Within the worst moments of pet loss grief, it can be hard to imagine that you’ll ever function ‘normally’ again. You feel exhausted, stuck and overwhelmed. You can’t think clearly and sometimes wonder how you can go on as you’re in so much pain.
One of the most challenging things about grief of any kind is that it isn’t linear. The feeling of being overwhelmed can hit you like a crashing wave weeks, months or even years after your loss.
So, how can you cope when you’re overwhelmed and drowning in grief? We’ve put together some tips.
Tips for coping when grief overwhelms you
- Acknowledge that you’re grieving
It might sound obvious but the reason you feel the way you do is because you are grieving. You have lost someone truly special and now carry the burden of their absence.
The question is, have you allowed yourself to acknowledge this or have you been trying to carry on as ‘normal’ (whatever that may be to you)?
Grief isn’t always something we cope with well as a society. We know death happens but we don’t really know how to talk about it.
With a disenfranchised grief like pet loss, it can be even harder to talk about what and who we’ve lost or to find support and sympathy. People just don’t understand how heart-breaking pet loss can be unless they’ve personally experienced it.
As a result, you may feel that you have to keep the true extent of your pet loss grief to yourself or that you’re alone.
One of the first steps towards coping with overwhelm is acknowledging the presence of grief.
- Feel your feelings, whatever they may be
Grief is complex and ever-changing. You might be feeling lonely, sad, bereft, angry, guilty or anxious – or some combination of the above – at any given moment. No wonder you feel overwhelmed!
Although your instincts are probably to keep busy and move through your grief as quickly as possible, this response usually has the opposite effect, keeping you stuck in the moment of your loss for longer.
The truth is that the only way to cope with grief is to experience it in all of its forms.
This means letting your feelings come and go without judgement or resistance. There is no right or wrong way to grieve but try to touch your feelings and give them space to exist. As scary as this sounds, you can only move through grief by making contact with it.
- Find safe spaces
It can be helpful to earmark some safe spaces that you can go to when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This will look different to everyone but here are some potential safe spaces:
- A warm bath or shower where you want somewhere private to cry
- Parking your car in an empty car park on the local industrial estate when you want to scream at the top of your lungs to release your anger
- A friend or family member you can call or speak to for comfort
- Your favourite hill, beach or park when you want space to think
And don’t forget virtual spaces too. The Ralph Site Pet Loss Support Group on Facebook is a safe space to talk about your grief.
- Trust that nothing lasts forever
As hard as it can be to believe it, the reality is that even the toughest, darkest of moments lived in grief will eventually pass or change shape in some way.
Trust is so important right now. Trust that you will eventually find a way back to yourself beyond these feelings of being overwhelmed. Yes, you may always carry your grief with you but, when it’s allowed space to be expressed, most people find it eventually softens and becomes easier to carry.
- Be kind to yourself
What you’re feeling is natural, normal and completely understandable. Your grief exists because it’s a part of love. You need time to adjust to your loss. This takes a lot of emotional energy, which is why everyday life can feel so daunting when you’re mourning a pet.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to pinpoint one small thing that you can do right now to take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing.
Could you sit with a cuppa somewhere peaceful or read a passage from your favourite book? Is there someone you could call for a chat or even send a text saying hi?
Maybe you need to go even smaller. Can you close your eyes, take a deep breath and release it slowly?
It’s amazing how small actions can help you to cope with overwhelm, even if it’s just standing up for a few moments, walking five paces and then sitting down again to bring your mind back to the here and now.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important that you reach out for support if you feel able. Just knowing someone is there for you can help to lighten the burden of grief or at least to reshape it into something more manageable.
There are a growing number of dedicated pet bereavement counsellors who understand the impact of pet loss. You may also find the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service helpful. Of course, The Ralph Site is here for you too.
Always know that you’re not alone. Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support