We all know that bereavement is just about the biggest stressor any of us will experience in our lives – losing someone we care deeply for is painful and raw, throwing up emotional responses and physical reactions that can’t truly be anticipated. But whilst we can’t know exactly how we’re going to feel, we do know that we will feel differently and with this in mind there are steps that we may be able to take to prepare in some small way for the turmoil ahead.
Many people believe that knowing a bereavement is imminent is somehow ‘better’ than facing it completely out of the blue – certainly there is time to prepare as you try to come to terms with the shift in normality ahead. Of course, any loss is deeply felt and so it’s perhaps more true to say that rather than being ‘better’, knowing in advance of a good friend’s passing simply presents a different set of responses and emotions in the form of ‘anticipatory grief’.
Those of us with pets in our lives may have had to take the decision to end the life of our companion through euthanasia, and knowing that it is the kindest option does not make the decision any easier, or the guilt any less after the event. Not only are we bereft at the loss of a friend, but also their immediate passing is as a direct result of our actions; albeit actions taken, and decisions made, with love and compassion. Of course, our rational logical brains know that euthanasia really is the right choice, but our fragile hearts may feel the burden of one or all of the seven stages of grief at different times: shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance / hope.
Self-help books, online resources and bereavement counsellors can all provide support and advice in advance of a traumatic event, and speaking with friends and family who may have undergone similar experiences is always beneficial. Psychologists advise that a child’s stress levels are at their highest of any point during the bereavement process just before the death of a loved one, and therefore it’s particularly important to help children prepare as best they can for this difficult time with additional love, time and space. The death of a pet is often the first time a child may have experienced loss, and of course the bond between a child and his / her pet is particularly strong. If this is an area that applies to you and your family, you might like to explore the online resources available from the Childhood Bereavement Network.
There is lots of practical information on preparing for and coping with bereavement available on the NHS website as well here.
But it seems appropriate to leave the last word to the great philosopher of our time, Winnie the Pooh, who received these wise words from his good friend Christopher Robin on the subject of love and loss:
“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
(‘The House at Pooh Corner’, A.A. Milne)
Until next time, best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support
Please note: The Ralph Site is not affiliated with the third-party organisations in any of the links shared here, and the views, ideas and suggestions expressed in this and other blogs are simply shared with the intention of helping you, our friends, take care of the special animals in your lives.