Losing my pet has been devastating.
The bond we shared cannot be described in words.
I feel so empty and sad.
So, why don’t some people seem to understand the depth of my pain?
There are certain losses in which an individual’s grief goes unrecognized and unacknowledged, a phenomenon that has been coined disenfranchised grief (Doka, 1989). Typically, this type of grief is mourning of a loss from which we are cut off from supports, and our feelings minimised by other people. Sadly, pet loss falls into the category of disenfranchised grief.
In her book Grieving the Death of a Pet, Betty Carmack states “there is a perceived prejudice that this type and depth of grief is pathological, it can’t be normal.” To put it simply, pet loss does not fit in with the ‘grieving rules’ of our society. Perhaps you have heard “there must be something wrong with you”, “it was just a dog, cat, rat, bird”; “aren’t you over that yet?” or “why don’t you just get another animal!”. As a pet loss bereavement counsellor, I’ve heard this experience described more times than I’d like. And whilst there will always be people that don’t understand the unique human-pet bond us animal lovers have come to know, societal minimisation of our loss can add some layers of complexity to grief and healing. It is important to be patient with yourself and others in the process, (this is a topic I briefly address in my Blog Can grief affect my relationships? https://www.bymyside.net.au/mourning-a-pet-can-grief-affect-your-relationships/).
Disenfranchised grief can leave us feeling misunderstood, we might not feel it is safe to openly express how we feel, and to protect ourselves we then suppress and silence how we truly feel. This can be the difference between coming to a resolution of our losses or becoming stuck and in a state of chronic distress. It can make things extra tough.
So, what can help us to cope when other people don’t seem to understand the depth of our pain?
Social support has been identified as one of the key essentials for recovery during the grieving process, it is important to find people that “get it” and can understand the depth of pain you feel. Join a pet loss support group locally or online, a pet loss related support and chat forum, or come along to an Afternoon Tea for pet grief and loss if you are close to western Sydney (more details via www.bymyside.net.au/events) or find a counsellor that specialises or at least recognises this very special and significant grief as they can help you with the intense emotions pet loss can bring. Other people have experienced similar feelings, you are not alone, you don’t have to face it alone.
Lastly each one of us can contribute to what is called self-disenfranchisement whereby we consider our own grief as not being legitimate, and we can downplay what we are feeling. Please know that you have the right to feel and grieve in your unique way for your beloved pet. Grief is indifferent to the species involved. Honour yourself and your pet in the process and allow yourself time and space, grief is a natural response to loss, and the reality is if we love deeply, we will grieve deeply.
If you would like to know more about disenfranchised grief you can refer to the works of grief researcher K. J. Doka.