It’s Never Easy…

Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a pet. It can cause physical, emotional, social, and cognitive reactions. Often we try to hide these feelings or not acknowledge the signs, but we must all remember the grieving process is hard to work through. One needs to be patient as they or others experience loss. 

Studies have found that people often go through stages or phases of grief. Although responses to loss are as diverse as the people experiencing it, patterns of stages commonly experienced have emerged. 

It is best to get familiar with the signs of grief and deal with them head on. 

The 7 Stages of Acceptance

Initially introduced (1969) by Swiss psychiatrist Dr E. Kübler-Ross to demonstrate how terminally ill patients come to terms with their condition, the 7 stages of acceptance/grief model explains the varying stages people grieving for loved ones – be they humans or pets – will go through while processing their loss. 

These stages are:

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Bargaining
  5. Depression
  6. Testing and
  7. Acceptance

Before exploring each one of these stages in more detail, it is important to point out that you won’t necessarily experience these stages in the above order. You may, for example, feel sad to begin with, then go into anger and denial before feeling sad again. If your pet has been ill for a long time or is very old and you have been expecting him/her to pass away for a while, you may also not go through the stage of shock.

Let’s look at the 7 stages of acceptance in a little more detail…

Stage 1: Shock

If your cherished pet’s death was caused by an accident, it is highly likely that you will go through a period of shock. During this period, most people will feel somewhat stunned, emotionless and paralysed (i.e. unable to think straight or do anything).

Stage 2: Denial

During this stage, you may try to convince yourself and/or others that your sad loss either isn’t permanent or has never occurred. You do, of course, know the facts – you know and accept that your beloved companion has died, but for a while, you believe that his/her death is meaningless to you.

Stage 3: Anger

A typical reaction experienced by most grieving pet owners, anger may be directed at yourself (i.e. for deciding to put an end to your pet’s suffering, for not being able to do anything else, etc.), your vet (i.e. you could convince yourself that the vet could have done more to help your pet recover) or indeed anyone else. You may express your anger by being sarcastic, shouting at people or other pets or by getting irritated at even the slightest of mishaps or problems.

The stages of grief are beneficial in that they help you cope with the loss of your pet and eventually move on. Anger has the power to energise you into doing just that.

Stage 4: Bargaining

At this stage, you may try to get your lost pet back by bargaining with a “higher power”. Pet owners will, for instance, often promise whichever god they believe in that they will take better care of their pet if only they can have him/her back. Occasionally bringing up somewhat uncomfortable conversations – which invariable go nowhere – this stage and the concept of such a higher power often help people cope better with their loss.

Stage 5: Depression

After losing a pet, depression may manifest itself with any symptoms typically associated with clinical depression. You may, for instance:

  • Feel very sad and cry frequently
  • Notice changes in your sleep patterns and/or appetite
  • Have inexplicable aches & pains

Known as ‘situational depression’, this stage may naturally pass quite soon as you move closer to acceptance.

Stage 6: Testing

During this stage, you may find yourself looking for realistic solutions to managing your loss and moving on/rebuilding your life.

Stage 7: Acceptance

This, the final stage of grieving for your pet, will see you understanding what you have lost and recognizing how important your pet was to you. No longer feeling angry, you are done with bargaining and ready to move on and rebuild your life without your cherished companion.

Complete acceptance can bring complete peace. This stage is, however, rarely completed fully. You may, for example, continue to feel sad on the anniversary of your pet’s death, or get angry when you believe a situation or another would work out much better if only your pet was still with you.

Sometimes, Help is Needed

Occasionally, the grieving process does not go too well, and a person becomes stuck in one of these stages of grief. Unable or unwilling to move on through the grieving process, a bereaved individual may even remain in denial or stay angry or sad for their entire life.

Unless this person seeks professional help and speaks to a grief counsellor able to help him/her move out of the stage they are stuck in, their intense pain may continue for many years to come.