I Haven’t Lost a Part of Me; I’ve Lost All of Me

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If your relationship with your pet was so strong that he or she became a part of your identity, you may have the feeling that you are not sure who you are when your pet passes away.

James was never seen in his Chicago neighborhood without Ricky and Lucy, his West Highland Terriers. As he walked his dogs at the same times each day, business owners would pop out of their stores to give a treat or a dish of water, or simply to pet the dogs and say hello. Friends who came to James’ apartment enjoyed spending time with the dogs, and people at work would stop by James’ desk and ask about the little white dogs in the picture frame on his desk.

Margaret, a resident of suburban Chicago, was known as” Rosie’s mom.” Her mixed breed rescue dog was a neighborhood favorite, known for her friendly disposition toward everyone. People looked for her as they passed Margaret’s house, and would usually see Rosie looking out her living room window. When Margaret planted flowers, raked leaves, or shoveled snow, there Rosie would be, playing or resting by Margaret’s side. Margaret walked Rosie for 3 miles every day, and Rosie grew to know the people they would encounter, and they grew to know and look for her. Margaret and Rosie were seen as a pair.

This type of relationship, where the pet is so much more than a pet, where the human finds in the animal companion a best friend, partner, and sidekick, where the human and the animal companion become known as a duo, is one that is often devastating and confusing to lose. People sometimes say, “It’s not just that I’ve lost an important part of me; I feel like I’ve lost all of me.”

This is not unusual in the experience of grief. Those who are closest to us may seem to be part of our identity: we are someone’s partner, parent, son or daughter. Grief turns our world around to the point that it may seem unrecognizable.

Although this confusion and loss may lead to despair, you can be sure that this is normal, and that it is a part of the process of grief. Trust in the process, and allow yourself to feel all the feelings. Find a safe person with whom to talk, someone who will not mind if you repeat your story, someone who is a patient and kind listener. This may be a friend or a therapist or even a pet loss hotline volunteer.

Through talking it out, writing it out, and perhaps even creating a scrap book of memories, you will find yourself moving through this dark tunnel of grief—perhaps at a slow pace, but moving nonetheless.

by Joy Davy MS, LCPC, NCC

Pet Grief and Pet Love Blog

http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

Does Love Go On With Memories?

by Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC

Even after death, the relationship goes on. This is an idea that brings comfort to many. You have your animal companion in your heart, a part of you, and as you go on through life, and think of your friend, the relationship continues to develop.

Your perspectives change, your appreciation may increase, and the love is always there.
eskie in snow
Whenever we get a big snowfall, my husband and I always think of Buddy, our American Eskimo mix, who loved to run out into snow showers and scoop up the soft snow on his nose, and then roll around in it, making snow-dog-angels.

When our kids would go to the sled hill, Buddy would go, too, running up and down the hill, greeting every man, woman and child there joyfully, beside himself with happiness.

When the kids would be shoveling, Buddy would be right there, lying in the snow, soaking in the crystal white ambience.

When the children would make a snowman, there would be Buddy, running in circles, playing, and guarding “his kids.”

“There was never a dog like him,” I say, whenever we get a good Chicago snowfall.

“There will never be another,” my husband says, looking out into the snowy yard that Buddy would love to dive into.

“What a great dog,” our (now grown) children say, remembering the sled hill.

And although we loved and appreciated Buddy at the time, I think our understanding of his special qualities continues to grow as time goes by.

We remember when we first got him as a pup. We had stopped in to a local shelter “just to look,” and came out with what looked like a little polar bear cub. He grew to be a strikingly beautiful dog, with a swagger and a smile that would make you think he understood full well what a charismatic impression he made.

eskie in grass
He was gentle and tolerant, and tuned in to the emotions and needs of his human family.

Even now, five years after his death, I feel a warmth in my heart when I think of Buddy. I feel his support, his sense of fun, his unwavering optimism that each day was going to be a great one, and each motion I made might result in something good to eat, or an adventure of some kind. And for Buddy, any time spent with his people was an adventure.

Even now, I think of Buddy as one of the important beings in my life, one of those milestone influences whose message of love and support stays with me always. He gave his full attention to making us happy, and we were his sole purpose in life. He was with our family during the growing up years of our children, and in my mind he stands for everything that was fun and beautiful and full of heart about those days.

I feel that even now, his message to me is, whatever you think it’s all about, think again: it’s all about the love.

Thank you, Buddy, for being who you were and are. Love you.

Please write your memories of your animal friend. What are the memories that still bring warmth to your heart?

joydavy2013

Joy Davy, M.S., L.C.P.C., N.C.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
15 Spinning Wheel Road
Suite 417
Hinsdale, Illinois  60521
Phone:  630-935-7915

website:  www.joydavy.com

please see my Pet Grief Blog:            http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

 

Why Don’t Other People Understand?

by Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC

If you had a close bond with a pet, and he or she has passed away, you may find yourself feeling that a part of you is gone.
man n dog

Sometimes, it’s hard to find anyone who understands. The people who are closest to you may say the most foolish things.

They try to put it in perspective when they say, “It was just a pet.” They try to be helpful when they say, “Get another one.” They don’t know that these are the unkindest things they could say, because remarks like these show that they do not understand the depth of your attachment to your friend.

For you, “just a pet” does not describe the relationship you had. Your animal companion may have accompanied you through many stages of life, and was often your best support.

Many people say that their pet was truly their best friend, and that they would actually have preferred to spend time with their pet than with most people they could name.

Often, pet lovers identify so strongly with their pets, they feel that they have lost some of their identity when their pet passes away.

As for “getting another one,” when your heart is broken, this is probably not what you want to hear. Someday, when you have healed, you will think about that, perhaps. But people who want to rush you into replacing your irreplaceable friend are not helping.

When they exclaim, “What? You’re still upset about that animal? It’s been (x amount of time)!” here is something you can tell them: “I have lost a member of my family. I don’t expect you to understand, but I do expect you to respect my feelings.”

Do not allow anyone to rush you through this grief, any more than you would be rushed through grief following the death of anyone else important in your life. Allow yourself to go through all the stages of reaction to death: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance.

If you feel that you are getting stuck in the depression stage, by all means, seek counseling with a professional counselor with an understanding of pet grief.

You have the right to grieve, and you have the need to grieve. You have had an important loss, and need time to work through it.
woman n cat
Helpful ways to mourn are to have some kind of ceremony to say good-bye, and to make a memorial for your pet. You may want to make a scrapbook, or put keepsakes such as tags, collar and favorite toy in a decorative box.

When you are feeling low, remember how your animal companion comforted you. What would he or she want you to feel now? Realize that you have your friend in your heart, internalized, for the rest of your life, and that love remains with you.

joydavy2013

Joy Davy, M.S., L.C.P.C., N.C.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
15 Spinning Wheel Road
Suite 417
Hinsdale, Illinois  60521
Phone:  630-935-7915

website:  www.joydavy.com

please see my Pet Grief Blog:            http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

 

What’s The Best Pet Loss Grief Book?

By Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC

stack of books

There are so many truly wonderful books that have been written to guide the bereaved through the process of grief and mourning for an animal companion. So many, in fact, that although I am deeply committed to helping people through pet grief, I would hesitate to ever write a book on that subject myself. What more could I add?

when your pet dies
By far, my very favorite book is the slimmest volume, published in 2004. The title is: When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering, and Healing; Compassionate support and practical suggestions to help you understand your grief and begin to heal. It’s a long sub-title, but just look for it under the title, When Your Pet Dies. The author is Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

This book is everything the subtitle promises. It tackles the questions that are bound to be on your mind: the difference between depression and normal grief; grieving a pet vs. grieving a person; physical symptoms and explosive emotions that may accompany pet grief; feelings around euthanasia, ways you could memorialize your pet, etc.

grave stone

Although the topics handled are heavy, the book feels light and comforting. It’s a small book, giving a feeling of manageability; interspersed throughout the text are personal short accounts from people who write about their beloved animal companions: horses, dogs, birds, cats, turtles, rabbits and more.

In addition, the book is interactive, in that there are some workbook-like pages where you can write and process your grief if you would like to. On these pages, you are encouraged to write about your best memories with your pet, make a list of all the things you learned from your pet, write a letter to your pet, and more activities of a similar nature. Activities such as these are very therapeutic, and can really help you through your grieving process if you want to do them.

The tone of the book is compassionate, non-judgmental and very comforting. You will feel as though you have an understanding and wise companion walking along with you, assuring you that your feelings are normal and that you have every right to feel them.
high 5
For many people, a book such as this may be a beginning, but talking with a counselor who really understands pet grief may be needed. Some of my clients don’t want to see any books about pet grief; it seems to make their pain worse. Sometimes it’s the timing; a book may be helpful at a later stage, but not at the beginning of the grieving process.

However, talking through your own experience of love and loss with a compassionate and trained professional counselor who understands the depth of your bond with your animal companion is an option that is important to consider if you feel you are getting “stuck” in your grief.imagesCAJLMZ48

If you feel it’s time for you to try one of the many pet grief books that abound, I would most recommend this one.

I will close with a quote from this book: “You loved your pet. And because your love was deep and profound, your grief is deep and profound. That is both normal and necessary. Never be ashamed of your grief over the death of a pet.”

Click your state on this website PetLossAtHome.com for a list of local pet loss grief counselors and support groups. You can also visit Pet-Loss.net and click on your state in the upper left corner of that website for counselors and groups.

Joy Davy, M.S., L.C.P.C., N.C.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
15 Spinning Wheel Road
Suite 417
Hinsdale, Illinois  60521
Phone:  630-935-7915

website:  www.joydavy.com

please see my Pet Grief Blog:            http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

joydavy2013

How Do I Cope With Pet Loss?

The bond between humans and animals has inspired myth, philosophy, and magic across cultures for centuries. It can be surprising how deeply we are affected by the of loss of a pet partner. And as many people know, losing a pet is a distinctly different experience than losing any other relationship, human or otherwise.

In February 2006, after months of treating and hoping, watching and waiting, I lost a beloved horse partner. The condition that ultimately took her life was a chronic and insidious one that required constant research, nursing, and crisis management. Those many months of care were both labor- and cash-intensive, requiring me to orbit around her in an effort to meet her every need. So the day my mare died, I left the barn with a feeling so empty it defied description. I was rudderless and drifting without my horse. She had given my days form and routine—she had given me a new understanding of the word “commitment.”

There are many models professional counselors use to make sense of the grieving process, and these models or “stages” of grief can be quite helpful. More important, though, is the realization that grief is highly individual, variable, and illogical. No two people will grieve a loss exactly alike, and many times grief defies both explanation and expectation. Knowing this can be oddly comforting—that you are grieving as you need to, and that somehow, some way, you will find a way through to the other side.

With that said, there are some things to remember if you are stumbling through the loss of a beloved pet:

Grief is a whole-body experience.

It involves all parts of the human system and often shows itself on physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual levels. People who are grieving often have bodies that are exhausted and uncooperative, hearts that are broken, and brains that alternate between confusion, numbness, and too much time spent on the “what ifs.” Learning to sit with the many faces of grief is a requirement of working through the loss.

Grief is misunderstood.

Humans fear and avoid death because it is simply too big to wrap our brains around. Many people may offer well-meaning, but ill-timed and off-putting, advice to those who have lost a pet. If this happens to you, thank them kindly for their thoughts and then find support from others who resist the temptation to offer a “quick fix.” Pets are not appliances to be replaced, but loved ones to be mourned and honored.

Grief is isolating.

Many bereaved people feel alone in their grief. It is not unusual to feel isolated by the indifference of people who clearly don’t get it. The antidote to this is found in connecting with people who will listen to you without judgment. Whether you find those people within the pet community, within your family, or through a more formal route (such as a support group or a grief counselor) does not matter. What matters, instead, is the power that comes from telling your story to others who can understand your experience.

Grief has no timetable.

Many mourners frequently note that others expect them to get over their loss in a matter of weeks or months. But there is no timetable for grief. People who are lucky enough to enjoy the trust of a pet have invested tremendous time and energy in building that relationship. As such, they must also spend considerable time and energy adjusting when that pet dies. Do not expect yourself to “get over it.” Loss is not something you get over, but something to which you must adapt.

Grief feels rotten.

Grief is a process that often hits us surprisingly hard. Even for people who have survived many previous experiences with death, it is not uncommon to describe the loss of a deeply bonded pet as significantly more distressing. You may find that you have lost the capacity for finding comfort—your usual calming, self-soothing activities may not work. When all else fails, go back to the basics: hydration, nourishment, rest, and exercise. Support your body so your body can support your grief.

Grief is transformative.

Sometimes, one of the most healing things we can do is to honor grief as the teacher it is. By entering into relationships with pets, we open ourselves up to partnership, challenge, and transformation. When we lose our pets, reflecting on their gifts can enable us to live their legacies. It is not just in loving them, but in losing them, that we are afforded the opportunity to become better humans.

Those who have experienced a deeply satisfying relationship with a pet know the intense pain that comes from having to bid them goodbye. If you are working through a loss yourself, treat yourself kindly and find others who can do the same. If you know of a friend or colleague who is grieving a pet, reach out, even in small ways, to let them know you are available to listen.

(Adapted from Coping With The Loss of a Horse By Jeannine Moga, M.A., M.S.W., LICSW)

Why Am I So Devastated?

by Joy Davy, MS, LCPC, NCC

For those who have the privilege and joy to have such a profound bond with an animal friend, the loss of that friend can be devastating.

sleeping w dog

The connection we can have with our companion animals is so deep and multi-stranded.  As I work with people who have had to say good-bye to this connection, I am touched by the eloquence of expression that the bereft find when describing that tie:

“He was my greatest support.”

“Many boyfriends over the years said to me, ‘OK, it’s me or the dog,” and I always told them, ‘It’s been nice knowing you.’”

“No other animal can ever complete me the way Maisie did.”

“Everyone in the neighborhood knew Jasper and me; we were always seen together; now I feel like I’ve lost my identity.”

“She saw me through so many milestones of my life–college, relationships, jobs; when I got her, my hair was still brown!”

“It’s like I’ve lost a part of myself.  It’s somehow worse than when I’ve lost people that I loved. Now, how can that be?”

headrest

There are many reasons why this bond is so deep and so different from the other bonds in our lives.

First, there is the aspect of physical touch.  Many people touch their dog or cat far more than they touch any human being.  Your pet may sit on your lap or rest his head on your feet while you work at the computer, watch TV, or read a book.   As you stroke your pet, after 3 minutes you experience a release of oxytocin in your brain.  This is the hormone that nursing mothers have, the one that nature uses to give us a feeling of connectedness, to make us want to return and experience that hormone release again.  It gives a feeling of peaceful relaxation and well-being.  While you get that release of oxytocin, so does your pet.  One thing that grieving pet owners miss the most is the physical touch:  “the curliness of his fur,” “her little weight in my arms.”

Second, there is the routine, every-day togetherness.  When you get up to go to the coffee maker, when you stand in the kitchen preparing food, when you sit down to eat, there is your friend.  You may take your pet for walks or car rides.  You have a pattern of feeding, possibly medicating, and playing with your pet.

 

kitty

Third, if your bond was deep, you probably communicated regularly with your animal friend, verbally or non-verbally.  You may have talked to your animal, and he may have seemed to understand you.  “That dog understood every word I said, I truly believe that.  I just talked to him and I could tell by the way he met my gaze, he was taking it all in.”  “My cat knew what I was feeling. She would come to me when I was sick or sad, and just give me her peaceful presence.  She knew.”  When that source of communication, that feeling of being understood by another is gone, it is a lonely feeling.kisses n pit bull

Fourth, our relationship with our pet is simple, even while being multi-stranded.  It is simple because, unlike human relationships, it is completely clean of judgment, grudges, criticism, insincerity, deception–in short, it is free of all the negative complexities that we may experience with people.  It is what it seems to be:  pure love and devotion.  That’s why we prize it so much.

cat and man

Fifth, and last, our animals depend upon us completely.  Some people view their animals as their children.  “They are like kids who never go through a disagreeable adolescence; they keep loving you and needing you, and they don’t leave home.”  This dependence meets our instinctive need to nurture.  The shadow side of this dependence, however, is that we feel totally responsible for their well-being, and often, we are even called upon to make the very difficult decision to euthanize them when their lives have become a burden to them.  That decision is one that leaves many people stricken with guilt and second-guessing.  “Did I wait too long?  Did I selfishly let him suffer because I couldn’t let go?”  or, on the other hand, “Did I  move too quickly?  Could she have had one more good week?  Was she ready to go?”

raven and man

Considering all of these various ways of connection we have with our pets, it is only logical that we would feel pain and grief at  the loss of that connection. Of course, not everyone is so deeply connected with their pets.  (See my previous post, “The Unique Bond.”)  But for those who have the privilege and joy to have such a profound bond with an animal friend, the loss of that friend can be devastating.  While grief is normal, healthy and inevitable, there is always the concern that a deep grief could trigger a chronic depression.  If you are reading this because you are grieving the passing of a dear animal friend, whether recent, long ago, or still anticipated, please do yourself the kindness to acknowledge the importance of your feelings, and allow yourself to seek support, either in a pet grief support group, or with an individual therapist whose focus is on pet grief.

And while, in this post, I have referred to the “loss of the connection,” I would like to invite you to consider that phrase and ask yourself if we do, in fact, lose the connection when our animal friend passes on.  One way of coping with grief is to focus on how we have internalized the loved one, and in what ways he or she will always be a part of us.  Some people believe that death does not end a relationship; that the relationship can continue evolving even after one of the partners has died.  What is your experience, or your belief about the continuing connection between you and your dearest animal friend?

Joy Davy, M.S., L.C.P.C., N.C.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
15 Spinning Wheel Road
Suite 417
Hinsdale, Illinois  60521
Phone:  630-935-7915

website:  www.joydavy.com

please see my Pet Grief Blog:            http://joydavy2013.wordpress.com/

How Do I Deal With Pet Death?

Pets are more than just animals — they’re family. And anyone who’s ever lost a pet knows it’s terribly heartbreaking. Whether it’s your first time to lose a pet or your third, it never really gets easier, only more familiar. Thankfully, there are many ways to ease the sorrow and help you recover from such a devastating loss. If you or someone you know is suffering from the loss of a pet, then take a minute to read these seven tips to help you cope and return to a more peaceful state of mind.

  1. Allow yourself to grieve:

    One of the most important things you have to remind yourself of following the loss of a pet is that it’s important and perfectly OK to grieve. Everyone grieves in different ways and for different periods of time. It may last a few days or a few years. Either way, it’s a completely personal experience that may require taking off work or spending some time alone to bounce back.

  2. Express your grief openly:

    A big part of the healing process is expressing your grief openly. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings and memories. Holding it in will only make the grieving process more difficult and painful. This is especially important to remember when talking to your children about the loss of a pet. When explaining the situation, be sure to express your own grief and reassure your kids that it’s OK to be sad and that you also feel the same way.

  3. Spend time with your surviving pet:

    Spending time with your surviving pet can help you cope with grief and ease the pain of losing an animal. Surviving pets may need a lot of TLC at this time because they are also affected by the loss. Even if they weren’t close, your surviving pet may whimper and act lethargic because they are distressed by the sudden changes. Comfort your surviving pet and try to create a positive emotional state within the home.

  4. Do something in your pet’s memory:

    Whether it’s spending time at the park where you used to walk your dog, volunteering at an animal shelter, or making a donation in your pet’s memory, these special moments can help you turn a painful situation into a positive one. If you like to write, paint, or make music, you can dedicate it to your beloved pet.

  5. Keep a journal:

    Keeping a journal is one of the best things you can do to record your feelings, thoughts, and memories about your pet and keep track of your grieving process. Doing so will help you work through the grief and make sense of the things happening around you.

  6. Memorialize your pet:

    Memorializing your pet can help you overcome your loss and remember the good times you had together. You can have a memorial for your pet in private or with the company of friends and family. Some people write a letter to their pet or create a photo album and leave it by an urn or their pet’s burial spot. You can memorialize your pet on his or her birthday or anytime you feel like reminiscing.

  7. Seek support:

    Many people have been in your exact shoes and know what it’s like to lose a beloved pet. Seeking support is a healthy and encouraged way to cope with the death of a pet. There are many forms of support available to grieving pet owners, including pet-loss support hotlines, pet bereavement counseling services, and online support groups with chat rooms and message boards where people can tell their story and share comforting words. Support can also come from friends and family who knew your pet and can help you hold on to the good memories.

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What Helps Me Grieve Pet Loss?

Author Jon Katz poses for a picture with a dog in this publicity photo released to Reuters September 23, 2011.
Jon Katz wrote “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die” to provide guidance, support and advice for people on how to handle the loss of a pet.

Reuters spoke with Katz to discuss his new book and how people can cope with life when the family pet passes away.

Q: What was the biggest surprise for you in researching books about pets and grieving?

A: “I found that almost every book had to do with the afterlife. Not a single book said, ‘This is what is known about things that will help you grieve.’ So I started talking to vets and psychologists and gathering information and interviewing maybe 200 different people about what was helpful to them.”

Q: And what did you find?

A: “People need to bring rituals into grieving. Memorial services, remembrances, pictures — those are concrete things that make grieving tangible. The Internet offers all kinds of opportunities for this like making digital albums and Facebook pages. People used to have to hide grief. You couldn’t go to your boss and say, ‘I need a week off, my cat died.’ You probably still can’t, but you do need to say, ‘I’m having a tough time.’”

Q: No doubt your own personal experience went in to this.

A: “I’m one of those people who has always struggled with emotions and revealing them. When my dog Orson died, I did this very male thing of ‘It’s just a dog and I’ll just move on.’ I was very slow to grasp the emotion. But Orson is the reason I started writing about dogs. He’s the first (dog) book I wrote and HBO did a movie about him (“A Dog Year”). Writing this book inspired me to go back and look at the impact of his loss and on my life, as well as other dogs that I’ve lost.”

Q: You ended up putting Orson down. How does one deal with the guilt of making such a decision?

A: “It’s important to remember that the animals are not grieving with us. They’re very accepting. They’re not lying there thinking ‘How could you do this to me? Why aren’t you keeping me going?’ Pets don’t do the human things of guilt and anger and recrimination that we do. They come and go with great acceptance.

“One idea that I advocate is the dealing with guilt directly. Acknowledge the good life, remember the good things you did with your pet — the places you took them, the affection you showed them. Remind those who have lost a pet that they generally gave their pets a good life and that’s a good thing, so don’t forget that.”

Q: Is there any way to prepare for a pet’s death?

A: “If you’re going to love animals and have a life with them, the odds are you’re going to lose them. It’s helpful when you get a dog to accept the fact that this dog is not going to be with you your whole life.”

Q: Is getting another dog acceptable in getting over the previous one? It’s not a betrayal to the one you lost?

A: “I’m always happy when people choose to get another dog because it’s a healthy and healing thing to do, and there are millions of them needing homes. But there is no single time frame to do it in because grieving is an intensely personal experience. In my case, I get another dog as soon as I feel ready. As a dog lover, it is right for me to have them.

“With children, I don’t think it’s good if you go out and immediately get another dog or cat. Animals are not disposable any more than people. Children need to see that the loss is important, and the family should take time to honor that.”

This article is from SeniorDogs.com.