Our initial response to grief is to suffer the pain, not to be thankful that we didn't break the other leg. The first step in the grieving process is to own our pain. It is okay to feel pain, to cry, to be angry, to wish it hadn't happened or wonder if it could have been avoided or delayed. This wound in your soul will take time to heal. The sooner you admit you are wounded, the sooner the healing process can begin.
Initially, you may be in shock, or feel zoned out and isolated. You might have difficulty focusing on daily activities. You may still feel like you see or hear your beloved pet, which is a normal response. People may say things to try to console you, but they only irritate you. They may have not experienced the loving relationship like you had with your pet so they cannot comprehend your loss. Consider the source and choose to ignore those comments.
You will be frequently reminded of your loss when you grieve the rituals or routines you had with your loved one: the tail wagging when you got home, the dance they did for treats, their scent or the look or contented purr they gave you when you patted their head. The routines you had as a caregiver will also trigger grief responses. No matter how long they lived, you will still wish you could have had one more day with them. There will be decisions to make as you work through this process, like what to do with toys, bedding, medications, etc. When you are ready, you can make those decisions.
So what can you do to heal this wound? Find folks you trust and can talk to or hang out with. Find creative ways to release your energy and express your loss. It may be journaling, writing a letter or poem about your pet, drawing a picture, making a photo album, carving their name, planting a tree or flower, singing a song, lighting a candle or banging a gong. It is normal to feel a wide range of emotions.
Find a safe way to express your emotions without hurting yourself or others. Allow yourself time to heal by giving yourself permission to feel these emotions. You aren't going to die from feeling emotions, but you could die from the stress caused by keeping your emotions bottled up inside you.
The special loving relationship you had did not die with your pet. It will always be in both your hearts and it transcends time and place. Honor that love, don't try to bury it. Your pet would want you to celebrate life and all the love you share, wherever you both may be.
The Pet Grief Support Group meets on the second Thursday of the month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church, located at 600 Seigle Avenue in Charlotte. Wesley Sturgis, a counselor at Presbyterian Hospice and Palliative Care, is the facilitator. Ginny Dodd, a veterinarian, assists with medical questions. More information can be found on several websites: petgriefsupportgroup.com,bcsuvth.colostate.edu/diagnostic_and_support/argus processing_grief.aspx, and pet loss.net.