Have you heard the reaction 'It's only a pet..' when someone's pet has died and they are suffering an extreme reaction? There are many reactions to grief in all its forms and so many people find it very difficult to deal with . Quite often they turn to drugs, alcohol and over eating to cope with the pain; the misunderstanding surrounding their feelings, particularly if they are considered to be over-reacting to the death of a pet.
Losing a pet is very hard. When grief hits us the world turns into chaos and, amazingly, everyone around us carries on as if nothing has happened.
Perhaps a pet is ill and difficult and important decisions have to be made. Perhaps a friend, family or child need helps after the loss of a beloved animal. Maybe a pet is lost and a friend or a child needs to come to terms with what has happened. Throughout this journey through grief, people learn a lot about themselves and others. There will be those who cannot understand the depth of feeling over losing a pet or the love, trust and devotion people share with their pet. What is important however is that those suffering loss are true to their own feelings and they follow their own hearts.
The answer though is not in absusing the body and the mind, but dealing with grief on a day to day basis with coping mechanisms and techniques that are healthy and lead to a proper recovery.
The therapeutic value of pets is renowned and the pleasure, love and companionship that pets can bring is immeasurable. No wonder the loss of a much loved animal is so devastating; they are so much a part of the family and in some cases, they ARE someone's family. People who do not understand, or who make hurtful comments should be avoided until some of the more powerful feelings have subsided.
Pets too can grieve for their lost families or companions. This can be distressing, but they should be allowed to work their way through loss, with care and understanding until they can rediscover their spirit and joy. They will respond to extra love and care, but need time to adjust and heal.
Children can be affected by the loss of a pet, in different ways according to their age, so it is important to remember that talking about the issue is appropriately is crucial for them and for the whole family. Teenagers might be quite dismissive but be hurting inside as they may have known a family pet for many years and miss them terribly. Watch for signs in children of all ages and be aware they may also wish to have some kind of commemoration or memorial to their pet, which will help them to grieve properly for a loss which may be their first experience of losing a loved one.
Loss and grief should be accepted as a normal, albeit a difficult, part of life and being aware of the process and the journey through grief is helpful in order to get our lives back on track. Grief tends to come in waves and can be managed from day to day without harmful substances.
Remember, people who grieve the loss of a pet only suffer so profoundly because they have the ability to care so deeply. For some people, recovery from loss makes them stronger and it can be a life changing experience.
Hopefully, when times are hard we deal with those around us in a loving and compassionate way and help those we love and care about to journey through grief in the most positive way possible. Their feelings may not be our feelings but our task is to help them through their emotions while they are working towards acceptance and a happier heart. Healthy techniques can be useful in so many other areas of life when people are under pressure or in distress - examples might be divorce, moving house, changing jobs and - of cosurse - all types of bereavement and loss.
By Denise Fiennes MBACP Counsellor
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