Today I’m sharing an article addressing the deep grief people experience when they lose a pet.
It offers helpful suggestions on what to say and what not to say to someone grieving this kind of loss. It also give suggestions on how you can be supportive.
Remember, it’s important to not compare or judge anyone’s grief. Obviously, the death of a loved one is one of the deepest and most traumatic events in life. However, there are many kinds of deep and painful losses that fall into the category of what’s called disenfranchised grief, and the loss of a pet is one of them.
As many of you who read my emails know, I don’t like to get too clinical, but I feel this is an important issue for people to know about, especially in times like these, when almost everyone has suffered a major loss of some kind in the past two years.
The American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology defines disenfranchised grief as: grief that society (or some element of it) limits, does not expect, or may not allow a person to express. Examples include the grief of parents for stillborn babies, of teachers for the death of students, and of nurses for the death of patients. People who have lost an animal companion are often expected to keep their sorrow to themselves. Disenfranchised grief may isolate the bereaved individual from others and thus impede recovery. Also called hidden grief.
This post is specific to pet loss, but I must point out the importance of recognizing disenfranchised grief. Just from reading the definition, think of how many people are deeply grieving right now, multiplied by the effects of the pandemic. This concept also extends to families and relationships severed by the terrible and dangerous division cracking apart our country.
In her excellent book, How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies, Dr. Therese Rando explains, “Unless you are an animal lover, you may be unaware of the intense and long-term attachment that can exist between a human being and an animal. For many people, pets serve as stabilizing forces…. [and] become critically important objects of love.” She concludes the section on pets with: “The human-animal bond can be as intense and meaningful as any human-human bond, and it must be accorded the same respect, both in life and in death.”
For anyone grieving a pet, my heart goes out to you. I hope this article is helpful, for you, and for those who want to help.
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.