How long does pet loss grief last? If you’ve experienced a bereavement, you may be asking yourself this question a lot, wanting to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
This question has no straightforward answer because grief is, in many ways, an everlasting presence in our lives. Why? Because it’s a manifestation of love, and if love can never truly die, then neither can grief.
We can reassure you though that pet loss grief eventually becomes manageable.
It changes, ebbs and flows, and sometimes it’s more intense than at other times. But, with time, you will be able to enter the next stage in your life and experience happiness and good things once again.
In this blog, we’ll explore the enduring nature of grief, its manifestations, and the signs of incomplete grief to be aware of.
Grief as a manifestation of love
Grief is often described as the price we pay for love. It’s an emotional response to the loss of someone or something we deeply care about. Pet loss grief falls under this umbrella.
The profound pain and sorrow you’re feeling is a testament to the love you had for your lost animal friend. Just as love has no expiration date, grief too, is not bound by time. It’s a reflection of the love that we carry within us.
Endless love, endless grief
The idea that grief is forever may sound daunting, but it can help to recognise it as a natural part of the human experience (and the experience of many other sentient beings).
That doesn’t mean we have to like it, of course, but it does mean that we can try to accept it.
The only way to live a life without grief is to avoid making any attachments or caring about anything. And that is a loss in itself.
Recognising the universal and yet deeply personal nature of grief can help us to sit with it rather than thinking it’s something we have to cure or exorcise.
Sitting with grief can help us to see that when we lose someone or something we love, our love doesn’t suddenly vanish. It transforms into grief, taking up residence in our hearts and minds. Grief doesn’t simply fade away, but it evolves into something different over time.
In this way, perhaps it’s better to think of it as “endless grief, endless love”.
The ebb and flow of grief
The good news is that grief rarely stays at the same intensity forever. It might sound trite, but life goes on. As it does, grief has to learn to coexist and make space for other feelings too. Sometimes it pushes to the front, but other times, it manages to sit quietly in the corner of your mind.
In this way, it resembles an ocean. Some days, it might feel like a gentle, manageable tide, while on others, it might surge like a tsunami.
The intensity of grief varies from person to person and can change from moment to moment. It’s unpredictable, and it’s OK to have good days and bad days.
Signs of Incomplete Grief
It might sound contradictory when we’ve said that grief never entirely ends, but it is possible to become frozen in the more intense early stages of grief or to experience something known as incomplete grief. Another term is complicated grief.
These concepts refer to an ongoing, prolonged struggle to express, confront or even experience the feelings related to loss.
Bereavement experts say that if you recognise these signs in yourself or a loved one more than six months after your loss, it might mean that you need to seek further support and healing:
- Persistent feelings of sadness that disrupt your everyday life
If your sadness remains unyielding, engulfing daily life and disrupting your ability to function, it might be a sign of incomplete grief.
- Social withdrawal
It’s very common for grief to make people withdraw from their social circles. You may have experienced the isolation of pet loss at some point. It’s important to recognise that if this withdrawal persists over an extended period, it may be a sign of unresolved emotions.
If you’re struggling to connect with your friends and family or even work colleagues, you may need to seek pet bereavement counselling or let a trusted person in your circle know how you’re feeling.
- Intense anger or guilt
Unresolved grief can manifest as intense anger or guilt towards oneself, the deceased, or others involved in the situation. Again, we’ve talked in past blogs about guilt and anger being part of pet loss grief. It’s if these feelings aren’t subsiding or being less invasive over time that you might need to talk them through.
- Physical symptoms
Grief can sometimes lead to physical symptoms such as chronic headaches, digestive issues, or sleep disturbances. When these symptoms persist, they may be related to unresolved grief.
- Inability to find joy
While it’s natural to feel sad after a bereavement, an ongoing inability to experience joy or happiness, even in small moments, can indicate incomplete grief.
- Excessive avoidance
If you find that you’re avoiding places, people, or activities associated with your pet, it may be another sign that you’re frozen in your early grief. Facing these triggers is an important step in the healing process.
- Overwhelming preoccupation with the deceased
Continuously obsessing over your pet may hinder the healing process. Of course, it’s hard to define when this becomes problematic. After all, most bereaved people are preoccupied with who or what they have lost. You may find yourself playing out different scenarios, thinking about your pet’s final moments, worrying about where they are now (physically or spiritually), and more.
Again, a sign of incomplete grief is when these thoughts stay at a high level of intensity for a prolonged length of time to the exclusion of other thoughts and feelings.
- Difficulty in moving forward
If some time has passed since your pet died or went missing, and you’re struggling to adapt to life without them to the extent that you cannot set future goals or make plans, you might need support to move forward.
Finding ways to manage your pet loss grief
Although grief may be eternal in some form, it can become more manageable over time. Here are some strategies that may help you to cope with your pet loss grief:
- Seeking support
Connecting with friends, family, or a support group can provide a safe space to share your feelings and gain emotional support.
- Professional help
Grief counselling or therapy can provide you with tools to cope with your loss and navigate the grieving process.
If you’re in the UK, you might want to call the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Helpline to talk about your feelings. If you’re outside of the UK, Google should be able to point you to local counselling and bereavement services.
Prioritising self-care is essential during times of grief. This includes taking care of your physical and emotional wellbeing. Sometimes, it can be beneficial to simply sit with your feelings and let them come without judgment about how you “should” be feeling. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Honouring memories
- Allowing time
Grief is not something that can be rushed. Allowing oneself the time to heal and not putting pressure on the timeline is crucial.
- Setting small goals
Gradually setting achievable goals can provide a sense of purpose and direction. This is especially important if your grief is having a prolonged impact on your ability to function and experience life in all of its richness.
Make your goals small and break them down into even smaller steps if you need to.
- Accepting change
Grief transforms the way we perceive and live life. As much as you want to return to a time when your pet was alive and well, accepting this change can help in finding new meaning and purpose. This lights a path to brighter days ahead, even in the darkest moments of loss.
The ever-present but ever-changing nature of grief
Grief is a complex and enduring emotion that cannot be neatly confined within a specific timeframe. While it may never completely fade, your life will eventually grow around it, so you’re able to carry it in a way that feels less painful.
Indeed, many people come to see grief for the love that it truly is. In this way, it becomes a companion who carries precious memories rather than something to ignore or run from.
While it’s important that you don’t put pressure on yourself to have grief “done and dusted” by a specific deadline, do keep the signs of incomplete grief in mind as time goes on. Seeking support and employing coping strategies are integral steps in healing and finding a new sense of normalcy.
In the end, grief may be an eternal companion, but it can also be a reminder of the love we once shared. It’s a testament to the deep connections we form in our lives and the enduring impact those connections have on our hearts and souls.
As always, please know that you are not alone.
Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support