You don't get "over it" but you CAN get through it!
Written by Michelle Nichols
The short answer to this very common question posed by people who have lost a beloved animal is that there really is no simple answer but we don't ever get OVER the loss of a beloved animal friend. Every person copes with loss and grief in their own way and the path back to “normal life” is different for each of us. When we are in the midst of the emotional thunderstorm that can often overwhelm us after a beloved animal friend passes away, there may seem to be no end in sight....not even a sliver of hope or happiness. If you have asked yourself this question, please follow some of the advice contained within this article and help yourself "get through it," toward healing and back to health and happiness.
The situation can become even worse if it feels that we are so very alone. Sometimes those who really do care can be curiously silent for reasons we may not be aware of. Their perceived lack of understanding over the all-consuming pain we may feel over our friend’s death may actually be their own very common fear of death that sadly, they don’t know how to express.
Even more painful are comments by seemingly well-intentioned people. Such as: "It’s just a dog that died, it’s not like it’s a person,” or “There are a lot of cats who need homes, can’t you adopt another?” Try to avoid interactions with these people if possible, recognizing they do not share your values, goals, and beliefs and can’t possibly understand what you’re going through.
Time does not heal all wounds. The situation may worsen as the time after our animal companion’s passing lengthens and the pressure from others, perhaps even our own inner selves, is to “get over it.” We may feel guilty if we don’t grieve long enough or beat ourselves up if our grief lasts way too long.
Many people have found solace after their discovery of a key tactic to coping with grief, namely to share what you are going through with others who understand your pain because they have experienced it first-hand themselves.
Try these ideas to find active listeners:
● Reach out to friends or family members who have suffered the loss of a beloved animal friend and ask them for a listening ear. Once you start to reach out, you may be pleasantly surprised to find kinship with animal lovers in some unexpected places.
● Most animal shelters have drop-in pet loss support groups that meet on a regular basis. Look online and in pet publications for private organizations that offer resources as well.
● Online support groups, chatrooms, and message boards offered in the comfort of your home are becoming increasingly more convenient to find.
● Arrange a Pet Loss Support Phone Consultation with AHG Founder Dr. Kathryn Marocchino through her own nonprofit, the Nikki Hospice Foundation (www.pethospice.org).
● Ask your medical provider for referrals to local pet loss grief and bereavement counselors. Tell them about your specific needs, reminding them that the pain from pet loss is the same in many ways but also unique. Look into using medical insurance to cover these office visits.
● Seek assistance from a mental health care provider for their suggestions for no-cost or low-cost community resources.
● No matter the intensity of your grief, know that there is someone who understands and is on-call 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255.
Reevaluate your well-being often. Be patient with yourself. It can be surprising how much time it takes to advance out of “emotional intensive care.” Completion of your healing process will allow you to become ready to love and live with another animal again.
You don’t ever get OVER it, but you can get THROUGH it. The ease with which you get through this tender time often depends on the support you get from others who are empathetic and come from a place of compassion and understanding. You are doing the best you can and that is exactly where you should be for today. <3
(Blog post photo: Michelle and Sora sitting on the dock)
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Michelle Nichols, MS
AHELP Project Founder
Animal Hospice Group Founder
Specialist, Grief Recovery Method