Catherine Palmer Counseling, Portland, OR

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Pet Loss and Illness: Dealing with the Sadness

Pet Loss and Illness: Dealing with the Sadness

It’s Okay to Grieve Animals are inherently beautiful. The bond we form with our pets is often very deep and meaningful.  When one of our beloved friends succumbs to illness or death, it can be devastating.  That close bond that we form is what makes life with our companions so rewarding, but it is also what makes letting go so complicated. Whether a grim diagnosis, an accident, old age…the loss of your companion may result in profound feelings of sadness, fear, guilt, emptiness, numbness, or anger.  If you are feeling emotionally distraught or overwhelmed, please know that your feelings are a normal reaction to a profound, emotionally traumatic experience. You are mourning the illness or death of a dear friend and family member who was fiercely loved. It is okay (and healthy) to grieve. Stages of Grief Grief is not precisely the same for everyone, but understanding the stages of grief can help you through the process.  The stages include denial, anger, guilt, sadness/depression, acceptance and resolution. DENIAL: Typically denial, shock and disbelief come first and may leave you feeling numb and unable to sense the true impact of your loss. At this stage, you may become disorganized, distracted, forgetful and ineffective. The little pleasures in your life may no longer uplift you, food may become tasteless and your sleep cycles may become disturbed. ANGER & GUILT:  Anger, blame, resentment, rage, guilt and regret may overwhelm you in a wave of emotion.  These volatile feelings may be directed at your friends, family, coworkers, veterinary staff, etc.  Please give yourself permission to have these feelings – they will soften in time as you allow yourself to mourn. You may start directing volatile emotions at yourself  if you feel that you’ve failed your beloved pet in some way. You may doubt your decisions or beat yourself up with “if only” dialog…”if only I made sure the gate was latched”…”if only I’d taken him to the vet sooner”.  It is important that you practice self compassion at this time. Your pet appreciated your love and care. DEPRESSION: Sadness and depression may be the hardest part of the grieving journey, but sadness is a natural, authentic emotion following the loss of something as precious as your pet. Your response may be through tears, knots in your stomach, and/or a loss of energy. Your sadness is a symptom of your emotional wound and it is important that you allow your sorrow to be felt.  Paradoxically, the only way to lessen your pain is to move toward it, not away from it. If you need a cry, let it out. You may find yourself withdrawing from family and friends.  It may be difficult to get out of bed in the morning, and you may even wonder if you can continue without your beloved companion.  The answer is ‘yes, you can’, but there are times when you may need to rely on others to help you to deal with this loss.  If your depression becomes disabling, or you feel desperate and alone, please seek professional assistance. Allow Healing RESOLUTION: Give yourself permission to heal.  This means first going through the worst of the pain in order to move forward. Resolution comes when you have worked through your feelings and you can remember your pet without experiencing crippling emotional pain.  Resolution doesn’t mean that you will no longer feel sadness and loss, but that you have come to terms with what has happened. You are likely to move from one stage of the grieving process to another, and back again. You may reach resolution and acceptance, only...

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Specializing in helping with depression, anxiety, grief, low self-esteem, family of origin issues, trauma, and couples therapy, marriage counseling and family counseling.