If you’ve suffered a recent pet loss, are you feeling frustrated, isolated or hurt by the fact that people expect you to be OK or don’t think to ask how you’re coping?
This is a common experience for grieving people, but pet carers, in particular, often feel that their deep, crushing loss is destined to go unacknowledged.
As we’ve mentioned in past blogs, one of the reasons for this is that pet loss is a type of disenfranchised grief, which means it isn’t recognised by everyone in our wider society.
People can have wildly differing attitudes to pet loss; many see it as an inevitable part of keeping animals as pets. Others have never lived with an animal companion, so don’t understand the connection. As a result, people may not recognise the magnitude of your loss because it’s outside of their personal experiences or values.
Even people who have been personally affected by pet loss may have had to suffer in silence in the past, so they may not feel equipped to support you, or it may cause their own feelings of grief to resurface.
There are other reasons that you may find people won’t talk about your pet loss grief.
People are uncomfortable with grief and loss
Whereas people used to see life and death as two sides of the same coin, many modern societies have turned death and bereavement into taboo subjects. Yes, death is a fact of life, but most of us would rather not think about it until we have to.
And while you currently have no choice but to face your loss, your wider support network may decide to keep your pain at arm’s length. It’s important to understand that this isn’t personal; it’s not a reflection of their feelings towards you or your pet. Rather, it may be because death, loss and grief make them feel uncomfortable, and they’d rather not think about what you’re going through because it’s a reminder that they too will have to deal with a bereavement one day.
They may not know what to say
People often withdraw from a person who is grieving simply because they don’t know what to say or are scared of saying the wrong thing. Your friends or family may be worried about talking about your pet because they don’t want to hurt you or bring the memories flooding back.
What they may not realise, of course, is that they can’t remind you of your pet when you’re already thinking about them all the time. It’s often only when people experience a bereavement themselves that they understand how important it is to talk about the lost loved one as a way of honouring their memory and keeping the connection between you alive.
People may not know you need support
Life is busy, and most of us have a lot going on, good and bad. Your friends and family may not have noticed that you need support, not because they don’t care but because they’re caught up in their own “stuff”.
If you need to talk about your pet loss grief, you may need to spell this out to your loved ones and actively ask for their time and support. It can be helpful to explain exactly what you need to help create shared expectations.
If your friends and family still won’t talk about your pet loss grief
Sadly, many people who suffer a bereavement find that some of their friends disappear, either permanently or until they believe the worst of the pain is over.
This can feel like a secondary loss, adding to your grief.
As we’ve seen above, this distance is usually the result of people feeling vulnerable about their own mortality, worried about what to say, or just being busy with the demands of their own life.
Also, they may recognise that there is nothing they can do or say to make your loss more bearable, so they decide not to try for fear of saying the wrong thing.
Being willing to recognise this can help to prevent you from feeling singled out or let down. It’s also up to you whether you decide to let go of the relationship or rekindle it at some point in the future.
The reality is that everyone deals with grief differently. Two people could be grieving the same pet, for example, but express their feelings in completely different ways. The same goes for how people support the bereaved.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to make all of your friends or family understand the magnitude of your loss. But your bereavement isn’t measured by how other people perceive it or how they respond. Your grief journey is about you and your connection to your pet and exploring what you need to help you heal – that’s what truly matters.
Finding outlets to talk about your grief
Of course, many people find talking is an integral part of the healing process. If you feel that you need to be able to talk about your pet loss grief, there are options outside of your immediate circle.
There are a growing number of bereavement counsellors who specialise in pet loss support. In the UK, the Blue Cross offers a free and confidential Pet Bereavement Support Service. You can talk to other bereaved pet carers in The Ralph Site’s Private Facebook Pet Loss Support Group. You might also find Griefcast – Cariad Lloyd’s weekly interview podcast about grief – comforting and affirming, making you feel less alone in your experience.
If you do have trusted people in your circle, it’s worth letting them know that you could do with a listening ear. Reassure them that you’re not looking for answers or someone to fix the unfixable; you simply need to talk and be heard.
As always, please know that you’re not alone.
Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support