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Emotions of Pet Loss
by Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed.
"It was the most tragic, traumatic, and emotionally
devastating experience I had ever been through. I didn't know
what to do. I cried day and night." (Dorothy R.,
"I felt like someone had ripped out my insides."
(Karen A., Illinois)
"I never knew anything could hurt so bad. I cried a whole
ocean of tears. I went through self-hatred for putting my pet to
sleep, to depression, to acceptance. For a long time I couldn't
even watch a dog food commercial." (Cheryl T., Alabama)
Do these reactions to the loss of a pet touch a familiar chord
in your heart? Grief, confusion, anger, guilt and depression are
all typical responses to the death of a loved one. Only recently,
however, have researchers come to realize that a pet may also be
considered a loved one and a family member, and that its death
may evoke similar and often equally intense emotions.
This excerpt will discuss some of the most typical reactions
to the loss of a pet, as well as methods to cope with these
feelings. Keep in mind, however, that there is no absolute
pattern for grief. Your own reactions will depend on a variety of
factors. These include your personality, your upbringing, the
type of relationship you had with your pet, your personal
situation at the time of the pet's death, and your cultural and
religious beliefs. Your reactions may be different from those of
another pet owner, or even from those of other members of your
household. They may include some or all of the emotions listed
above, in different combinations and intensities.
For example, if your dog died peacefully at the age of 16--a
ripe old age for most dogs--the shock and grief you feel may be
less than if it died of an unexpected illness at age 2. If your
cat is hit by a car or your dog chokes on a bone, however, you
will probably feel more guilt than you would if either pet had
died of old age. You may feel the absence of a beloved companion
more keenly and painfully if it was your only pet than if you
shared your love with several animals. You may mourn the death of
a particular pet more strongly than you mourned pets in the past,
due to some special qualities of that pet or of that particular
The length of time grief lasts also varies from person to
person, and may be affected by the level of attachment one feels
to an individual pet. "My personal experience was an intense
grieving process that left me emotionally devastated for several
weeks," wrote Roanne H. of New Jersey. "I am still
surprised by the ongoing feelings of love for the departed pet
that I am experiencing. The length of time it takes to begin
accepting the loss of your pet will vary."
Perhaps the most vital step in coping with the emotions you
will feel upon the loss of your pet is acknowledging them.
"Let yourself feel--write down your feelings, cry, be angry,
call someone. Know that it is all right to be so upset over
losing your pet and that it takes time to heal," wrote Susan
K. of New York.
To deny and/or repress that sense of loss would be to devalue
the love and affection that the pet brought into your life,"
said Pat H. of Pennsylvania.
You may run into people--even
close friends--who don't understand your grief, and who may tell
you that it is "silly" or "inappropriate" to
grieve over the loss of an animal. After all, it was "just a
dog." It is easy to condemn such people out of hand for what
seems to you an inexcusable lack of understanding. But before you
write off these friends or acquaintances, remind yourself that
few people have much experience in dealing with grief, either
their own or that of others. Grief makes people uncomfortable;
most people genuinely want to help, but simply don't know
how--and they are painfully aware that they lack the right words
to console you or make you feel better. The words they do find
may seem clumsy or insensitive to you.
It's also a good idea to keep in mind that many, many people
have simply never had a close relationship with an animal of any
kind. Perhaps their parents never allowed them to have pets as
children, so they grew up without knowing how much animals can
mean in our lives. Different people live different lives; be
aware of the differences between your experiences and those of
people who seem insensitive to your loss. If you can, seek out
those people who have had similar relationships with pets--but
remember, even other pet lovers may not be experts at dealing
with the emotional needs of other humans!
"The problem is that our culture is extremely intolerant
of grief," writes animal behaviorist C. Miriam Yarden.
"From childhood we are taught that crying is a show of
weakness--and in the case of boys and men this attitude is even
more rigid. We often do not allow our children to mourn or feel a
loss, let alone show it. Most often it is such owners who espouse
the attitude of hard determination to never get another pet
because 'I can't go through this again.' Of course they can't go
through this 'again,' considering that they haven't gone through
'this' in the first place! It is also they who suffer the
You may not wish to admit the strength of your reactions even
to yourself. If, for example, you think it is silly or weak to
feel such overwhelming grief, you may try to convince yourself
that you aren't feeling it, that everything is fine. Kathi W. of
Florida is one of many pet owners who has realized the danger of
this course of action. "I have come to learn that it is
natural to feel grief over the loss of anything we attach
ourselves to emotionally," she wrote. "No matter how
large or small our loss may be, we must openly discuss our
feelings or our grief will not be resolved. By attempting to
ignore our pain, we may become withdrawn and face serious medical
and psychological problems at a later date."
begin to cope with your emotions until you let them out. If you
feel guilt, you can't address the cause of the guilt or find a
solution to it if you are busily saying "What, me, guilt?
No--everything's great!" For decades psychologists and
psychiatrists have been pointing out the dangers of repressing,
ignoring or denying emotions. Repressed emotions don't go away
simply because you don't want to admit they are there--instead,
when denied an outlet, emotions churn around inside you until
they find their own outlet--often when you least expect it and
are least prepared to handle it. If you deny your anger over the
death of your dog, it doesn't go away: Instead, you may flare up
and shout at your child or your husband for no reason, causing
more hurt and misunderstanding. Since that outlet still doesn't
bring what's really bothering you into the open, the cause of the
anger or other emotion isn't resolved, so it continues to churn
inside you. I have heard from pet owners whose unresolved
emotions have kept them bitter and hurting for years.
Acknowledging your emotions may hurt--these emotions are
painful, after all--but it provides you with the opportunity to
control their outlet. You may decide, for example, that you need
to take a day off from work and simply cry your heart out, scream
your anger to the skies, or pound out your guilt on the floor.
Far from being childish, this action lets you get your feelings
into the open. There you can look at them and begin to understand
them, which is a healthy start on releasing them once and for
all. Only by looking at your reactions honestly can you begin the
process of working through them and coming out whole and happy on
the other side.
"Grief consists of several steps, which ought to be taken
one at a time," Yarden says. "It is also an experience
that will recur over and over after a loss, and through that
repetition comes the slow easing of pain. Each time, one
experiences a little more consolation, a little more healing.
Some of the stages one goes through are shock, denial, anger,
loneliness, self-pity, guilt, and regret--to name a few. Everyone
who has lost a loved relative or close friend experiences
loneliness and the feeling that no one can fill the emptiness
that person left behind. One may suffer from guilt, thinking that
one 'should have' or 'could have' or 'might have' done certain
things while the lost friend was still alive. The feeling of
anger is at ourselves for not having noticed that something was
amiss, for not having sought medical help sooner--or it is
sometimes redirected at the deceased for dying and leaving
Of the complex jumble of emotions that may follow the death of
a pet, four stand out as being particularly difficult to
acknowledge or understand, and therefore to work through: anger,
guilt, denial and depression. A pet owner who "sticks"
at one of these reactions faces a major obstacle in the grief
swamp. If you find yourself dwelling on one of these emotions, or
spending an inordinate amount of time "denying" the
emotion, it is important to work on a more realistic
understanding of the situation. Otherwise, your feelings may
distort your entire perspective on the loss of your pet and your
role in its death, and seriously hinder your recovery.
When a person is hurt, a natural response is to look around
for the person or thing that is causing that hurt. Pain is
something one often sees as being inflicted from outside, rather
than something that just happens. Historically, when no obvious
cause for trouble is found, people have made scapegoats out of
strangers, supernatural forces, or even God. Finding something or
someone to blame for one's pain enables one to "strike
back," if only by declaring, "It's your fault, you did
Focusing anger on a target of blame is a distraction. On her
national radio talk show, psychologist Toni Grant often noted
that a person can focus on only one strong emotion at a time;
thus, if you have focused all your energy into anger, you have
little time to feel your pain. Striking back can be gratifying;
you may get a surge of satisfaction from telling off your
"persecutor." But acknowledging your pain is an
essential part of the grieving process, so while the distraction
of anger may temporarily seem to ease your feelings, in the long
run it only serves to prolong an already difficult situation.
Whom can you blame for the death of a pet? Pet owners have
come up with a surprising number of possibilities. They may blame
pet deaths on veterinarians, animal shelters, the person who
caused a fatal accident or injury, the illness that was
responsible for the death, and even the pet itself.
Veterinarians frequently come under fire for the loss of a
pet, because a vet is often the last person to be responsible for
a sick or injured pet. Instead of asking the logical question,
"Why couldn't you save my pet?" a grieving pet owner
may ask, "Why didn't you save my pet?" as though
the veterinarian had a choice. Since so many treatments seem
virtual miracles, why couldn't the vet have pulled off the final
miracle needed to keep a beloved pet alive? To some, this failure
may seem deliberate, neglectful or uncaring.
Susan G. of Nebraska blamed her veterinarian bitterly for the
death of her St. Bernard, Junior. "Was surgery the only
alternative?" she wrote. "At the time it seemed that we
could trust this vet. Now I feel he couldn't have cared less
about my baby! We thought he would save Junior's life. Instead I
felt like he murdered him and put him through torture by that
surgery... If he felt his surgery might kill my dog, why did he
decide on it in the end? Do they do this just so they can
practice on helpless animals?"
To read Susan's letter is to read the story of a dog with
virtually no chance of survival--but to Susan, the dog's killer
is the tangible, accessible veterinarian who had the final
responsibility for her pet, not the mysterious disease that
brought the dog to the hospital in the first place. Two years
after her original letter, Susan wrote to me again, and her anger
and pain still simmered beneath the surface: "I feel I will
always be bitter about what happened and I could never trust any
professional (medical or other) again!"
An assumption of negligence, ignorance, cruelty or lack of
care on the part of a veterinarian makes the death of a loved one
easier to understand than if one had to write it off to fate or
an incomprehensible act of God. It makes the question of
"why did this have to happen to me?" or "why did
my pet have to die?" easier to answer, enabling one to say,
"Well, it wouldn't have happened if only..."
When Laura P. of California lost her pit bull puppy to
parvovirus only a few days after she adopted it from an animal
shelter, she felt considerable anger toward the shelter.
"They were so concerned about whether I had a secure yard
that they didn't even notice the pup was losing weight and
getting dehydrated," she wrote. Yvonne M. of New Jersey had
a similar experience, and demanded, "Why does the state
allow such places to exist?" She was infuriated by the
shelter's promise to replace a pet if anything went wrong.
"How can you develop a love for an animal and then replace
it awhile later?" she asks.
If someone causes the death of your pet through a malicious act
or through carelessness, it's certainly natural to feel anger
toward that person. When Vivian R.'s dog was shot near its New
Hampshire home, "all my husband and I could think of was to
go home and find whoever did this terrible thing," she
wrote. Vivian's situation demonstrates the need to maintain a
level of common sense along with one's anger. She and her husband
did locate the shooter, a neighbor, who was eventually required
to pay damages. She stopped short, however, of having the man
arrested because of her concern for the suffering this would
cause the man's wife and two young children, who had nothing to
do with the incident.
In this case, Vivian's anger was channeled into a constructive
action that eventually cleared the way for her grief and for
sympathy toward others. But Vivian was fortunate: She and her
husband were able to track down the person responsible and had
the legal resources to achieve a certain amount of justice,
though no amount of money can ever replace a lost pet. All too
often, the person who caused the death of a pet cannot be found,
or no legal means of retaliation may be open to you. You may
cause yourself far more suffering if you try to retaliate by
taking the law into your own hands. If you are spending an
inordinate amount of time concentrating on rage and hatred toward
the faceless, untraceable driver of the speeding car that struck
down your pet, you may be seriously impeding your recovery from
Some people feel anger toward the illness that kills a pet. It
isn't fair; why did it have to happen to this pet? One
person wrote that she felt fate had played a cruel trick on her:
Her dog died of coronavirus just weeks before she read a magazine
article about the disease and the new vaccine that had been
developed for it.
It is even possible to feel anger toward the dead pet itself.
"The only time she ever hurt me was when she left me,"
wrote one pet owner. You may feel angry at it for dying and
leaving you, thus causing you pain, or for doing something that
caused its own death. For example, if your pet escaped from the
yard and ran into the road at the wrong time, or ate a poisonous
plant, or provoked a fight with another animal, you may blame the
pet for the "stupidity" that took it from you.
One pet owner felt a certain amount of anger toward her dog
for appearing perfectly healthy on the morning of its death. This
pet owner felt that if only the dog had shown, somehow, that
something was wrong, the owner would not have left it home alone
but would have taken it to the vet, who might have been able to
save it. If no other target is available, the pet may become the
focus of blame for the anger and hurt you're feeling at this
You may also feel anger toward yourself, perhaps seeing
yourself as the cause of the pet's death. Anger turned inward,
into self-blame, becomes guilt.
By becoming the caretaker of an animal, one may come to feel
responsible for everything that happens to that animal, including
events beyond one's control. Thus, if something goes wrong,
whether the owner has anything to do with or not, he is likely to
feel responsible--and therefore guilty.
I heard from several owners who blamed themselves for some
"terrible mistake," real or imagined, that caused a
pet's death. Kathy D. of Oklahoma wrote, "Cause of death: It
was my fault. She died of distemper and had never been
vaccinated." Shirley O. of California said, "I had a
terrible time adjusting to the loss of my dog; the underlying
factor was my guilt. I had ignorantly fed my dog soft pork chop
bones, not knowing they'd cause intestinal hemorrhage."
If you must make the decision to euthanize a sick or injured
pet, this can cause a tremendous amount of guilt. This type of
guilt, and euthanasia in general, are covered in more detail in
Chapter Six. Susan G., who felt such anger toward her
veterinarian over the death of her dog, offers a heart-wrenching
example of the guilt euthanasia can evoke: "How could I have
been so ignorant with something I loved?" she wrote. "I
felt it was wrong to leave him there from the first day; now I
hold it against them and myself... I'm the one who took him
there. Every day is a living hell when I think about what I put
Junior through... I feel like he trusted me and I let him
Sue K. also felt considerable guilt when she had her cat
Titsie euthanized, but as she discovered, that guilt extended far
beyond the act of ending her cat's life. "I doubted my
decision," she wrote. "Maybe I could have managed him
at home. Maybe I should have tried. Maybe I shouldn't have taken
him to the vet college. I'm a nurse; I should have noticed his
failing condition. Why didn't I pay more attention? I shouldn't
have gotten the new kitten; he tired Titsie so. And the dog!
Titsie had hated Katie so much toward the end, and Katie had
taken up so much of my attention because dogs demand more by
their very nature. Maybe God was punishing me for something by
taking Titsie away; Lord knows I'm no saint. That was probably
it. I should be kinder. I should try harder to be better. I
should watch what I say. I should have lived a better life. It
was all my fault. I had killed my cat by not being what I should
Despite such intense feelings of guilt and self-hate, Sue was
able to work her way back to solid ground; her letter was a
testimonial to the powers of recovery that lie within us.
"It's been only three months since Titsie died," she
concluded, "and it was difficult at times to see the
typewriter through my tears. But these were honest tears--tears
of missing Titsie and of remembering his death and how alone I
felt--not the distorted tears of self-blame, guilt, and
Even if a pet owner can't pinpoint
something about the pet's death to feel guilty about, he may find
something else to focus on--just as Sue focused on her supposed
inadequacies. He may decide that he didn't take good enough care
of the pet while it was alive, or pay enough attention to it.
This is part of the "if only" syndrome: "If only I
had known you wouldn't be here tomorrow, I would have been nicer
to you yesterday."
Laura P. of California, who lost two dogs she had owned since
age 7, expressed this type of guilt in her letter: "I felt
sad and heartbroken, but mostly I felt guilty for any and all bad
things I had done to Tiny and Pebbles over their lifetimes. When
I was younger I just didn't respect my pets and was mean. I
remembered the times I ignored them or forgot to give them water.
I cried remembering the times I would just say 'hi' through the
back screen instead of petting their little heads or scratching
their tummies. I cried thinking of the times they needed brushing
or a walk but had the gate closed in their faces. I cried
thinking of how little they asked in return for their loyalty and
love. I will never again shun any dog for getting old; in fact, I
want to devote my life to dogs, training them and telling others
how to care for them."
Just as anger can make you unable to recover from grief
because it diverts your attention from your deeper, more painful
reactions, guilt can be an equally dangerous distraction. Guilt
causes you to focus on your supposed inadequacies and failings
rather than on the reality of your loss. Though anger can
distract from your pain, guilt adds to it by convincing you that,
since you are at fault, you "deserve" to suffer. Guilt
distorts your self-image, destroying your self-confidence and
undermining your strength. Instead of focusing on the positive
aspects of your relationship with your pet and on the happy
memories, you focus upon the negative memories (real or
imagined), the pet's illness or death and your "bad
guy" role in it.
Even if you did make some tragic mistake or decision
that caused the death of your pet, clinging to guilt not only
prevents you from recovering from your grief, it prevents you
from moving on to a better and wiser relationship with future
pets. Guilt does not help your departed pet, it does not help
you, and it does not help any pets you may own in the future.
Instead of helping you learn and grow from the experience of your
mistakes, guilt drags you deeper into pain and, if carried to
extremes, can block your route out of the grief-swamp.
Like anger, denial can be a way of focusing your mind away
from pain. Denial is not so much a distraction, however, as a
mechanism of ignoring reality, of hoping that if you don't feel
the pain, it will go away. Unfortunately, this rarely works;
instead, pain is likely to wait until you let your defense
mechanism slip, and then lash out at you when you are least
prepared to cope with it.
Denial has been described in detail by researchers who study
the terminally ill. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her landmark
book On Death and Dying, noted that dying patients would
often insist that they were not ill or that they were getting
better. The reality of impending death is, understandably, often
too painful to accept on a conscious level. Denial is a way of
avoiding the mental anguish that comes with the realization that
death is inevitable.
Pet owners often practice a similar type of denial. C. Miriam
Yarden wrote of a woman whose dog was diagnosed as being
terminally ill. Whenever Yarden asked the woman about the dog,
the woman insisted that the dog was fine, that it was getting
better, that nothing was wrong with it. In a few months the dog
died, and the woman was devastated. In a case such as this,
denial robs a pet owner of vital time in which he could be
preparing himself emotionally for the inevitable loss and trauma
that is to come.
Carried to extremes, denial can even be physically harmful to
a pet. Just as a human patient may fearfully deny the seriousness
of his symptoms and postpone visiting a doctor until it is too
late to halt the course of an illness, so might a pet owner deny
the seriousness of a pet's symptoms until it is too late for a
veterinarian to help. Even when one does take the pet to the vet,
ignoring the seriousness of the illness can lead to significant
problems in coping later, as Celia P. of New York discovered.
"You must be realistic," wrote Celia. "Cam had
blood in his urine periodically for a long time. We convinced
ourselves that it was the same old urinary problem that he'd had
before. Not smart. Pretending that an aging animal is going on
forever just makes it harder to accept the final outcome. We just
'tuned out' any suggestion from the vet that this could be
something more serious (it was cancer) and stuck to the old 'he's
got a bladder problem--probably passed a stone again' assumption.
Please don't do this; it just makes the shock a hundred times
Denial can also take place on a subconscious level. You may
know, intellectually, that your pet is dead, but at a gut level
be unable to accept that fact. You may still believe that somehow
you will see your pet again; you might fear, for example, that
your pet was not actually euthanized and is still alive
somewhere. (That's why many pet owners recommend that you stay
with your pet during euthanasia, a point that is discussed in
Chapter Six of Coping with Sorrow.) I experienced this
feeling upon the death of my cat; even though I had held his body
in my arms and said good-bye to him, I still found myself
watching the streets for him at night as I drove home from work.
A part of me seemed to have stuck at the memory that he had not
come home that night, while refusing to accept the memory of the
discovery of his body.
Denial can surface when you contemplate obtaining a new pet.
You may find that this decision makes you feel guilty or
disloyal, as though you were somehow betraying the deceased pet's
memory. This reaction may mean that in a very real sense, you
have not let go of the old pet, for it is still alive enough in
your mind to be "replaced" by a "usurper."
Bringing a new pet into your home can be the ultimate admission
that your old pet is gone.
Though depression can result from a variety of things,
including purely physical causes, we often associate this
condition with an event or ongoing situation that has caused
significant emotional pain or high levels of stress. This type of
depression can range from a sense of "feeling low" to
what can amount to a state of emotional near-paralysis. It can
last for a few hours or a day--or drag on for weeks and
The death of a pet is certainly the type of event that one
would expect to trigger depression. It is traumatic, painful and
stressful; it creates a situation that plunges a person into a
whirlpool of emotions, and is an event that one may very well
wish to withdraw from rather than confront. But, though
depression is a logical result of pet loss, it is also a state of
mind that can impede a pet owner's recovery from that loss.
Shirley O., who felt such guilt over feeding her dog the bones
that caused its death, also suffered from the classic symptoms of
depression. "The sudden death of my dog left me so
devastated that I'd walk around the house wringing my hands and
crying," she wrote. "I lost my appetite and powers of
concentration, and wondered if I was losing my mind." A
California pet owner experienced another typical manifestation of
depression: She found herself virtually unable to carry on with
her day-to-day routines. "Frankly, I didn't get much done
and had lost interest in living," she wrote. Even getting
out of bed, eating and performing simple tasks was an effort.
Severe depression can make living seem intolerable, and rob one
of the willpower and strength to put forth even the most minimal
Shirley's situation was a little unusual: Three months before
the death of her dog, her husband had died of a lengthy illness.
She felt considerably more anguish over the death of the dog than
of her husband, and wondered if perhaps the dog's death had
triggered pent-up feelings that she had not released the first
time through. She discounted that possibility, however. "My
husband had wanted to die for years," she wrote, "and
made himself and those around him so miserable that it was a
relief when he didn't suffer anymore."
Despite Shirley's disclaimer, it seems likely that the death
of her dog was the proverbial hole in the dike that let a whole
flood of painful emotions, perhaps bottled up for years, burst
through. It also seems likely that, due to the difficulties in
her marital relationship, Shirley developed an unusually strong
bond with her dog, who probably provided the love and support
that was not forthcoming elsewhere.
This type of situation is not as uncommon as it might sound.
If your life is in turmoil--if, for instance, problems are
occurring in relationships or careers or family situations--your
relationship with your pet may be the only stable thing in your
life. No matter how bad things get everywhere else, a pet will
continue to offer unconditional love and acceptance.
Even when the trying times or stressful changes are past, you
may still feel an intense attachment to that pet. "I
couldn't have survived without him," you might say. "He
was my good luck charm." You might even fear that your life
will fall apart completely without that "anchor," even
if the crises that the pet anchored you through have long since
resolved themselves. If they haven't been resolved, the loss of
the pet can be even more traumatic, because you may then feel
completely cut off from any source of love and support.
Thus the loss of a pet should be viewed not just as an
independent event, but in the context of your life at the time of
the loss. If you find yourself reacting far more severely to the
loss than you anticipated--perhaps more severely than you have
reacted to deaths of earlier pets--you might wish to examine
other possible sources of stress in your life. Was your pet
helping you cope with painful emotions arising from some other
problem? Has the death of the pet left you not only with your
grief over its loss, but with an unpleasant situation or backlog
of stress that you must now face alone, without the pet's
"moral support"? If you can, try to separate the
bereavement trauma from other crises in your life and allot some
time to it alone, so that you can view it from a perspective that
is not magnified and distorted by external events.
The depression that results from this type of situation, or
even from the loss of a pet without outside complications, makes
a constructive approach to handling your grief difficult. One of
the symptoms of depression is a lack of energy, an inability to
focus even on simple things, let alone on the overwhelming
problem of your grief. While it is not a good idea to distract
yourself from your grief to the point of ignoring or denying its
existence, one tried-and-true coping strategy is to focus on
outside activities: your work, friends, a change of scene. This
type of healthy distraction keeps you in touch with reality,
which helps keep your grief and loss in perspective. But
depression robs you of the energy or inclination to pursue even
trivial activities, creating a spiral effect: If you cannot
distract yourself from grief, you tend to dwell upon it, which
makes the depression worse, which makes it even more difficult to
break out of the cycle, and so forth.
Powerful emotions are an integral part of grief. You won't be
able to avoid them, and in some cases, in the right proportions,
these emotions can be helpful to you in negotiating the
grief-swamp. Constructive anger, for example, can help you
resolve the situation that caused your pet's death, giving you a
feeling of accomplishment. However, anger that you hold onto
because you can't focus it constructively can make you feel
helpless, and hinder your progress. Blind anger will simply send
you charging off wildly through the swamp or keep you running in
Guilt has few benefits; however, Kathi D.'s guilt over her
failure to immunize her dog caused her to be much more careful
with subsequent pets. If you are somehow responsible for the
death of your pet, your sense of guilt is useful only so far as
it prompts you to correct the error--fix the fence, keep your
next cat indoors, never feed bones to another dog. But if guilt
causes you to focus on your own supposed worthlessness and
inadequacies, you trap yourself in the swamp by convincing
yourself that you're such a lowlife scum that you belong
Denial can help you on a brief, temporary basis by letting you
shift your attention away from emotions that are, for the moment,
too painful to bear. It's perfectly acceptable, for instance, to
say, "I won't think about what just happened right now,
because I have to drive home on the freeway, and I'll fall apart
and be unable to function if I don't put it out of my mind. I'll
fall apart when I get home, instead." But if you try to deny
the situation for a longer period of time or altogether, beware:
The swamp hasn't gone away just because you have closed your eyes
and told yourself that it doesn't exist. You are still in the
middle of it, and by walking on blindly you may step in quicksand
when you least expect it.
Depression could surely be described as quicksand. It is a
natural reaction, and justified by the nature of your loss. But
if you feel the symptoms of depression taking hold of you to the
extent that they interfere with your day-to-day life, you need to
make every possible effort to break out of it before it becomes a
trap. This isn't easy to accomplish alone; if you can, enlist the
help of friends and relatives to keep you "moving" and
distracted. Even if your friends don't understand the cause of
your grief, let them know that you need their help and support
regardless. It's impossible to even begin to make your way out of
the swamp if you're sinking slowly into a patch of quicksand.
At this point you may be thinking, "It's all very well
for her to say, 'Do this' and 'Don't think that,' but how can I
help what I'm feeling? If I have these feelings, what can I do
about them?" The next chapter will give you some answers to
that question by presenting some coping strategies that have been
used successfully by pet owners like yourself.
"Like all counselors, I am often asked, 'When will I get
over this? Will I ever get over this?' " writes Muriel
Franzblau of the Bide-A-Wee Home Association. "Though my
answer is frequently surprising to clients, I've seen it work
well time and time again: 'You won't get over it. I don't believe
we ever "get over" the loss of someone we've loved so
much. But you'll do something much better. Gradually, and in your
own time, you'll make peace with yourself and then you'll make
peace with your loss. And you'll go on from there.' "
Coping with sorrow is easier said than done--but it has been
done, and you can do it too.
Copyright © 1987 by Moira Allen. Excerpted from