The loss of a pet, the grief you suffer when you die is one of the most painful and stressful experiences you can have..
It is well known that the subject of mourning the death of a family member, friend or acquaintance is widely studied and, above all, socially accepted. But, And when our beloved animal dies?
This is an issue which, although it is becoming increasingly important due to the increasing change in the role of pets in the family, remains ignored, undervalued and even denied. Below we will go into more detail.
What we know about pet grief
Referring to the psychological impact of the grieving process for a pet, according to studies by Field and colleagues (2009), it is comparable to what is experienced after a human loss. The grieving process would last from 6 months to a year, with an average of 10 months (Dye & Wroblel, 2003).
In several studies (Adrian et al, 2009), it has been found that this death leads to emotional disability in a percentage of 12% of people that can lead to psychological pathologies, although it is not the most common. In another study (Adams et al., 2000), these people were seen to have physical and emotional symptoms such as trouble sleeping, loss of appetite and a feeling that “something in them was dead”.
Differential aspects of the grieving process for human loss
As we have already mentioned, the process experienced by the loss of a pet is similar to that of a loved one, but despite this there are certain characteristics that make it a little different: great guilt, social attitudes and “ absence of rites ”.
When this type of loss occurs, those affected may have serious difficulty in achieving a proper grieving resolution due to the harsh social attitudes they face, known as unrecognized grief.
In fact, in a study by Adams et al. (2000), it was found that half of those who experienced this type of loss felt that society did not view their situation as “deserving” of a grieving process. In other words, that this loss is not important because the deep bond between the person and his animal is not legitimized and this is considered to be replaceable (Doka, 2008).
Unacknowledged grief then occurs when a person feels that their process lacks recognition or validation and there is no support for it. Comments that illustrate this might be: “it’s not for that much, it’s just a dog (or the species it is)”, “so buy yourself another”, “you can’t not leave your responsibilities for that “, etc. .
As we have already mentioned, this type of unrecognized bereavement can hinder the natural course of bereavement because the person might be forced to behave “normally”, “as if nothing had happened”, as is what happens. ‘they ask him., And he could also internally withhold all his feelings and refuse to ask for help out of embarrassment. For all this, this denial of the duel can lead to a complicated or unresolved duel (Kaufman and Kaufman, 2006).
Blame for the duel for the loss of pets
Several authors have studied that guilt is a factor mainly present in case of loss of an animal. This extreme guilt is explained by the type of relationship that is established with the animal and by the fact that most deaths occur by euthanasia.
The type of relationship is explained by the fact that the caregiver is considered totally responsible for the life of his partner, so the relationship is totally dependent. Adding to this that we would view our pets as helpless would lead to a parental relationship with their baby.
Death by euthanasia would be an obvious factor of guilt, potentiating it in most cases. He can be seen as a liberating alternative to animal suffering but he can also feel that he has made the decision to kill his friend, turning him into a killer.
Being able to say goodbye formally to a loved one is a key differentiator from bereavement in animals.. The absence of this rite and many others can lead to problems in the resolution of the bereavement because it prevents to perform an act in honor of the animal and to be able to say goodbye publicly.
Although there are currently pet crematoria, this act is more of a procedure than a ritual, as the most common method is for the services to take care of the ashes and deliver them to the appropriate veterinarian (Chur-Hansen , 2010).
A review of empirical studies leads to the conclusion that if there is a grieving process in people who lose their pets. The impact of this is comparable to the loss of a loved one and is more likely to turn into a complicated duel due to the factors discussed.
Recommendations for bereavement
The recommendations we can make are in line with the need to raise awareness of this type of loss in order to facilitate that this process takes place correctly in the people who undergo it, since, in addition, it is a subject which every day becomes more and more frequent in our society.
On the other hand, the recommendations for people going through these times would be to hold a memorial service for the animal, a formal farewell to it. It can be letter size, plant a tree, recite a few words on your behalf … there are many options, but expressing your thoughts in words is highly recommended as it helps to rearrange your own feelings and ideas and also allows you to capture everything that the animal has given us.
Another important measure is try to gradually reduce bitter thoughts and stick with happy ones, Remember the many good times our partner gave us, to build resilience.
Last but not least, keep in mind that a pet is irreplaceable. It is not advisable to desperately try to fill this gap by having another one, as a new pet does not have to be a replacement. When the feeling arises that much of the grief has passed and it is time, then there will surely be many animals waiting to be given affection.