LOSS is an inevitable part of the experience of life on earth. Over 40 different kinds of loss have been identified. These include: death of a spouse, loss of a child, death of a pet, divorce, separation, graduation, empty nest, retirement, loss of physical health, financial gain or loss, a loss of trust and a loss of safety. One may experience loss of trust in a parent, or of trust in God or any other relationship. Throughout our lives we will experience losses many times. Unfortunately, we are not and have not been taught how to cope with – let alone RECOVER- from loss and the grief we experience in association with this loss.
GRIEF is the normal, natural and healthy response to loss of any kind. And while grief is normal and natural as well as one of the most powerful of all emotions, it is also one of the most neglected and misunderstood experiences – not only by those who are grieving but also by those around them. Despite the universality of the experience of loss, we have been poorly socialized or educated to deal with it and its accompanying grief. Our society is ill-equipped to bring the grieving experience to a successful conclusion.
It is difficult enough for us to grieve and talk about the loss of a beloved human being. It is even more difficult and complex to cope with and discuss the loss of a beloved companion animal. Yet for many of us, pets are members of the family, and psychologists have long recognized that the grief suffered by pet owners after their pet dies is the same as that experienced after the death of a person.
In fact, many normal people can grieve more for a pet than a close relative or friend. These animals offer us unconditional love and acceptance, comfort and support. They provide emotional and physiological benefits as well – particularly in turbulent, stressful and challenging times.
Loss can be devastating- and agonizingly painful. For many of us, this loss leaves a huge, void or hole and ache in our hearts. Common manifestations or symptoms of grief include disrupted sleep patterns, anxiety, loneliness, depression, uncontrollable crying, inability to concentrate, the desire to withdraw or isolate from people. Life’s meaning may seem to be lost. One’s self-worth diminishes. Grief has been compared to a raw, open wound. With great care, it eventually will heal, but there will always be a scar. Life will never be the same, but eventually you will get better.
Our culture is extremely intolerant of grief. In fact, the subject of grief is so disagreeable for us that we tend to refer to it with euphemisms such as “she passed away”, ”he’s gone to a better place”, “God called him home”, “He’s gone”, “we’ve lost her”, “she’s gone to sleep”. From early childhood, we are taught that crying is a sign of weakness, and in the case of boys and men, this attitude is even more rigid. We often do not allow children to mourn or feel loss, let alone show it. Instead, we teach our children, “don’t feel bad”, “keep a stiff upper lip”, “don’t cry”. Grief makes people uncomfortable, and although most people are well-intentioned and WANT to help the griever, they simply don‘t know how.
According to my great teachers and mentors John W. James and Russell Friedman, co-authors of The Grief Recovery Handbook (Harper Row, 1988), you CAN recover from GRIEF associated with any kind of loss. Grief Recovery means feeling better. It means claiming your circumstances instead of your circumstances claiming you and your happiness. Recovery implies that you are finding new meaning for living without the fear of being hurt again. In order to recover, one must identify and express your true feelings and work through them. Recovery requires taking steps and making decisions that require the griever’s attention, open-mindedness, honesty, willingness and courage. Recovery is being able to enjoy fond memories without having them precipitate painful feelings of regret or remorse. Grief recovery means feeling better. Recovery is acknowledging that it is perfectly all right to feel sad from time to time and to talk about those feelings no matter how those around you react.
As a grief counselor, I have helped countless people of all ages cope and recover from grief, especially those who have lost a beloved animal companion. I am available for consultations, telephone counseling, workshop facilitations and one-on-one counseling. Please inquire for our fee schedule.
My great teachers and mentors, John W. James and Russell Friedman, co-authors of The Grief Recovery Handbook (Harper Row, 1988) advise us that ‘grief recovery means feeling better.