The Feelings We Encounter when our Pet Dies -FAQ

Many people today do not know what to expect when a Fur Baby they love dies. In many places today, the process of grieving is not well understood. As a result, grievers and their grieving behavior are often not accepted and supported in the way they deserve to be. Following are various questions that bereaved people, and those who relate to bereaved people, often ask.

When will it be over? Unfortunately, there is no simple and clear answer. There are too many variables to predict with any accuracy how long someone will be in grief. Every griever is unique, as measured by their personality, their coping behaviors, their previous experiences with grief, their relationship with the one who died, and many other factors. Every experience of loss is also unique, including how your Fur Babydied, how expected the death was, and whether or not someone was responsible for the death, to name just a few of the variables.

One's religious faith, one's support system (or lack thereof), the ability to participate in funeral rituals -- these and many other factors influence each individual's grieving process. So the answer is this: grief will last as long as it is supposed to last. Usually grief is a self-limiting process. It will end when it naturally comes to a conclusion. For some people and some relationships, that may be a matter of a few months. For others grief may be measured in years: perhaps one or two for certain kinds of deaths, or even three to five years for more serious or unexpected or traumatic deaths. There is a sense in which certain griefs may never end, depending on your age and the extent of your loss.

Do all people grieve alike?

No, there is no prescribed way to grieve. Many cry and some do not. Many feel very sad and want to talk about it. Others want to deal with it more on their own. Most people report that their grief comes and goes unpredictably, almost like a roller coaster. But not everyone reports that. Some people feel worse early on, while others find that their most difficult times come months or sometimes even years afterwards.

What are the signs of grieving?

There are many possible feelings one might have. Sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, tiredness, helplessness, and loneliness are often reported. Some people feel shame, others feel relief. There are also certain physical sensations one might have: tightness in the chest or throat, pain in the heart area, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, trembling. People in grief sometimes don't sleep well, or they sleep too much. The same goes for their eating habits -- they eat too little, or too much, or they eat inappropriately. They may have unusual dreams or nightmares, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or engage in restless over-activity. All of these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief.

Is it normal to feel like you're going crazy during grief?

That's one of the most normal feelings of all. A time of grief is an unusual time, even a "crazy" time, in one's life. In a crazy period it can make perfect sense to act a little crazy oneself. Many people, perhaps the majority, wonder if this is happening to them at one time or another in their grieving process. The best thing to do is to remember that one is in good company with many others. "The crazies" will pass.

Do men and women grieve differently?

It often seems so. The stereotype is that women are more expressive with their feelings and men are more stoic. Women, it is said, give in to their grief more and men fight it off. Women, the theory holds, seek more support from others and men tend to go it alone. Those are all stereotypes that sometimes fit and sometimes don't. It's important to remember that every person has both masculine and a feminine elements.

So the truth is probably closer to this: some people are more quiet and solitary in their grief and some are more expressive and emotional. Some prefer to work through their grief by actively asserting themselves through various actions, while others are more comfortable giving in to their grief and allowing it to move through them. It's not a matter of men being one way and women being another. It's a matter of different people being comfortable expressing their grief in different ways, whether they're men or women.

Is it morbid to talk about the Fur Baby who has died?

Not at all. The Fur Baby who has died is still a part of the lives of those who have survived. There is still a relationship. That relationship cannot evolve in the way it once did but it can still be a source of meaning and strength. Remembering the Fur Baby who died and speaking their name is a healthy way of developing a new kind of bond -- one of the heart and the soul rather than of the body.

Is it possible to feel the presence of the Fur Baby who has died?

Many people report such experiences. It's usually hard to pin down the experience and put it into words. But sometimes there is the feeling that the Fur Baby who has died is somehow nearby, if not physically then emotionally or spiritually. These are usually comforting and confirming experiences.

How important is the funeral?

Research is indicating that some kind of ceremonial farewell is often quite instrumental in helping the bereaved adjust to the death of a Fur Baby. Those who do not take the opportunity to acknowledge publicly and formally that something significant has happened in their lives may find themselves experiencing more difficulty in the grieving process.

What helps with the grieving process?

Above all else, what usually helps the most is being able to talk with at least one person about one's feelings -- all the ups and downs, the sadness and the fear, the memories and the hopes. Sometimes bereaved people want to talk with several different people about what is happening with them. Others find value in joining a grief support group. However one chooses, one needs to get one's feelings off one's chest.

There are ways of doing that other than talking, of course. Writing can be quite valuable -- keeping a journal of one's thoughts and feelings, or writing letters to the Fur Baby who has died, or composing stories of one's memories, or creating poetry. Some people prefer to express their grief in other ways -- for example, through painting or sculpture, or by sewing or woodworking. Some find meaning in working on a project -- creating a memorial, or starting a project that will help others.

One small thing that almost always helps is being able to spend time in nature, and to do so at least once a day. Looking at the created world around you and being in touch with the natural rhythms of life and death can be both healing and restorative.

How common is it for other losses to come to mind when a new loss occurs?

This happens quite commonly. An experience of grief brings to mind those other times when someone or something left us and we felt alone. That can intensify the feelings that are already there. It's also true that if one has not entirely resolved one's previous losses, those memories will likely come to the fore with a real urgency. That is their way of wanting to work themselves out so that one's full health is eventually restored.

How can I control my grief?

No, you cannot determine exactly what you will feel and when you will feel it. Grief does not work that way. But you can take an active role in how your grief unfolds. You can be intentional about taking good care of yourself, by eating and sleeping well, getting plenty of exercise, and doing things that you enjoy. You can treat yourself well by giving yourself little presents from time to time -- an evening out, a favorite treat, or maybe just a vase of fresh flowers to enjoy. You can choose to be among people you enjoy and avoid those who do not understand your loss. You can do things for other's and realize that you can still make a difference in others' lives, even if you're missing desperately a Fur Baby you love.

Where does one find hope after a Fur Baby you love has died?

Many are the times that people report they have grown stronger as a result of the loss they have experienced. They grow more mature, more understanding of others, more aware of themselves. Many people learn new lessons about the meaning of life, as well as the meaning of love. These are often difficult lessons, lessons one wishes one did not have to learn in this way. But they are gateways into a brighter future.

Many people report finding hope and confirmation in this affirmation written by Dr. Jim Miller:

An Affirmation of Those Who Have Lost

I believe there is no denying it: it hurts to lose.
It hurts to lose a cherished relationship with another,
or a significant part of one's own self.
It can hurt to lose that which has united one with the past,
or that which has beckoned one into the future.
It is painful to feel diminished or abandoned,
to be left behind or left alone.
Yet I believe there is more to losing than just the hurt and the pain.
For there are other experiences that loss can call forth.
I believe that courage often appears,
however quietly it is expressed,
however easily it goes unnoticed by others:
the courage to be strong enough to surrender,
the fortitude to be firm enough to be flexible.
the bravery to go where one has not gone before.
I believe a time of loss can be a time of learning unlike any other,
and that it can teach some of life's most valuable lessons:
In the act of losing, there is something to be found.
In the act of letting go, there is something to be grasped.
In the act of saying "good-bye," there is a "hello" to be heard.
For I believe that living with loss is about beginnings as well as endings.
And grieving is a matter of life more than of death.
And growing is a matter of mind and heart and soul more than of body.
And loving is a matter of eternity more than of time.
Finally, I believe in the promising paradoxes of loss:
In the midst of darkness, there can come a great Light.
At the bottom of despair, there can appear a great Hope.
And deep within loneliness, there can dwell a great Love.
I believe these things because others have shown the way--
others who have lost and then have grown through their losing,
others who have suffered and then found new meaning.
So I know I am not alone:
I am accompanied, day after night, night after day.

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