There are 5 stages of grief according to the Kübler-Ross model
Pet Bereavement Guide Step 3 – 5 Stages of Grief. Grief is a complicated emotion. The KR Model helps us to understand the five key elements but it does oversimplify it. It makes it seem that you move steadily from one stage to next until you are completely fine with the grief. When you are coping with the loss of your pet you can experience all 5 in one day.
Losing a pet – Pet Bereavement Guide Step 3
I believe that the experience of grief can be very different with our pets. You create a unique bond with your cat, dog or pet as the love is unconditional. There are no lasting feuds or hurtful words spoken during their lives and so when they go the loss may be simpler but incredibly tough. They greet you every morning with joy, are grateful to be fed and happy to curl up on your lap no matter what age. Who wouldn’t struggle with losing that?
If the loss happens through ill health there is the added issue of euthanasia. If you have chosen to put your pet to sleep you may experience a lot of conflict around that decision. Could you have made a different choice? Did your vet give you the best advice? Would it have been better to prolong their life? Having to make such difficult calls can lead to a sense of guilt which may add to the tumult of emotions.
There are 5 stages of grief according to the Kübler-Ross model.
1. Shock / Denial
Denial is the first stage outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. It is simply a stage of shock. A real difficulty in actually believing that your pet is no longer here. You may find yourself ‘hearing’ them scratch at a door, or seeing them just out of the corner of your eye. This is a very normal and natural reaction, it almost as if your brain is letting you down gently. It allows to time to get used to them not being there.
2. Anger and Blame
Anger is the second stage and can happen in the most unlikely situations and at the most underserving of family or friends. Vets are very used to being the target of blame. Feeling upset can make you feel that it must be somebody’s fault. The anger can also be directed internally at ourselves, ‘why didn’t I notice earlier’? Again this is very common and understandable but there are ways to combat this in a healthier way. My 12 Step Pet Bereavement Guide encourages you to channel this ‘angry energy’ in a positive way. Punch a pillow, go for a strenuous walk, get out in the countryside and howl.
Bargaining is the third stage and it is a very confusing part of the journey. You may find yourself ‘arguing’ with yourself, a higher being or even with your lost pet. This very natural way to start to understand that the loss is final but it can feel a little odd and quite punishing. You might find yourself replaying decisions in your mind. This is a good time to talk to friends who ‘get it’. Talking through your experience with a friend who understands or a local pet bereavement counsellor might be helpful There are lots of online groups such as the Bluecross Facebook group where you can chat through these thoughts. It can be really good to realise that you’re not alone and that the thoughts are very common.
Depression can be confused with deep sadness. It is totally acceptable to want to retreat into your own world for a while. And that is okay. This unhappiness is part of the healing process. For a small minority of people this can develop into depression and that is when it is vital to get in touch with your GP or a counsellor. It’s important to let others support you. This isn’t an easy path to tread, you may need some help, and that is okay.
Acceptance is the ‘final’ stage of this grief model. This is often the hardest bit. It’s knowing that you will always miss them but that you can now focus on all the lovely memories that they have given you. Some people see this as the ‘circle of life’, you are grateful for the time you have had with them. It doesn’t mean that you no longer miss them, that you don’t sometimes shed a tear when a memory pops into your head. But it does mean that you will mostly smile at the good memories.
As I said in the introduction I think you can go through all of these stages in day and they do not progress in a simple linear path. You may find yourself going backwards and forwards for a long time, or a short time. None of this reflects the amount of love you have for them. Each loss will be as unique as they are.
And remember it won’t always feel like this.
For more advice on Pet Bereavement click here
For advice on what to do with your pet’s ashes click here.