Monday, March 7, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Recent surveys indicate that over half of American families have a pet (only 34% have children) and more than 84% consider their pets family members [source: associatedcontent.com]. I think it’s safe to assume then, that more than 84% of pet owners would say that they love their pet. So, when trying to figure out if a pet’s death is a “real” loss, let’s ask ourselves this: “If we have the capacity to love our pet, don’t we have the capacity to grieve the loss of our pet?”
As with any loss, it is necessary to surround yourself with support when your pet dies. Make sure there are people in your life that you can talk to openly about fond memories as well as your feelings of grief. Remember that your feelings of grief will vary and that sometimes you’ll be able to talk about your pet and laugh and at other times you’ll feel like crying. Laugh when you need to and cry when you need to! Shortly before Porkchop died, a couple of my siblings and I laid on the floor with him, shedding tears and sharing memories. It was such a sad, but healing moment! Today, four months after his death, there are still a few tears shed when talking about Porkchop or when someone is missing his presence at a family function. There is a healing quality to those tears, so shed them at your dismay!
When a pet dies, it’s also important to remember that every family member may experience feelings of grief that are unique to them. For older adults, the relationship with a pet is often the most meaningful relationship they have in their lives. The death of the pet can have a significant impact, particularly if the older adult is isolated from human contact [source: A. Wolfelt]. For the person in charge of the pet’s day to day care, their total daily routine changes when that pet dies which may a difficult transition. A child’s experience with the loss of a pet can be significant not only because the pet is considered a family member, but also because the death of a pet is often a child’s first experience with grief and loss.
Close friends of mine recently lost their dog Missy (an adorable, meek and loving Toy Poodle) after finding out that Missy had a rare blood disorder. I was blessed to be kept in the loop and able to provide support from the time that Missy was diagnosed, to the time that my friends had to make the devastating decision to have her euthanized. Such an agonizing few weeks for my dear friends! Although I would never wish this situation on anyone, I will say that I was in awe of the way my friends coped through (and are coping with) this loss. Missy was loved by all in that household, especially by my friends two daughters, ages 3 and 6. With the sudden onset of Missy’s illness, my friends had quite the parenting dilemma on their hands. How should they involve or not involve the girls in Missy’s illness and pending death? Their approach to this very difficult situation is why I am in awe. As parents, they made sure that the girls were kept informed in an age-appropriate and sensitive way and gave their daughter’s the choice to be as involved as they wanted in Missy’s care, yet encouraged them to take the distance they needed. My friends shed tears in front of their daughters (daddy included) and explained that they were very sad about Missy's sickness and death. They allowed the girls to make “get well” cards, visit Missy in the vet hospital and gave the girls an opportunity to say goodbye before Missy was euthanized. Recently, my friend called to tell me that the girls had just finished two paintings of Missy that were promptly hung up in the hallway for the family to admire. What an awesome ritual of remembrance! As difficult as this loss has been for my friends, I am confident that these little girls have had such a healthy first experience with grief. An experience that will, undoubtedly, help them in the future.
So, is saying farewell to Fido a “real” loss? YES! We love our pets and, despite all our flaws, our pets unconditionally love us! So, if you’ve lost a pet, grieve that loss. You deserve it and so do they.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Today, on the eve of this grand holiday, I spent a couple of hours engaged in one of my least favorite (but necessary) weekly chores. I went grocery shopping. As soon as I walked through the door of my local supermarket, it was if Cupid himself assaulted me with all things red, pink and "heart-y". A huge Valentine's Day display greeted me in the foyer (staring me down as I sanitized my shopping cart) and it seemed as though a similar display was stationed at every congested turn in the store. Strategically displayed between the cereal aisle and natural food department was an entire aisle devoted Valentine's Day. Well, let me rephrase that. It was a partial aisle. About half of the aisle was littered with boxes of chocolate, picked over Toy Story and Dora the Explorer cards and a variety of stuffed animals holding stuffed hearts. All things I would expect to see at a store on the day before Valentine's Day.
Where things get confusing is that the other half of the aisle was already set up with chocolate bunny's, ceramic bunny's, grass filled baskets, Peeps and those delicious Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs (my greatest springtime vice). That's right, the store is all set to go for Easter! A holiday that is a month and a half away! Now, those who know me personally, would probably classify me as more of a "planner" than a "free-spirit", but as I stood there in the grocery store today I found myself thinking, "Man, what is the RUSH?".
It didn't take me long to come up with a logical explanation that would justify this Half Valentine's Day/Half Easter (with a little bit of St. Patty's Day and 75% off Hanukkah gear mixed in) aisle. My Answer: This is America. In America, we eat our fast-food fast, drive fast and want to get rich/thin/qualified as fast as possible. Slowing down is often not part of our repertoire. As a grief and loss counselor, I meet with bereaved individuals who often express a desire to resolve their grief FAST. Most of the time, this is not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. In recent years, American culture has fallen victim to trying to find the fastest, easiest and preferably the most painless avenue we can to "get over" our grief. Yet, to heal in grief one must turn inward, slow down, embrace pain, and seek and accept support [Source: A. Wolfelt]. Unlike our commercialized approach to holidays, grief is not something that should (or feasibly can) be rushed through. Your grief journey should not be about "finding the fast way out" or measuring how "well" you are doing compared to others around you. The human heart doesn't heal according to a time clock. When it comes to embracing grief, fast is certainly not better [Source: A. Wolfelt].
As we approach February 14th, I challenge you to stop and smell the roses (literally and metaphorically). Even if you choose not to celebrate Valentine's Day, make it a point to tell someone special that you love them or do a small charitable deed before the month of February is over. For those of you who are grieving the loss of someone you love, my heart and prayers go out to you. I encourage you also to slow down, find a safe place to share your grief, mourn openly and remember that in order to heal your grieving heart you must allow yourself to feel your grieving heart.