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Express Grief in the Loss Of Your Boston Terrier

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November 22, Rose the Boston Terrier died.  I still carry her rabies tag around on my key chain as a remembrance.   I glance at her empty dog dish and collar and sometimes, yes, sometimes though I hate to admit it,  I cry.  Still yet it has been over a month and the hurt is admittedly less, I still express grief in the loss of my Boston Terrier.  My heart is healing and Holly Nash, DVM wrote an article that has helped me.

In the book, The Human-Animal Bond and Grief, the authors describe five manifestations of grief.

Physical: Crying, nausea and loss of appetite, inability to sleep, fatigue, restlessness, and body aches and stiffness are typical manifestations of grief.

Intellectual: When grieving, people often experience an inability to concentrate, confusion, and a sense that time is passing very slowly.

Emotional: As described above, many emotions can be expressed in the course of the grieving process. Irritability, a lowered sense of self-worth, resentment, and embarrassment are also common feelings.

Social: Some grieving people often withdraw, may be reluctant to ask for help, and feel rejected by others. Others may show an increased dependency on other people, or an increased need to ‘keep busy’ and overcommit to activities.

Spiritual: The death of a pet may result in a person bargaining or feeling angry with God. The grieving person may try to find some meaningful interpretation of the death, and question what happens to pets after they die and whether pets have souls.

Help and healing

A child drawing a picture of her petIt has been shown that when grief can be expressed, the time needed for healing is often less. Similarly, if the expression of grief is restricted or withheld, the healing process may take much longer.

In addition to talking with others, to do something often helps us work through our grief. By doing something positive during this time of sadness, we expand our focus by celebrating the life of the pet. Activities which may help include:

Planting flowers or a tree in memory of the pet
Making a charitable donation
Holding a funeral or memorial service
Drawing a picture, making a clay sculpture or doing needlework of something that reminds you of your pet (you could do this yourself, or have it done by a professional)
Placing your pet’s nametag on your keyring
Writing a poem, song, or story
Composing music or a song
Creating a memorial photo album or scrap book
Writing a letter to your pet
Framing a photograph
Volunteering your time

People who have a pet who has died need to talk to someone. Often family members and friends are very supportive, but in some instances, they may not understand how important your pet was to you. It is important to find someone who does understand.

There are certain circumstances which can intensify the grief. If a person has recently suffered other losses, feels responsible for the death, or has never fully grieved an earlier death, the grieving process is often more complex. If the pet died of a disease similar to one which the owner or a loved one currently has or has had in the past, the grief can also be compounded.

If the pet has shared a significant event in the owner’s life e.g.; was a gift from a spouse, the pet alerted the owner of a fire or otherwise ‘rescued’ the owner, or the pet has ‘gotten them through’ a difficult period in their life, grief can be compounded. When the pet was a significant source of support for the person, e.g., the person lived alone, adjusting to the death of the pet may be extremely difficult.

In some instances, when the pet dies, the owner also loses a significant activity. For instance, when a working dog dies, the owner has lost not only a pet, but a co-worker, someone who has shared activities with the owner many hours of the day. People who lose an assistance dog may lose their independence and the ability to even perform simple daily activities.

Some children or adolescents cannot remember life without the pet. For them, too, loss of the pet may be especially difficult, and professional help may be indicated.

In all of these situations, talking to a professional experienced in grief counseling (bereavement counselors, clergy, social workers, physicians, psychologists) is often advised and can assist the healing process. Support groups, pet loss hotlines, and books on pet loss can also be helpful.

You can find out more about expressing grief in the loss of your Boston Terrier by Holly Nash, DVM at her article in Pet Education.

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