After a loss, we may experience a range of intense feelings, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, disbelief, panic, relief, irritability or numbness. Grief can also affect our thinking. We may think we will never get over this, or that we are going crazy.
The loss of my beloved Cattle-X-Kelpie, Boofey, instigated so many questions, but one of the first I had was: How long am I going to feel like this? I know I’m not alone in having asked this question. After a significant loss, the world is uncertain and confusing, the pain overwhelming, and “coping with the grief process may present the greatest of emotional and other personal challenges to be confronted” (McKissock and McKissock). Why wouldn’t we ask questions such as how long does grief last?
Our culture would have us believe that grief should only last a few weeks to a few months. This simply does not usually line up with the actual experience of someone that is grieving! Many researchers have sought to provide answers by looking at how long symptoms of grief usually last. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), published by the American Psychiatric Association, the definitive guide for clinicians and insurance companies in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness includes grief for more than 2 weeks—even after the death of a loved one—as a symptom of Major Depressive Disorder.
But there are a multitude of factors that influence how long grief may last e.g. type of loss, our personalities, secondary losses, cultural expectations, gender, belief systems, compound losses etc. To put it simply there is no time-frame for grief, it is as individual as you are, and as unique as the relationship you had with your beloved pet. Now, all this variability surrounding time-frames of grief may cause you to feel defeated; often we just want an answer! As there isn’t one definitive answer, and in the immediacy of a new loss, grief is usually at its strongest, there are some things to remember.
We can move into what is referred to as integrated grief, where bittersweet memories arise occasionally and for quite some time, even years, but do not overwhelm when us when they do. We can take a series of small steps, and choices, regardless of how bad the situation is; this is something we do have control over. It is possible to heal, with your beloved pet in your heart always. Forever remembered.
More so, if there’s one thing that everybody from researchers to bereaved persons generally agree on, it’s that time helps. According to The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, (85–90%) of people find that with the support of their family and friends and their own resources, they gradually find ways to learn to live around their grief, and do not need to seek professional help.
Sometimes however, the circumstances of the death may have been particularly distressing, such as a traumatic or sudden death, or there may be circumstances in your life which make your grief particularly acute or complicated. If you are finding it difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis, it may be helpful to see a counsellor or other health professional. It’s okay to admit you are struggling with your grief. No-one will think any less of you if you ask for help along the way. If you are looking for support from a Counsellor who listens to understand, you can find out more about me at www.bymyside.net.au or www.bymysidecounselling.net.au
Be kind, patient and gentle with yourself. You deserve it!