Disenfranchised Grief

“He was only a dog.  You can get another one.”  ” You want time off for what?  Your cat died?” ”  “Cheer up, stop moping.  Be happy that you had time with her.”

We’ve all been there and heard comments like this.  In many cases, our first reaction, is to feel shame on top of the tremendous loss that we are feeling, and that there must be something wrong with us.  We wonder over and over how the pain and grief can be so sharp, feeling like a knife.  We may even question our own sanity.  Questions like, “Why am I feeling so alone” and perhaps even,  ” I never felt this way when my mother, father, brother, sister – fill in the relative of choice – died.  What is happening to me?”

If you have felt this way, or experienced this type of reaction to an animal companion’s death, you are not alone.  The fact that we grieve this loss is not so hard to understand for “animal people”, but for those of our family members, friends, work colleagues, bosses, our reactions can be mystifying and in some cases, considered downright silly or over the top.  It is at this point that in a misguided attempt to help the grieving person they say things like the above.

What we feel then is something called disenfranchised grief.

Our grief is disenfranchised, or not validated or recognized, by the feeling, words and actions of people who we interact with.  As a result, we are not allowed to openly grieve.  Instead we try to cover up, or push away the pain that we’re feeling.  It becomes a “double whammy”, in effect, because not only do we feel the pain of loss, but also the possible shame, and even anger, that we now cannot openly display and process.

So what do we do?  The following is a short list of things to help you – can you think of others?

  • Spend time with “animal people” because they get it.  Sharing your feelings & healing tears with them will help in your recovery from this loss.
  • Attend a support group in your area. They can be found by Googling “Pet Loss Support Groups“.  Being with other people who are grieving helps you feel less isolated and more connected.  Sharing thoughts and strategies for recovery is empowering and comforting.
  • Minimize your contact with non-animal people but if you cannot, avoid engaging in talk of your loss.  If, however, something is said that you find hurtful, take a deep breath and remember that they have never experienced the loving bond that we share with our animals. And, that is their loss.
  • Visit the Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement, or APLB, website at aplb.org.  Here you will find an extensive bibliography on Pet Loss, but more importantly, there is a chat room offered at various times throughout the week by dedicated individuals trained in Pet Loss.
  • Make an appointment with me to discuss your loss.

Until then,