The Stages of Grief
Many professionals believe there are seven stages a person passes through as he or she deals with grief. These stages may occur in any order, and some stages may occur simultaneously. They are:
1. Shock and Denial:
Many people react to learning of a loss with numbed disbelief. They may deny the reality of the loss at some level in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may be short-lived or may last for weeks. Symptoms of denial may include a lack of tears, or a failure to accept or even acknowledge the loss.
After suffering the loss of their pet, some pet owners find it difficult to accept a new pet into their home because they believe a new pet would violate the memory of their deceased pet. This feeling should not be confused with the feeling of many pet owners who wish to have a brief “pet-free” period in their life to allow them to grieve the loss of their deceased pet.
2. Pain and Guilt:
As the shock of the loss wears off, it is often replaced by a feeling of unbelievable pain. Although the pain may be excruciating, it is important that the person experiencing the loss experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it through the excessive use of alcohol or drugs. The pet owner may feel responsible for their pet's death, or may feel that he or she should have taken action earlier and only prolonged their pet's life because they couldn't bring themselves to say “good-bye”. During this stage of grief, life may feel chaotic and scary.
Frustration over not being able to prevent the loss may give way to anger, and the pet owner may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Although this is a time for the release of bottled up emotions, angry outbursts may permanently damage relationships with those who are trying to help. If such anger becomes prolonged or vicious in nature, professional help may be warranted.
4. Depression, Reflection and Loneliness:
Depression is a natural consequence of grief and if not addressed properly can leave the sufferer powerless to cope with his or her feelings. The pet owner should not allow himself or herself to be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. It is at this time that the individual will finally realize the true magnitude of the loss, and it is this realization that may bring on depression. Purposeful isolation, and intense feelings of hopelessness, frustration, bitterness, and/or self-pity may bring on feelings of emptiness and despair. If this occurs, professional intervention may be appropriate.
5. The Upward Turn:
As the person experiencing the loss starts to adjust to life without his or her pet, life becomes a little calmer, more organized, and some sense of normalcy begins to return. Any physical symptoms that may have been experienced following the loss will have lessened, and any “depression” that may have occurred will have begun to lift slightly.
6. Reconstruction of Life Without the Beloved Pet:
As the pet owner becomes more functional following the loss, he or she will find that their mind starts working again, and they will find themselves seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without their beloved pet. They will start to work on practical problems and reconstructing themselves to face life without their departed pet.
7. Acceptance and Hope:
There is a difference between resignation and acceptance. The pet owner must accept the loss, not just try to bear it quietly. During this last stage of the grief process, the person experiencing the loss will learn to accept and deal with the reality of his or her situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil the pet owner has experienced, he or she can never return to exactly the same life that existed before tragedy struck. However, they will find a way forward. It is at this point that the grieving person will be able to reminisce about the deceased pet with sadness, but without the intense emotional pain experienced earlier.