Ann Hoff is a well-known Animal Communicator, Intuitive Medium, and a regular contributor to our FB Group “I Am not Crazy Because I Talk to Animals” and leads a monthly Zoom call with members wishing to chat with a pet, or simply ask Ann a question. This month's content addresses the all too often disenfranchised grief – pet loss.
When I was in training as a pharmaceutical representative in the 90’s. we were stationed in Philadelphia for a month. There were sixty of us trainees, but not everyone made it to the last day. Three weeks in, one of the other women become hysterical after a phone call from her husband. Her dog at home had ingested poison somehow and wasn’t expected to live. She booked the next flight out of there and told the Pharma company to take a hike when they told her she didn’t have vacation time. She sacrificed the job to be with her dog while he was dying. At the time, I was amazed at her devotion to her dog but also her ability to say for herself that her dog was that much of a priority in her life. I am pretty sure she didn’t love her dog any more than I loved my dog at the time. Yet I was shocked and amazed at her ability to say that her dog was more of a priority than a corporate job.
I think this is a question we all need to know the answer to before we are put in that situation. Do you take time off work to grieve the loss of your pet? Do you take time off when they are sick? Should pets be granted the same courtesy that we grant family members? I know that I have gone to meetings not knowing if my dog would be alive when I got home, because she was sick. I would have loved to be able to take a “Sick Day” to take care of my pet. Yet I have never taken the stand that my pet has more priority in my life than my boss does. That is more based on societal norms than my feelings for my pets.
When we suffer an unconventional loss (which is what some people consider the loss of a pet) you may find yourself in a society unwilling to find validation for your grief. You aren’t supported with the empathy you need to heal. Break-ups, miscarriages, the death of companion animals and other losses can result in something called “disenfranchised grief” which stems from losses not being considered significant by society. Because of that, the person in grief is not allowed the space or social support to adequately grieve. The person is not allowed to express their grief. This easily happens with pet grief because the societal support just isn’t there. Most of us don’t ask for time off to grieve for fear of being thought of as overly sentimental, emotionally weak or stereotyped with old archetypes like the “old maid cat lady”.
Yet studies have proven that social support is crucial in recovering from grief of all kinds.
To change the social landscape so that it takes pet grief more seriously, we must both support those who are going through pet grief more ardently and speak out about our own grief. The more we love someone, the larger the emotion, the bigger the grief. Yet we cannot always comprehend another’s grief, only feel compassion and empathy for them. There are also those people who just do not understand the love you can feel for a pet. They simply have not been exposed to such joy. They may feel that it’s just a “cat/dog” because they have never had a different experience. We need to be respectful of these people while also trying to get them to give space to our point of view.
“Although grief over the loss of a cherished pet may be as intense and even as lengthy as when a significant person in our life dies, our process of mourning is quite different,” psychologist Guy Winch wrote in 2018 for Scientific American.
We can change the experience of pet loss for pet owners in the present and in the future. Shifting the way we think about pet bereavement has powerful implications. When we let the bereaved express their authentic feelings and support them in doing so, we let them choose the depth and significance of their loss. Then we also know how to be supportive of them. Just allowing them to tell their truth is a sacred act. As humans, we all need to express our grief and have it acknowledged.
With someone who has lost a pet, acknowledge their loss by saying things like, “I’m sorry for your loss.” “Would it be helpful to talk about it?” “You know I am here to listen if you need me.” Also acknowledge the loss by sending a card, sending a memorial gift (This is the reason Pet Perennials was started!), or sending a photo/sharing a story of the loved one.
Lastly, what I have learned being a medium for both animals and people, is that love doesn’t die, only the body does. That love is still present. It fills the heart and allows you to love another. By focusing on the love that was created, new love is called forth. That capability is given to all of us. Supporting each other makes that love so much easier to access.
If you or someone you know is dealing with loss, reach out and let them know you care and that you’re there for them. Send them a note, or remembrance in memory of their loved one.
Not sure what to do? Pet Perennials can help make reaching out easier.