“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
~ C.S. Lewis


Grief is such a profound topic to consider and discuss and is one of the rare human experiences that unfolds in wildly different ways from person to person. Grief sits side-by-side as friends with mourning, with grief encompassing emotional loss, and mourning involving itself with our external expression of pain – together, this pair can make for extremely difficult circumstances when we experience loss. Even when it comes to the loss of a pet.

This is why in 2014, Angie Cartwright formed National Grief Awareness Day. Having experienced the pain of profound loss – including the loss of her baby sister when she was but a child herself – Angie created this day of bereavement to coincide with the birthday of her mother, who passed away in 2010. She hoped that this day would encourage open, compassionate communication on loss, as well as better, educate the public on the facts of grief.

“I finally realised that there was only one thing I could ever do to be free,” Angie shares. “It was to embrace my humanness.”

On this day, we explore the complexity of grief, and why your bereavement of a pet is one hundred percent justified.

Grief Across Time – And Why It’s So Complicated To Understand

In 1917, psychologist Sigmund Freud penned the words: “grieving is a natural process that should not be tampered with”. Decades later, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross established the famed Five Stages of Grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in her book “On Death and Dying”. These stages are widely accepted today, however, it’s not well known that Kübler-Ross did not originally develop these stages to explain what individuals go through when they experience the loss of a loved one. Instead, she developed these five stages to describe the process patients go through when diagnosed with a terminal illness. These stages were only later applied to grieving friends and family members upon the loss of their loved ones.

The history of our perception of grief is only further muddled by the debunked 1981 “Two-Track Model of Grief” established by Simon Shimshon Rubin, who attempted to provide deeper insight into the process of grief. And, between 1996 and 2006, psychologists seriously questioned the simplicity of grief, leading to the modern acceptance that grief is such a complicated and profound experience.

Did You Know? We Grieve Animals As Though They Were Human

Those who have both loved and lost an animal can likely relate to this situation: a beloved dog passes away, either suddenly or from old age, and somebody says in response, “it was just a dog.” On this day, National Grief Awareness Day, we feel that it is important to point out that psychologists have stated that we ought to take the loss of pets much more seriously; that the grief experienced at such times is often undervalued (the human-animal bond is an extraordinary thing, after all).

Prominent bereavement counselor Kaleel Sakakeeny has this to say: “The relationship between us and our animal companions is less complicated and complex than that between us and another person. We seldom argue with our pets. We almost never resent them. We have few, if any, conditions on the love we and our pets share… Our human relationships are rarely that simple, rich, and pure… When a person dies, there are often mountains of regret: things we wish we had said, things we wish we hadn’t said, betrayals for which we are sorry. The grief and mourning that follow can be complex and complicated. This is almost never the case when our beloved pet passes.”

The importance of the human-animal bond – especially the one shared between pets and their humans – is only further realised when you look at pet memorials around the world. Take for instance Hartsdale Pet Cemetery of New York. Established in 1896, over 70,000 pets are interred in this iconic cemetery, with some of its residents including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, reptiles, monkeys, horses, a lion, and even some humans who wanted nothing more than to be with their pets forever. Hartsdale also houses memorials for dogs that served in World War I, Laika the space dog, and search and rescue dogs from the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If anybody ever doubts that we cannot grieve animals as much as humans, simply point to this cemetery as an example of the unfailing connection.

The Healing Process

When it comes to grief and mourning, there is no timeline: some may mourn the loss of their pet for months, while others may feel the effects of loss for many years. However, there are always steps you can take to help bring yourself out of the darkness and into the light.

Seek support. Finding comfort by talking to your friends or family can really help you during any tough time. It’s no different from when you’re dealing with the loss of a pet. They will be able to listen to you and be there for you while you are grieving.

Maintain your routine. It’s important, particularly when in the throes of depression, that you stick to your daily life as much as you can. It can be hard to do this but it can help keep you busy and take your mind off feeling too sad.

Exercise/look after your body. Keeping active is great because it releases endorphins which is a chemical that reduces your perception of pain, making you feel better and encouraging you to get outside for fresh air.

Find a hobby. This could be as simple as painting or baking, or something more adventurous like rock climbing or hiking. Finding an activity to do with others can foster new relationships and give you something to look forward to.


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