Grief of a 4-Legged Friend
I am not new to grief or loss, over the past several decades I have experienced loss of pets and people, both from natural causes, and tragic accidents, overdoses, and suicides. No two losses are alike, and I am learning that we don't always grieve the same way. With the recent loss of my dog of almost 12 years I am left numb, yet feeling more pain and sadness then I remember with other 4-legged friends.
There is no set timeframe for managing the grief of a 4-legged friend, over time the pain and sadness will decrease, however it's important to allow yourself the time you need to heal. We bond to our dogs in a very different want than with most other animals. The only other animal in fact that I can say I have grieved this hard over was the first horse I owned. Set aside the time you need to grieve your 4-legged friend, in your own way, in your own time, release your emotions. I realize this can be easier said then done, we live in a go-go-go society, where there is always a to-do list and pressure to get everything done. Remember, we are all capable of so many things, but not everything, especially in times of grief. You need time to grieve, to truly feel your emotions and feelings fully. Give yourself the time you need to feel the emotions, go through the motions, and let it out however feels right to you, cry, run, workout, eat your favorite food, whatever you need to do, to take care of you and allow yourself to feel the emotions and process them fully. If you repress or stuff down your emotions it may cause more pain in the long run.
Reflect upon the good times with your 4-legged friend, try not to think of the time you got angry at them for whatever that thing was that they did. In-between ugly crying and trying to hold it together, I had a memory that made me burst out laughing shortly after I said see-you-on-the-other-side to my best boy. I felt like I was going crazy, laughter followed by uncontrollable tears. The image was of him last summer, we had gotten ice cream and were sitting on the front steps, and as he was chasing the cup to make sure he got every last lick, he did a summersault off the deck into the flowers. He looked up at us confused, as we were hysterical laughing (once we knew he was okay, of course) that memory is one of many I will hold onto. It is the one I keep replaying to make myself smile through the pain and tears. I'm sure that you also have a memory that makes you smile or laugh of your lost 4-legged companion.
Make sure during this time, while grieving, especially early on, that you are taking care of your own basic needs, hydrate, eat, sleep, and practice basic hygiene. Grieving is a lot of hard work, and can be taxing on the body, it's mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. Often times with grief we lose our apatite, try to eat, even if it's not a large meal, nutrient dense foods will be helpful in helping your body heal and keep your immune system stronger to avoid getting sick on top of the pain of grief. Personally, I had a hard time with sleep, memories flooded me, I stayed hydrated, eating was harder, however my support system made sure they had some of my favorite foods on hand, and ensured I didn't need to prep or cook anything the first few days. Meditation and deep breathing also helps us re-center and refocus our attentions. If mindfulness practices aren't part of your life already, consider trying some and find one that works for you. Mindfulness practices can help decrease stress, anxiety, anger, improve our mood, and has many benefits to our physical health as well.
While the process of grieving is a very individualistic experience, we also grieve within families and communities. Don't be afraid to let people know what you are going through, how you are feeling, and what you need in the moment. Recognize when you need support, and be okay with being vulnerable enough to ask those in your support system. Support might look like talking on the phone, seeing someone face to face to talk, a walk to clear your head and raise your heartbeat, coffee, or another activity. You may also find yourself needing to seek support from a professional to help process your grief around the loss of your pet.