Grief is a process of physical, emotional, social and cognitive reactions to loss. The grieving process is hard to work through! One needs to be patient with themselves or others experiencing loss. Studies have found that people often go through stages or phases of grief. Although responses to loss are as diverse as the people experiencing it, patterns of stages commonly experienced have emerged. Some stages of grief reactions are described below.
A feeling of numbness can last hours to weeks. It is a period often described as "unreal", (i.e. being amazed to have made it through a euthanasia). Some reactions people experince during this stage are: having disorganized thoughts, feeling unaffected, thinking about suicide, feeling numb, being euphoric or hysterical, feeling outside their body, or being talkative, hyper or passive. Other people will feel in denial of the loss. (i.e. "I can't believe he is really gone...it just doesn't seem real.)
People will often find themselves acutely missing the pet that is gone. Individuals in this phase can be pre-occupied with thoughts of the deceased; they may have dreams about the pet who is gone. Reactions experienced may also include sensing that one sees or hears the pet outside their home. Feelings commonly experienced are intense pining, sadness, fear, anger, relief, irritability, guilt and yearning. Sometimes anger is not directed at the loss, but instead towards a family member, veterinarian, self or God. During this period individuals may find themselves bursting into tears at unexpected times. People may also experience physical illness, pain, weight change, fatigue and change in appetite.
During this phase individuals are beginning to live their lives without their animal companion and learning new skills. This commonly leads to feeling disorganized, as well as needing to evaluate and learn different ways of managing life (i.e. how to fill that empty spot when coming home without someone to greet you).
People in grief forget that grief is a process and that through this process, new coping skills are learned. The pet who is gone is usually never forgotten. In the case of death, most individuals never "get over" the loss. However, survivors learn to live with loss. The intensity of the loss changes, and a survivor can rejoin life. One finds that they can eat and sleep. Individuals may establish new relationships with pets. Sadness and crying still occur at times, while simultaneously increased happiness will be experienced.
Used with permission from Jennifer Marshall, CSW, and Bowlby.