People can experience a grief response to the loss of a pet similar to the loss of a significant person and that loss has a marked effect on our emotional well being.
In order to get past our grief, we must go through it.
When your beloved pet is first diagnosed with a terminal illness or when you know that your ageing pet is experiencing changes and could soon be gone, you may have wondered what it would feel like. At this time, the reality of the loss of your pet begins to be felt emotionally. This is anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory grief begins when we, as pet parents, know without a doubt that we are now faced with being bereaved from our beloved pet. Often we think of experiencing grief only after a loss; however, we know that the grief journey and the roller coaster of emotions that come with it start far before the actual loss occurs. Anticipating loss, especially with a terminal diagnosis and throughout treatment, is very real. Anxiety and fear can intensify when we know that the loss is imminent, whether months or weeks away. And, you may begin to ask yourself things like: “How can I go on?” or “Is it my fault?”
Just like on our grief journey after loss, how we cope with our anticipatory grief before the loss can vary for each individual. Some can experience symptoms that can affect them physically, emotionally and even spiritually.
Anticipatory grief can be show symptoms of overwhelming sorrow and anxiety, which is normal.
Living in the moment. Oftentimes, we can be so overwhelmed with caring for our pet that we miss living in the here and now. Your days become consumed with conversations of “did they eat today?; how was their poop?; did they seem to be in pain?; how was their mood or energy level. This may be a time to create special lasting memories with your pet.
Creating memorials such as scrapbooks, photographs, videos, and the like can give us an opportunity to direct our grief into something we can control in an uncontrollable situation. Finding ways to channel our anxiety can help provide balance when we feel otherwise overwhelmed. While it is important to acknowledge your deep sense of sadness about saying goodbye, it is also important to make sure your sadness doesn’t “take over” and prevent you from living in the moment.