on to be constant, always there, always loving and loyal. Who can we now turn to? It’s not easy.
The third task is adjusting to a world without them in it – and this can be very painful and too difficult to imagine. Other people’s lives just seem to carry on as if nothing has changed while ours has been changed forever. This is often the point where people say that a replacement pet will do the job, in the same way as they might say to a parent whose child has died that they are young enough to have more or at least they have other children! Believe me it is often said! Your pet has been part of your every day routine for as long as they have lived with you, and having to change that routine when you haven’t chosen to can be difficult. If / when you chose to look for a new addition to your family this can bring feelings of guilt, as if its implying that you are forgetting your ‘old’ one or being disloyal to them. As you start to find your new normality you may feel their loss even more keenly.
The fourth task is finding and experiencing an enduring connection with your pet while re-engaging with your ‘new’ life. Sometimes there’s a belief that if we are ready to live again more fully then we are leaving our loved one behind. Understanding this connection, in whatever way is right for you, wherever you feel they are, helps us to use our memories of them constructively and more joyfully. We are no longer overwhelmed by seeing their lead or their bowl, or another creature with similar markings or who behaves as they did but can enjoy the warmth of that connection with them.
If you are grieving please give yourself time and space. Find people who understand who you can talk to about what you are feeling without having to self-censor or hold back because they just want to you get over it. Holding a memorial ceremony or celebration of life ceremony may gave some comfort as it gives an outlet and a coming together for everyone, a chance to talk freely and laugh as well as cry. Putting together a book / box with photos, memories and mementos can give you a space to feel your grief in safety – so when you get the box out you are free to feel everything, when you put it away you are more able to cope. Writing a diary of your feelings can be a good way to express what you are feeling without anyone else being involved – with no judgement and without having to hold back.
Your grief will ease, it will change but it might take time – and there is no magic formula. What has worked for other people might work for you, but it might not – and that’s ok. Remembering them, connecting with them and allowing yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling will always help. When a pet has been part of our everyday of course we are going to feel a hole – and grief is just our love trying to find a way to preserve the shape of that hole.
While you are here, and if appropriate, please do take a look at our range of Memory Boxes.