The loss of a beloved pet can be the deepest heartbreak of our lives. With each article, we will address and answer a key topic with Certified Pet Grief Counselor, Pina De Rosa (APLB / AAVSB).
If you wish to send in questions for Pina, please submit them to Pina De Rosa through www.PetBereavementCounseling.com
In our last topic on Pet Grief Counseling, we looked at how to “welcome the ashes” home.
With this topic, we get to look at “anticipatory grief.”
As I have been in the process of writing a book for people who want to know how they can help their loved ones who are going through pet loss, I was asked the following question (by someone who never owned a pet): “Oh so basically you are writing a book on how people grieve?” The answer was no.
Grieving a human loss and grieving the loss of a pet is not even comparable. Our pets see the truest part of who we are. Most pet owners will say it’s the purest form of unconditional love. They are like the angels of our souls. With our pets, we don’t need to *be* anything else. When they pass, the physical bond breaks it feels insurmountable to us. And not just the initial shock. Yes, we are grateful -so deeply grateful- to have had the gift of loving them for 3-5-8-15 years. And yet, if our 3-5-8-15 years old child died, we would not be expected to be at work on Monday. We would not be expected to be ok with the social media “time hops” constantly reminding us of the good times we had together. But somehow, with a pet, we are supposed to soldier on. We are to keep it together and not fall apart. All the while with not much support other than “time will heal”, or “sorry for your loss” and “she had a long life” types of platitudes.
As you have been reading this series of articles, you know that support is available. And not just when the pet passes. What I mean is that oftentimes we know that the pet is about to pass, and we don’t know that we are experiencing something called “anticipatory grief”. Though our pets never “leave”, we dread the house feeling so empty and different without their physical presence. That is another reason why anticipatory grief is so very draining, and often times we don’t even know we are in it. I wish all bereft pet parents had access to loving/healthy processes during this most painful heartbreak. Unfortunately most people (including myself at the time) don’t know how the support of a pet bereavement session could even help.
The other day one my clients, Kimberly, reached out to me saying her friend was having a hard time because her husky’s was scheduled to pass in a few days, and she wished to give her a gift certificate for a pet grief counseling session for “when the time would come”.
One of the things I shared with Kimberly was that her friend was likely already experiencing anticipatory grief, which makes it even harder to be present with the ailing pet. The fact is pet grief counseling is not just for “when the time comes”. When the anticipatory grief takes over and your friend feels they are drowning in sadness, guilt and other overwhelming emotions, pet grief counseling would be very helpful. The following are a couple of initial suggestions is for the Kimberly’s of the world, the caring friends who want to help when death is imminent.
Suggest to your friend that they tell their pet their adoption story - it’ll be soothing for both. Your friend can tell them their story like a bedtime story, gently sharing it with them every night. Going in all the details. Their beloved animal companion will hear that in their soul. It will be a very special time together, that deepens their bond even more.
When your friend feels overwhelmed by sadness (or any other overwhelming emotion), invite them to imagine all the love in their heart going out to their pet’s heart. And imagining all the love in their pet’s heart going out to their owner’s heart. Imagining this continuous circle of love between the two hearts will be very helpful to navigate any overwhelming emotions.
Relay this to your friend ~ you can put into your own words what my favorite Scott from www.AtGardensEdge.com shared so beautifully: “During your pet’s final days, just dedicate your time and energy to giving your beautiful dog all the love you can. After your pet passes, celebrate their life. Light some candles and incense...play spiritual music...invite loved ones over (and have them bring your favorite pizza and some ice cream) to say their goodbyes and grieve with you. There is no reason to rush through this deeply emotional process. If your dog passes away at home, don’t worry...Nothing is going to happen to your pet overnight. Just wrap them in an old sheet and get some rest. Call me in the morning. Keep peace and love in your heart.”
Suggest to your friend to write a loving letter to their pet - a letter they can seal and give to the pet mortician after they pass, so their pet can be either buried or cremated with it. This letter can be a testament of so much that they love about their pet; it can include what they are thankful for and what they will miss about them. In that letter/envelope, they can include a small little something that belongs to them so that it will go “with your pet” (I’d recommend staying away from any plastic or metal objects as they’d likely compromise the ashes in the cremation process, but a section of a special blanket, a lock of your hair, a photo would surely work). Then, when the pet passes, your friend can ask the mortician to please include that envelope with their dearly beloved. Let them know there is nothing plastic or metal in it. The mortician will say yes. This is a wonderfully emotional and healing exercise before a pet is cremated or buried.
Another way to help navigate anticipatory grief is suggesting to your friend invite a few close friends over, even just 2, and you all share favorite moments of times together with your pet(s). Spending lots of time sharing hugs, cuddles, favorite treats, and more cuddles. If your friend is open to spirituality, you could remind them that death is the ultimate healing and what a most selfless gift it is to be there when they cross over. It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but focusing on the selflessness of the gift may make it a more peaceful experience. For both the pet and your friend too.
Lastly, as as morbid as it may sound, it would be ideal if the cremation or burial details were already in place while the pet was alive. It’s the same for people. Plan ahead. When it happens, it’s not the time to start making plans. I remember I was so distraught when that happened the first time, especially as it was a sudden and traumatic experience without a peaceful goodbye, that it was the last thing I wanted to do. I was already in a deep state of shock and distress. Plus I was reading all these bad Yelp reviews and nightmare stories of a cat’s ashes being returned in a coffee tin, or warnings to not enter the side door of a mortician’s place of business or you’d accidentally see dead pets wrapped in cellophane, stacked high with limbs protruding! I got even more distraught thinking what if I made the wrong final decision? That is why, with every beloved pet I adopted after my first dog passed, I set up all the aftercare arrangements the same week they were adopted. My second dog passed away 13 months after my first one and, while certainly heartbreaking, it was a much more peaceful experience as all the details had been taken care of while he was alive. Even when I called the vet to make the euthanasia appointment, and they offered I pay on the day of, I declined and gave them my credit card number over the phone and asked that I be charged that day but that I not be bogged down with extra logistics so that I could be fully present in accompanying my boy on his final journey.
As shared in a previous article, if you do not already know of a trusted caring pet mortician, offer to do Yelp-research for your friend (even while the pet is still alive). You can narrow it down to 3 pet cemetery, and 3 pet cremation places, then call them to ask for details, pricing, times etc.. Once you have that information, share the salient results of your research with your friend so they can make an informed choice. It is quite likely the last thing choice they will want to make at such heartbreaking time, hence your help will be of even greater support. For those of you in the Los Angeles area, I could not recommend more strongly the truly wonderful Scott Summerville and his www.AtGardensEdge.com - I have personally used his services twice already and I have referred friends to him numerous times, each timing finding solace in knowing my friend’s pet was in his kind and respectful hands.
My heart goes out to you, and I thank you for being such a caring friend to those in your life whose hearts are breaking from the (anticipated) loss of their beloved animal companion. You make a difference even more than you know!
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