Archive for the ‘Pet Loss’ Category

You’re Not Alone – Pet Grief is Real Part 2

Friday, May 4th, 2012

You’re Not Alone – Pet Grief is Real
Part 2: Overcoming the Loss of Your Beloved Pet

Tracie Bluse Ward

Very Real Symptoms & Coping Strategies

This week, Sydney and I spoke to our friend and pet lover psychologist Shelly Poore to begin to understand some of the very real symptoms of pet grief and to explore meaningful ways she has helped her clients overcome the loss of a beloved pet. While she does not promote herself as a pet grief therapist, I was surprised when she told me that many of her everyday patients suffer from mild to severe depression resulting from the loss of their pet. Even more so, I was touched by the number of patients that she said felt guilty or apologized for feeling such sadness associated with pet grief. I wondered what could create this type of reaction when we don’t typically feel guilty or apologize when a person in our life passes on.

It seems that as a society we are only halfway there when it comes to our pet emotional intelligence. Most people have no problem today recognizing the deep love and affection we humans express for our best pet friends. We can even understand the emotional ties that lead a person to refer to their pet as their baby or child. However, outside of our true pet lover community, we have not yet fully evolved to the stage where we can empathize and appreciate the true sense of loss humans feel when they lose their beloved pets. As a result, more people are suffering from mild to severe pet loss depression because they feel uncomfortable seeking appropriate help for their grief.

We first need to recognize that as more of us humans create close loving bonds with our pets, the more we are going to feel a terrible loss when they are gone. Therefore, pet grief should be accepted as a natural part of our healing process. As professionals, family members, and friends interacting with a growing population of people suffering from pet loss, we need to offer our support during their grieving process. We also need to learn to recognize the signs of depression and encourage our loved ones to seek appropriate help while reassuring them that their feelings are real.

Coping with Pet Loss Grief and Depression

Recognizing that we all express our emotions differently, I asked Shelly to help me distinguish normal pet loss grief from pet loss depression. She said that typically a person experiences moderate to severe grief for weeks or even a couple of months after the loss of a pet. Grief can be expressed in a range of emotions from sadness, denial, anger, confusion, loss of appetite, loss of sleep, and even withdrawal. However, when we notice emotions or behaviors that seem unusual or more severe including an inability to function or take care of ourselves, or we begin talking about ending our life, we need to seek professional help immediately. She warns that we could be suffering from pet loss depression. As with any type of depression, this is a serious condition that needs professional support.

I also asked Shelly for some coping strategies to share with my friends and family when we experience the loss of a beloved pet. Her response again was very helpful.

• Recognize that pet loss grief is normal and an important part of the healing process.
• Allow your grief to surface rather than trying to oppress or bury it.
• You may want to schedule times during the day when you allow yourself to reflect or to feel sad.
• Keep some reminders of your pet visible and even walk the same route you walked with your pet for a while.
• Spend time with other pet lovers as they will understand and provide support to you during your time of grief.
• Give yourself time to heal before you think about another pet.
• If your grief becomes so intense that you cannot function normally, seek help from a pet loss support group or a professional.

Raising our Emotional Intelligence

I hope that with greater awareness and visibility we can raise our emotional intelligence and become more supportive, comforting, and knowledgeable as our loved ones and friends search for meaningful ways to overcome the loss of their beloved pets. Fortunately, we don’t need to learn a new set of social skills, nor do we need professional training to offer effective help. We simply need to take our queues from human loss and respond to pet loss using similar strategies.

• Send a personalized note and condolence card.
• Call or visit that person more frequently.
• Allow them time to express their sadness and grief and listen to their stories about their beloved pet.
• Help them find ways to remember what they most loved about their pet.
• Make sure they are eating, sleeping, and taking care of themselves or provide support where needed.
• Watch for signs of depression and help them find trusted professional help.

Resources

Recognize that grieving is a normal part of the healing process. Here are a few supportive resources where you can seek help for pet loss and pet grief:

• Talk to your veterinarian about local resources.
• Search your local yellow pages for pet loss support groups.
• Call your animal humane center for expert resources.
• Talk to a trusted counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist.
• Meet with a group of fellow pet lovers.

Coming Next Week

Next week we’ll share a pet memorial service and My Best Friend Pet Story to remember sweet Marshall. Until then, remember there are thousands of pet lovers experiencing pet grief everyday. Some may even need support for depression. You are not alone. There are many resources ready to help. We wish you strength and comfort for your broken heart.

Tracie & SydneyPetSharingBridge_LOGO_283x138[1]

You’re Not Alone – Pet Grief is Real

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Part 1: Proactive Strategies to Help You Prepare for the Difficult Decisions

Missing Rosie

The joy of this year’s Mother’s Day was tempered a bit by the loss of our sweet Rosie a year ago. Our auburn-haired girl was only seven years old when liver cancer took her life. She was our sons’ first real pet – they picked her out of the litter and were responsible for her daily care. She was my husband’s coffee companion and always eager ball catcher. She was my best buddy, faithful garden companion, and much needed female vote in a house full of guys.

As I worked in the yard with my husband and sons this past weekend, I felt Rosie’s constant presence. I felt her creeping from behind ready to steal the empty flower pots as I added a splash of color to our Minnesota landscape. I sensed her wading in the pond in search of a frog or a goldfish to tease her with their quick moves. I turned more than once to see if she had dropped her ball into the swimming pool as her way to get my attention to play. While Rosie may have left this earth a year ago, and our new baby Sydney eagerly fills our hearts with joy, this weekend our sweet girl had returned. I once again felt Rosie tugging at my heart as I treasured so many pleasant days together with my best pet friend and remembered so many sad days and weeks after we said goodbye.

Some people think it’s crazy to feel such emotion over the loss of a pet. However, fellow pet lovers know from experience that pet grief is real. For many of us, it is as real and painful as the loss of any family member.

In memory of our wonderful Rosie Girl and all of your sweet pet friends that will be forever missed, I thought it would be helpful to provide a series of posts regarding pet loss and how to help overcome our very real and personal grief. I also hope that as a member of our pet lover community, you will share your questions, thoughts, and great resources to help each of us better understand and work through the difficult emotions that take over our lives when we lose a beloved pet.

For this week’s post, I took a step back and tried to find ways to help us proactively prepare for the loss of a sick or aging pet. My family’s veterinarian, Dr. Milton Crenshaw of Animal Medical Clinic in St. Paul, was a very helpful resource. I’ve included a summary of our conversation below and excerpts can be viewed in this week’s Sharing with Sydney video.

Summary of My Interview

Tracie: Dr. Crenshaw, is it normal to feel such tremendous grief when we lose our pets?

Dr. Crenshaw (Dr. C.): Absolutely, pet grief is real. Once we bring a pet into our home, we shift from being a pet owner to having a pet as a member of our family. In no time, we develop a strong emotional attachment to them because a pet’s unconditional love is very rewarding and they’re so eager to please us even when we’re in a bad mood or caught up in our own personal angst. For some people, our pets become our primary source of companionship and joy. And when the economy is challenging, as it is now, we turn to our pets even more for love and comfort. With such deep bonds, of course we feel a great loss when our family pet dies. We shouldn’t be embarrassed, but rather recognize our grief as very real and very personal.

Tracie: Throughout your career of practicing veterinary medicine you have seen many people face the difficult decision to put their beloved pets to sleep. What wisdom can you share to help us better prepare for this decision?

Dr. C.: People express emotions in different ways and for many of us, when our emotions kick in, our logic or reasoning turns off. That’s why it’s important to think through our pet’s end-of-life decisions while they are still healthy. For instance, do we prefer burial or individual versus group cremation? Do we want the pet’s ashes returned to us to in a memorial urn? Or do we wish to spread the ashes over our companion’s favorite place? These are all personal choices that give us a process for getting through our grief, much like our place of worship or religious services help us through the loss of our human family members.

Tracie: When do we know it’s time to say goodbye to our pets?

Dr. C.: Human euthanasia is not accepted in our society, and our medical advancements make it easy to believe that there is always a new way to keep our loved ones alive longer. So when it’s time to euthanize our beloved pets, we feel guilty. We feel we must do everything, even at great expense, to prolong our pet’s life. What we lose sight of is that our pets often know when they are so sick or weak that it’s time to say goodbye. Dying is a natural part of every life and pets are very in tune with this life cycle. Yet, we want to hold on as long as possible because it makes us feel better, not the pet. We should always consider the quality of life for our pets first and make our end-of-life decisions humanely and without great delay.

Tracie: How do veterinarians and their teams help people through this difficult decision and their grief?

Dr. C.: While most vets and techs are receiving more training in ways to help their families euthanize their pets when the time is right, unfortunately, they don’t usually get involved with the after-the-fact emotions and grief that come days and weeks later and can become overwhelming. I believe we could do more to reinforce that pet grief is real and that each person needs to recognize their personal symptoms of grief. We should also be proactive in providing direction for individuals to find meaningful ways to overcome pet loss, including seeking counseling, attending a pet loss group, or finding another pet lover to share their experience and talk about their grief.

Resources

Recognize that grieving is part of the healing process. Here are a few supportive resources where you can seek help for pet loss and pet grief:
• Talk to your veterinarian about local resources.
• Search your local yellow pages for pet loss support groups.
• Call your animal humane center for expert resources.
• Talk to a trusted counselor or psychiatrist.
• Meet with a group of fellow pet lovers.

Coming Next Week

Next week, we’ll talk to a pet lover psychologist to understand the symptoms of pet grief and explore meaningful ways to help overcome the loss of a beloved pet. Until then, remember there are thousands of pet lovers experiencing pet grief everyday. You are not alone and there are many resources ready to help.

Tracie & Sydney

 

 

Tracie & Sydney

P.S. If you find this post helpful, please forward it to a pet lover friend. Also, check my two previous posts to learn how you can help us define our pet lover community, either through words or pictures, and enter to win a $125 gift card.

A Pet Story and Memorial Service – Not Just for Celebrity Pets

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Meaningful ways to overcome the loss of your beloved pet.

Tracie Bluse Ward

We have all been there and can speak from personal experience – the loss of a beloved pet is one of the saddest, most difficult times in our lives. For many of us pet lovers, losing a pet can be as heartbreaking as losing a person whom we have shared a close relationship.

The grief felt from losing a favorite pet can be overwhelming, and in some cases even lead to depression. While there are no simple solutions to help us overcome these very real emotions, there are some proven techniques to help us lessen the pain, and in time, to prepare us to eventually move forward.

The first technique my brother’s family turned to when they lost their sweet Marshall was to write a story about their beloved pet. The short storybook helped them not only deal with their grief and loss, but the story captured and preserved their fondest memories forever. Creating a memorial book or story is especially helpful when children are involved as it gives them an outlet to express their feelings by sharing their favorite pet experiences and even drawing or coloring pictures to illustrate the story. The family also gains an opportunity to spend quality time together reflecting, hugging, and supporting each other as they work through their difficult and individual emotions during the grieving process. Another benefit comes from the actual book which serves as a visible reminder of the beloved pet while offering comfort every time the story is shared.

Creating Your Pet Memorial Book

Here are a few memorial book creation tips from our pet story writing team:

• Give yourself and each family member time to grieve in your own special way. It’s okay to be sad or even to feel somewhat angry about the loss of your best pet friend.

• After a couple of weeks, or sometimes a longer period of time is needed, when the pain of losing your pet is a bit less intense, start a conversation with family or friends to reflect and remember your pet.

• Begin the conversation with, “I remember when…” and share a few funny or favorite stories about your pet. Record or write down the stories as you proceed. Always try to end on a high note.

• You may need more than one session to gather the information to complete your memorial book. Don’t feel rushed as the reflecting and writing process is therapeutic in itself.

• Next gather photos or hand-crafted pictures to illustrate the stories you shared.

• Either hand write or type the story using descriptive sentences that feature the best highlights of your relationship with your pet. A typical pet story includes 10-25 paragraphs or pages.

• Add the photos or drawings to each paragraph and place them on a page in the book.

• Preserve your story in a scrapbook, journal book or hardcover book.

• Keep your finished memorial out for you to reflect, enjoy, and share whenever you feel the need. This tangible reminder of all of the wonderful experiences you shared with your pet can be very comforting.

If you would like help with your pet memorial book, go directly to MyBPFF and our pet writers will guide you through the questions that provide the content for your pet story. They will also add your photos or drawings in a professionally-designed format, then write and publish a beautiful 8×8 inch hardcover memorial book (or a story print to be displayed on your wall) for you to cherish forever. Or send a gift card and personalized message to help a friend overcome the loss of their pet when they are ready. All are available at MyBPFF.com.

Creating Your Pet Memorial Service

The second technique that helped my brother’s family after the loss of their dear Marshall also helped them find closure so they could begin to move forward with the comfort of family and friends around them. They decided to hold a memorial service at Marshall’s favorite place in their yard while sharing the story they created a couple of weeks earlier. At the end of the service they buried Marshall’s ashes with a newly planted tree that represented life and the future. If you do not have access to a private yard, you could hold your service at a park or along your pet’s favorite walking path. However, be mindful that you cannot leave a memorial or plant a tree on property that you do not own without permission.

Here are some helpful tips to personalize your memorial service.

  • Talk with family or friends about ideas for your pet’s memorial service and jot them down.
  • Start the conversation by asking, “Where did (pet’s name) ______ like to play or rest or where was he/she the happiest?”
  • Once you determine a location where you will hold your service, decide who you should invite by focusing on people and perhaps other pets that best knew and loved your pet. Often the guest list includes only immediate family members or very close friends as this can be an emotional time.
  • Decide if you will be bringing your pet’s ashes to bury or sprinkle at the memorial site or if you will need a burial plot. It is important to know and respect the requirements of your community or location as pet burials are generally restricted to designated pet cemeteries.
  • Determine if you would like to mark your memorial site with a visual reminder (only if it is your property or if you have permission to leave a lasting memorial in a park or someone’s yard). Some examples include planting a tree or bush, leaving a memorial plaque or stone with your pet’s name, or using a natural landmark like a large boulder or lake to mark your pet’s special resting place.
  • Ask a friend to read your pet story and share the photos or illustrations during the service as you may become too emotional to read it yourself.
  • At the end of your service, ask if anyone would like to share additional memories, and then say your final farewells to your dear pet.
  • Visit your memorial site as often as needed to seek comfort and to remember your beloved pet.

A beautiful example of a pet memorial book and service can be viewed on this week’s Sharing with Sydney video: Marshall’s Story and Memorial Service.

We know how real and difficult pet grief is for so many pet lovers. May these suggestions and this video help you find comfort and support in your time of loss.

Our deepest condolences and warm, fuzzy hugs as you find a meaningful way to remember your best pet friend forever.

Tracie & Sydney

 

 

 

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