Stages of grief

Grief brings with it a host of emotions, and loss of an animal can strike us just as hard as loss of a person. For some people their relationships with their animals can be more loving and intense than their relationships with people. I know I have long conversations with my dog, and probably spend more time with her than any other member of my family.

Grief is said to have stages, the 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. However it is important to remember that we don’t follow these stages in an orderly fashion, but can either flip between them, circle round them, rattle quickly through one and spend months on another. Grief is personal.

We are all different, everyone will experience grief differently and to varying degrees. There is no right or wrong way. You may be more upset over the death of your dog than a your uncle, that is also okay. Our relationships differ, so our response to loss will also differ. Don’t let anyone tell you that your grief is wrong, or to get over it. It takes as long as it takes you. There is no time limit on grief.

If you find your emotions overwhelming consider talking to someone, grief counselors can be very helpful in supporting you while you are going through a difficult time. Remember to ask for help and remember you are not alone.

Conversely if you are supporting someone who is experiencing grief, make sure your support is helpful. People can inadvertently be tactless and say things which make people feel worse. In your communication make sure that you make the other person feel heard, being empathetic can go a long way towards making someone feel better.

And remember, grief is the price we pay for love.

It’s only…

How many times have you heard the words “it’s only a horse” or “it’s only a dog”? Quite a few I would imagine, and those words are just as ridiculous every time you hear them. Yes, horses, dogs, cats, parrots (other pets are available!) are not human, but it doesn’t mean our connection to them is any less important, or any less deep. In fact, I have more conversations some days with my dog than other humans. She listens better as well!

Saying goodbye to humans and animals is always hard, the advantage with animals is that we can end their suffering, when we believe the time is right, whereas humans we have to wait while they wend their ways through their final days.

The love we feel for our animals is no smaller than the love we feel for people, it is often far less complicated. Grief around people dying is often entangled with guilt or anger, whereas animals don’t generally invoke such emotions, you simply feel sadness.

But grief is the price we pay for love, so part of the relationship with our animals must include grief at the end, else the relationship would not be the same. If we didn’t love our animals we wouldn’t grieve when then they died, but then we wouldn’t have enjoyed those years of fun. Terrible though grief, it is in fact a small price for the years of love. The alternative is not to love, and that would make the world a sad and lonely place.

The love you feel for your dog, horse, parrot is just as valid as the love you feel for a person. The one does not diminish the other, and an animal is never just a dog, or just a horse. They are the recipients of your love.

The final chapter

Life is comprised of an endless circle. We are born, we live and then we die. In families there is a constant movement, as children are born and the elderly die. With our horses and dogs the same is also true though the cycles are generally much quicker. The problem is always that the young are cuter.

For anyone who is dealing with an elderly relative slowly deteriorating towards death I can highly recommend Marika Cobbold’s wonderful novel Guppies for Tea . Animals are different to humans in that you can choose when is the right time to call it the end. It is so hard watching our animals suffer, that we can decide when enough is enough.

It is all too easy to keep our animals going for too long, because of our own emotions around the topic. As we slip out of the summer, this is often the time of year that we realise quite how old our animals are, as there joints feel the first nip of winter in the air.

It is so hard, and it never gets easier, no matter how many horses or dogs you have during your life, each and everyone of them leaves a gap. Remember all the good times, remember all the amazing rides, or walks, or priceless small moments that make up our lives.

And remember in the end that grief is the price we pay for love. And think how very cold and lonely the world would be if we never loved, people, dogs, horses, endless other pets. I once had a goose that I adored and was heartbroken when it died. And I know that despite all my tears my life has been better and richer for all the things I have loved, and I wouldn’t change any of it.