Grief from the Loss of a Pet: Stigmatizing Grief Helps No One
Grief from the loss of a pet is generally not well understood by others. But grief is a complicated experience that impacts people in different ways. Because loss isn't one size fits all, it can be difficult to understand, and the grief from the loss of a pet can become subject to stigma.
Hiding My Grief from the Loss of My Pet Because of Stigma
I've been grieving the loss of my pet cat for a number of years, but it's not something that I ever talk about. The reason I don't is that my grief is tied to the loss of an animal, rather than a person. My cat was in my life for 17 years, from the time I was 9 years old until I was 26. When she died, it shook me to the core.
I haven't spoken or written about that loss in any amount of detail, to anyone, despite it being soul-crushing and some days debilitating, because to grieve over the loss of a pet for this long is not understood the same way as losing a person. To some extent, it feels like it's perhaps not even socially acceptable to be crushed by this.
When my cat died, I took a few days off work and was made to feel I was doing something irrational because it was "just" a pet. There have also been other points in my life where I've been made to feel that grieving for the loss of a pet is ridiculous and can in no way compare to "true" grief: the death of a person.
But the reality is grief affects us in many ways and comes in many forms. My grief over losing my pet is no less valid because it wasn't a person that died.
Stop Comparing Grief to Help Break Stigma
With stigma saying grief only looks one way or is appropriate in certain circumstances, we end up silencing people who may need help processing what they're going through. As I mentioned, there are days where my grief stops me in my tracks and I feel like I can't breathe. It feels like I'm being swallowed by a black hole and all I want to do is cry. Because I have this feeling of not being able to talk about this, I feel like I'm stuck in this cycle of mourning the loss of my cat that I don't know how to move on from.
I think the key to breaking this cycle of stigma is ultimately to understand that grief is not a comparison game. Whether someone is grieving an animal, human, or something else, we each feel grief different and to different depths. It's in no way one size fits all and one isn't more valid than the other. Recognizing that will lead us to better help one another heal from our feelings of loss. Criticizing one another over what we're grieving and why doesn't accomplish anything but suffering in silence.
Instead, let's work toward learning what we can do to help each other through grief of the loss of a pet -- and grief of any kind.
Barton, L. (2019, May 6). Grief from the Loss of a Pet: Stigmatizing Grief Helps No One, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2019/5/grief-from-the-loss-of-a-pet-stigmatizing-grief-helps-no-one
Author: Laura A. Barton
This is a powerful and helpful read. It's easy for us, often in an effort to ease grief, to accidentally put it in one neat little box. The truth is that grief is as unique as the individual experiencing it. The more we have these kinds of discussions, the more we can understand just how diverse grief and the process of it experiencing it, truly is.
Exactly. Thanks, Lizanne. :) We can never understand something fully if we keep trying to compartmentalize it or simply ignore any differences that present themselves to us.