What happens when a family pet dies but the different members of your household all grieve in different ways?
Are you finding that your partner is losing patience with your grief (or vice versa)?
Is grief starting to affect your relationships with your partner or other loved ones? It’s important to recognise that pet loss grief can significantly affect our relationships. It’s a topic that we need to talk about more so that those of you who are experiencing relationship difficulties of any kind know that you’re not alone.
Everyone grieves differently
As we’ve said numerous times on The Ralph Site, everyone grieves differently. This means that losing the same pet can affect every family member differently too, looking unrecognisable from one person to the next.
Not only will your grief be influenced by your personality traits (for example, you might wear your heart on your sleeve, while your partner wants to ‘fix’ everything with a practical solution), but your grief will also be shaped by your individual relationship with your pet. If you were the main caregiver, you may feel the loss more keenly than family members who had less contact with your pet.
Grief doesn’t have a deadline
People often believe that grief has a limit, an acceptable time by which you should be ‘moving on’.
In The Ralph Site’s Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook, members frequently comment that their friends or family are putting pressure on them to stop grieving. “They say I should be doing better than this by now” or “Apparently, I’m wallowing in grief” are typical comments. Or people come into the group feeling desperately unheard; “Does anyone else feel like their partner doesn’t understand their grief?” is a common question.
Unfortunately, because grief looks so different from one person to the next, we can only base our expectations on our own experiences.
The gap between perspectives from one family member to the next can be a massive source of contention, disappointment or even outrage. Family members can end up feeling bad for various reasons. For example, your partner may see you struggling and feel guilty that they’re not more openly cut up too. They may even feel a bit resentful that you feel able to express your grief, while they don’t know how to.
Grieving each other as well as your pet
When you’ve suffered a bereavement, the people around you are often grieving too – not only for your pet but also for the life you had and the people you all were when your pet was alive.
If you’ve been hit particularly hard, your partner, children, parents or siblings may feel like they’ve lost you as well. This can be scary – will you ever come back to them? If you have loved ones who are ‘fixers’ in life, they may feel incredibly frustrated and powerless right now. It’s clear you’re suffering; all they want to do is make things better and they can’t.
You’re all on the same team
When faced with someone who’s grieving very differently to you or who doesn’t seem to be grieving at all, it’s easy to believe that they’re not on your side.
Your own frustration, fear, sadness and anger can turn your loved ones into the enemy. You might think, What’s wrong with them? Don’t they have any emotions? Why am I alone in how I feel? How can they have forgotten about him/her so quickly?
If this is happening to you, try to remember that the enemy here is actually the loss that you have suffered and the grief you’re experiencing, not your loved ones. Although it might not always seem like it, they’re on your side.
Ways to stay connected
Communicating your feelings effectively can be incredibly hard when you’re grieving. You may feel like you don’t have the mental capacity or energy to have a heart-to-heart with your loved ones.
If you can, try to state what you need or how you feel to your friends and family.
If your partner is a fixer, acknowledge, “I know you want to make this better and I love you for it but you can’t. All I ask is that you give me time”.
Or if your loved one is grieving very openly and emotionally and it’s too much for you, perhaps you can tell them, “I can see you’re hurting and I want to be there for you but I also need some space to grieve alone”.
You could remind your family that grief is a natural and healthy response to death, rather than a medical condition to be cured. Stress that there is no deadline after which your grief will end so remind your loved ones that pressure doesn’t help you. Also, if you can, let them know that you’re there for them if they need to talk too.
Reach out to your wider support network
It’s hard to see beyond grief. Sometimes, we expect our immediate family – especially our romantic partners – to take on all of our emotions as their own but this isn’t really reasonable. They may need time and space sometimes to process everything they’re feeling.
This is why it’s always a good idea to reach out to your wider support network if you can. This could be your extended family members, friends and/or a bereavement counsellor or support group. The more people you’re able to speak to, the more people can provide practical and emotional support in your life.
Perhaps one of the most important things we can do in the face of grief is to practice forgiveness in our relationships.
We have to forgive our loved ones for not grieving in the same way as us because they are individuals too. Grief doesn’t come with a handbook for how to behave.
We also have to forgive ourselves for feeling distracted, disinterested, forgetful or ill-equipped to heal our relationships quickly and painlessly.
Forgiveness is especially important in cases of pet loss because we often blame ourselves for their death, be it through an accident, illness, natural causes or euthanasia, or if a pet goes missing.
If other family members were involved in your pet’s passing in some way, this can put a huge strain on your relationship. Is there someone that you’re struggling to forgive right now? It can be particularly hard if it’s a partner or child.
Forgive your pet too. They would have stayed with you forever if they could.
In the end, it all comes down to intentions. No-one intended for your pet to die. Your family don’t intend to grieve differently to you. They don’t intend for things to be tough between you right now.
Once you feel the truth of this, it becomes easier to forgive and find a way back to each other, even in the darkest days of grief.
Just know that you’re not alone.
Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support