November 2, 2023: The Grief Process
November 2, 2023: The Grief Process
By Katie Simpson
You may have heard of the stages of grief. You may even have experienced them before, with the loss of a friend or family member. The loss of a beloved animal companion is not really that different; in many ways, our pets are as important to us as the people in our lives. You may be taken by surprise by how hard the loss of a pet can hit you. After all, they're more than just animals.
In 1969 the book On Death And Dying by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross divided the grief process into five stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Recently two more stages have been included in common practice to elaborate on the complexities of grief.
Stage 1: Denial
Losing a pet, especially suddenly or unexpectedly, can be jarring. You may feel like it isn't real or you're dreaming. It may seem like an impossible task to accept the new state of the world around you. Grief is overwhelming. But denying what has happened is actually important for your brain: your mind is buying time to digest and process the development. This is a defense mechanism to help your mind avoid shock. You may not feel sadness right away - that is part of denial. This is normal. According to Grief.com, this is the beginning of accepting the reality of your loss.
Stage 2: Anger
Once denial fades you may feel upset or angry about what has happened. Anger is another defense mechanism your mind uses to protect itself as you process things. This anger doesn't always make sense; it may be directed anywhere, even at yourself, your pet, your friends, or family. Your anger may feel intense even if you rationally know it shouldn't. Anger might not always look like yelling, but can feel like resentment or bitterness.
Stage 3: Bargaining
There is a sense of vulnerability that will arise during the grief process. When you feel vulnerable, it's natural to want to regain control. You might find yourself daydreaming about 'what if' or 'if only' scenarios. You might try to bargain or make a deal with God or a higher power. Bargaining is another defense mechanism as your mind processes the loss. This is a way to postpone or prepare for the sadness of feeling that loss.
Stage 4: Depression
Depression can be described as 'quiet' grief when compared to anger or bargaining. You might find yourself isolated or avoiding others. Depression does not fit one mold, and looks different for everyone. You might feel especially fatigued, unmotivated, or confused. Depression doesn't always look like crying, but might mean you spend an extra day or two in bed. While depression might feel inevitable, it isn't forever. If you find yourself struggling with this phase, consider reaching out to your friends, family, or a mental health professional.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Accepting what happened doesn't mean you're 'over it', you've moved on, or forgotten. Accepting a loss doesn't mean you have a happy ending and everything is fine, either. You've come to understand the state of the world now, without your beloved pet. You will still sometimes be angry, or sad, or want to think of the 'what-ifs'. But by now you have accepted your animal friend is gone, and the worst of the shock has likely passed.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to grieve. Every person will feel loss differently, and if you've lost more than one pet, your feelings between each one will likely be different, too. Sometimes grieving takes weeks, months, or years. You may skip entire stages of grief or feel stuck in one longer than the others. You may even take steps backward in the stages - but this isn't negative progress. Your mind is still working toward acceptance.
Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid grief forever. Avoiding or ignoring grief won't make you immune to it. According to Healthline.com, you must address the loss to be able to move forward.