What is grief, and why does it feel like we are on a roller coaster when we are in the midst of it? Are there actual stages we go through? Is it the same if we lose a human family member or friend as when we lose a fur baby? Is there a certain progression we go through? What are…the stages of grief?
5 or 7 Stages of Grief?
The 5 stages of grief was originally introduced by Swiss-American psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Dr. Kubler-Ross studied death and those who were faced with it; be it due to their own illness or someone who had lost someone. Her book “On Death and Dying”, published in 1969, was inspired from her work with terminally ill patients and the emotional states they faced from the time they were diagnosed to their death. In her research, she found we go through different emotional states in this order:
After researching to find who created the 7 stages of grief, I came up short. The only information I could find is that the 7 stages have become widely used when dealing with the loss of a loved one. I am not sure who came up with that, but, I will post them below. You can see the similarities in both progressions:
Shock, Denial, and Anger
I find that shock is more prominent in the unexpected loss of a pet. When you have an older pet, you know it is coming, and you can plan for it, so it may not be surprising that your pet will cross the Rainbow Bridge soon. The only caveat is if it is through more of a natural progression. Now, if you have an older pet that has been relatively healthy and you get a poor diagnosis, such as cancer…the initial emotional state will most likely be shock. You will be paralyzed by the initial news. In the same right, if your pet passes away unexpectedly, the first reaction is “What?!”
Shock can then lead into denial. No, that can’t be…my pet was completely healthy yesterday… No, my pet is fine. He/she can’t be sick or dead. I can’t tell you how strong the denial process was when I lost Aprilia. She wasn’t going to die yet. Nah…she’ll be ok. It’s all a dream.
Once you get past denial, you move straight into anger. Anger might present itself in different ways such as being angry at your pet for passing away, being angry at yourself for not seeing the signs sooner. But…it can also manifest itself in how you act towards others in this time of grief. For example, you might become more irritable with people, you might get mad at the smallest infractions, but you can also lash out at your loved ones when they are trying to help you. This is natural, but try to identify the emotional state you are in, so you can reduce the number of outbursts that are truly not meant to hurt those closest to you.
Bargaining, Depression, and Testing
How many times have we bargained with God or a higher power to make something right, and we will do whatever they say? We not only do this when we face difficult human situations, we also try to bargain our way out of the loss of our pet. It can be anything from promising to clean the litter box 3 times a day instead of 1 time a day, just to bring back our kitty. You many also find yourself saying you will donate money, food, water, or other resources just to buy more time with your pet.
Depression is a topic I am very familiar with as I have dealt with it on a personal level, through postpartum, and through loss. It is not something I wish on my worst enemy, but I know I can’t keep people from going through this emotional state when losing a pet. Once you have bargained everything you can, you can move into the depression phase. This phase can look like clinical depression which can include sadness, crying (and at random times too.), trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, a change in appetite and body aches and pains. You have realized the death of your pet is inevitable, and it ultimately makes you sad and depressed. This is to be expected, but if you feel that the depression has taken over your life or if you have thoughts of suicide, please seek help by a medical professional. It is so important for you to be here for your family, loved ones, and your pets.
Testing is trying to find realistic solutions. Some of us may not go through this phase as the decision has already been made. You may test to see how comfortable you can make your pet in his or her last days, or you may test to see if there are other options to extend the quality of life. You will also start working towards what works for you to move forward and to get through this incredibly difficult time. It is not part of the original 5 stages of grief; however, I can see how it fits in when moving towards the next step.
You have finally reached the acceptance phase, where you can accept that your pet is dying or has passed away. This is the phase where you can understand and remember what you have lost, but dwell on the positivity your pet has brought to your life. I think this is the most hopeful emotional state, as it shows that moving forward is actually ok. Does it mean that you should forget everything? No, not at all…this phase just allows you to take a deep breath and take that first step forward into the future. It also will allow you be happy and peaceful again.
Losing a pet is devastating, and grief is difficult to move through. Everyone will go through grief a little differently. You might find yourself moving quickly through some emotional states, but then you also might find a stage you can’t quite get through. This is normal. The important thing you need to remember is you will get through the pain and the sadness. BUT…if you feel that you are struggling more than normal, please contact a medical professional who can help you identify what you need to move forward. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Pets have become such a big part of our families, that pet loss and the grieving process is more recognized these days.
And of course…remember that your pets want you to be happy. They don’t want you to continue in the stages of grief, where you don’t see the wonderful things around out. Besides…it is just a “see you later”, not a “goodbye”.
If you have any questions or thoughts, leave them below, and I will respond as soon as possible.