The bond between a pet and owner is often stronger than one between people. Pets love us unconditionally and without judgement. They show true love and affection, and all they ask for is that love to be reciprocated. No matter how many times you have to correct them for bad behavior, they never hold it against you. Each encounter with them is as if a reset button is hit, and all negative experiences are left in the past. They are our confidantes, our most trusted companions. Some pets have been with us throughout childhood and have comforted us through our first heartbreaks and even celebrated our accomplishments such as getting accepted to college. Some pets become our first babies and are there to help welcome their human siblings into the family.
People often discount the loss of a pet as a grieving experience, but loss is felt at 100% by the griever regardless of what causes their pain. When a pet dies, is lost or gets diagnosed with a terminal illness, the loss can be devastating. I lost my ten-year-old son Austin in 2006, which was extremely traumatic. In 2009, I had to put our twelve-year-old dog Shasta to sleep, because she had an inoperable tumor behind her eye socket. Shasta was a gift for my oldest son Donovan’s third birthday in 1997, and she was our first family pet. The pain and loss we felt was so unbearable that it seemed as if we had lost Austin all over again. Our pain over losing Shasta was often discounted by others considering what we had experienced with Austin. We were told that we should just get a new dog to make us feel better. We were also told that we were young and should have more children after Austin passed away. Although the unsolicited advice was well meaning, it was still not helpful considering how bad we felt. We could have had ten more children or purchase ten more dogs and not one of them would replace what we had already lost.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. Grief is also cumulative, and it’s cumulatively negative. So, not getting the proper help to address old griefs greatly diminishes the possibility of feeling true happiness. My loss of Shasta attached itself to my pain of losing Austin and dragged me right back into the darkness. Thankfully, I made a series of small, but positive, choices that led me to find healing. I was able to free myself from the pain and you can too.
~Healing Starts with the Heart~
Erica Honore, Certified Grief Specialist